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The Life of Littleton Fowler

Updated on January 3, 2010

Littleton Fowler, Pioneer Texas Preacher

In the late summer and fall of 1837, three men, all of them Methodist missionaries, arrived in Texas in response to a call for ministers to serve the new Republic. These three men--Robert Alexander, Martin Ruter, and Littleton Fowler--would each become in their own way proneers for the establishment of Methodist Protestantism in the vast area west fo the Mississippi River. The work of Littleton Fowler, however, can be considered the most important for laying the cornerstones not only of Methodism, but of higher education, in Texas, and his life story richly illustrates the importance of faith and labor in the frontier spirit.

Fowler was born September 12, 1803, in Smith County, Tennessee, one of eight children of Godfrey and Clara Wright Fowler. Though he came from a long line of Southern landowners and colonizers, young Littleton blazed his own life path, in the Methodist ministry, around 1820, possibly as the result of a series of camp meetings held in the Nashville District. His education and early career followed a fairly conventional line for the times. After a brief time participating in his parents' Presbyterian faith, he joined the Methodists at the age of about 16 or 17, quickly answering a call to preach. In 1826, he received his license to exhort, and later that year was admitted "on trial" to preach in the Red River (Tennessee) circuit of the Green River district of the Kentucky Conference. In 1828, he was licensed to serve as a deacon in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He served several towns in the Kentucky conference for the next several years, including Louisville, assisting the Rev. H.H. Kavanaugh in 1829; Cynthiana, 1830, the same year he received his license to serve as Methodist elder; and Maysville, 1831. This period was punctuated by several periods of illness that delayed his advancement; his health was genrally poor throughout his life, dating from a fall from a horse as a teenager.

In 1832, Fowler transferred to the Tennessee Conference, which appointed him to work in Tuscumbia, Alabama. In November 1833 he became one of three financial agents for LaGrange College, extablished by the church in 1830 (and now the University of North Alabama). As agents, Fowler and his colleagues were charged with raising money and supplies for the college, a job Fowler performed reasonably well, apparently, as he was commended by the college's Board of trustees in 1837. He also attended to his preaching duties on the circuit, including serving as a spiritual leader of the area's slave population.

Fowler had been in Texas at least once before 1837, visting one of his brothers in the extreme northeastern section south of the Red River four years earlier, where he might have done some preaching. His official transfer to what became the Texas Mission District came in response to a call for Methodist preachers made by William Barrett Travis in a letter to the Board of Foreign Missions in New York in 1835, the year before his death in the Alamo. The battle for independence from Mexico delayed action on this request, but the Board finally did act in 1837, desgnating Texas a "foreign field" for missionary work (despite the fact that most of the area was already Protestant, in practice if not in name) and calling for volunteers to go there.

Recruitment for the mission was carried out on a volunteer basis--a necessity considering the certain hardships and hazards of the journey and the future work. Fowler put his name in sometime between December 1836 and April 1837. Bishop Thomas A. Morris, who had licensed Fowler to preach in 1826, informed him of his appointment by the Missionary Society on April 20, along with Robert Alexander of Natchez, Mississippi, and Dr. Martin Ruter, president of Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Ruter, as the senior minister, was appointed mission superintendent, but Morris informed Fowler that he would get the post if Ruter declined. Fowler would come to share an increasing influence in the work of the mission with Ruter, with whom he maintained a regular correspondence in the next several months, and this would culminate in the events leading to his taking over leadership of the mission, and the pioneering work he would carry out in the next several years.



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