Religious Showdown in Fannin County
Bonham Daily Favorite, May 9, 1993
By the mid-point of the nineteenth century the Methodist Episcopal Church, North was attempting to strengthen its position in Texas as it worked to enhance its presence in the Texas Mission District created in 1855. The Reverend Anthony Bewley, who had been appointed to head the district, was the only elder in the church with continuous service at the time of the Timber Creek meeting.
At this point most Methodist churches in the South, Texas included, had come under the leadership of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, founded in 1844 after a major split within the denomination. One of the major problems facing the church membership was the issue of slavery.
By the end of the 1850's there were approximately 180 thousand slaves in Texas and Methodists certainly did not hold a monopoly on slave ownership. But many Texans, of whatever religious persuasion, viewed slavery as an economic necessity for the South. Some Methodist ministers are documented as being slave owners and apologists for the institution. Among these were the Reverend John H. McLean who served the church in this area of North Texas.
As Bewley and others worked in the area a considerable amount of opposition was growing among the membership of the Northern Church toward funding missionary work in the southwest United States. The argument advanced was that other ministers in Texas had accepted a compromise on the slavery issue and in fact in many instances had refused to bar slave owners from membership in their respective churches.
When it became known that the Arkansas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church was to convene once again at the Timber Creek Schoolhouse, in March, 1859, opposition to the Church's presence, which had been growing, boiled to the surface first with a called public meeting at Millwood in Collin County .
Most of the attendees at this meeting were citizens of Collin and Kaufman Counties where the Methodists had established a foothold. At the meeting a number of resolutions were passed and representatives from the group requested that John Crane, editor and publisher of The Bonham Independent, publish them.
Citing the possibility of disruptions created by those in attendance at Timber Creek and the disturbance of the peace and harmony in the region, the group determined to stop the preaching of the doctrines of the church as espoused by "members of the Northern Methodist Episcopal Church."
Crane acceded to the wishes of the Millwood group and published their resolutions in toto. He also lit the fuse in the same edition of the paper with his own editorial comments. He stated that he had received reports confirming the existence of the Church in Fannin County and the allegations which had been presented against it. Crane stated, "If such be the case, and there appears to be but little room for doubt, we kindly warn these people to beware, lest in an hour they least expect it, they will be visited by citizens entertaining adverse sentiments."
An unidentified "committee" of Bonham citizens appointed some individuals to keep watch on the conference and report back. Two members of the M.E. Church, South were sent to the actual conference but they were viewed strictly as spies and reporters. One of these was in all probability the Reverend Alexander R. Dixon, minister of the M.E. Church, South, in Bonham. Later Bishop Janes, who presided over the conference, mentioned Dixon's appearance.
In the face of all warnings and the increasing threats to the success of the conference, on Friday March 11, 1859, Bishop E.S. Janes convened the session at Timber Creek Schoolhouse. Janes had been elected Bishop of the Texas Conference in 1845, not long after the split between the southern and northern factions of the Church.
Since the Timber Creek Schoolhouse was only a short distance north of Bonham word of the opening of the conference probably reached the courthouse square before "amen" was pronounced at the opening prayer. Certainly those unnamed members of the "committee" received their reports in a timely manner .
Whether by design or spur of the moment action, word went out calling the citizens of the area to a meeting at the Fannin County Courthouse on Saturday morning. The first order of business seemed to have been the election of officers. Dr. Henry Hoffar, a local dentist and then Postmaster of Bonham was picked as president of the group. John Crane of The Bonham Independent was elected secretary.
The first two speakers were General T.S. Green, a Bonham attorney, and L.C. DeLisle, editor and publisher of The Bonham Era and also an attorney. Green in his remarks to the assemblage stated the presence of the northern Methodists, who were increasing in strength, was a distinct threat to the security of local property in slaves because of the Methodists determination to abolish slavery.
Delisle had obtained copies of anti-slave resolutions passed at the Maine Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, North sometime earlier. Greene returned to the lectern and informed the crowd that when these resolutions had been shown to James Logsdan, a local M.E. North minister, he publicly announced his support stating that Methodists "could not be engaged in putting down a greater evil ."
A side note on Logsdan: Some authorities have stated that Logsdon was not a recognized minister of the M.E. North Church. The 1860 census shows him residing north of Bonham in the Timber Creek area. His profession is indicated as farming, not at all unusual in a time when it was rare for a minister to be able to support himself in that profession. Sources also indicate that records of the Arkansas Conference do not list Logsdon as an appointed minister. Research indicates that regulations of the church allow for local congregations to appoint their minister until the next session of the governing conference.
The venerable Samuel A. Roberts was the next speaker. Sam Roberts was probably one of the most respected men in all of Fannin County. He had been a citizen of the area and practicing attorney since 1842 after serving as Secretary of State for President Mirabeau B. Lamar.
Roberts stated that he felt that the statements represented the sentiments of the northern church and while he "was not in favor of mob law, it was necessary that the people should take some decisive action."
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas