Project Canterbury

Alexander Gregg, First Bishop of Texas

By His Son, the Late Wilson Gregg

Edited and Extended by the Reverend Arthur Howard Noll.

Sewanee, Tennesee: The University Press, 1912.

Chapter IV. The Church in Texas.

WHILE Mr. Gregg was thus engaged in the conscientious discharge of his parochial duties in a somewhat secluded portion of South Carolina, unconsciously fitting himself for the duties of a higher sphere of labor in the Church, the field was being, all unknown to him, prepared in "vast illimitable Texas," as Daniel Webster called it when Texas was an independent republic. In 1838, while Mr. Gregg was in his senior year at the College of South Carolina, the first effort was made by the Church to do missionary work in Texas. Under the auspices of the Foreign Committee of the Board of Missions of the Church in the United States, the Rev. Caleb S. Ives settled in Matagorda, near the mouth of the Colorado River. Texas was then a republic, having two years previously secured her independence of Mexico at the battle of San Jacinto. Her population was chiefly Anglo-Saxon settlers who had entered the country under the generous offers of the Republic to induce immigration, and were rapidly superseding the rather sparse Mexican population which had existed before the advent of the early empresarios. They [37/38] were settled thus far chiefly in the eastern portion of the Republic. Matagorda was originally a Mexican town, and was at this time the most flourishing town of Texas. The Rev. Mr. Ives organized a parish, and with funds secured in the north, erected a church building, framed in New York and shipped thence, and made ready for occupancy in 1839. Mr. Ives labored faithfully, the most southern and southwestern clergyman of the Episcopal Church in North America, until his death in 1849.

The second clergyman to take up his residence in Texas was the Rev. R. M. Chapman, appointed by the "Foreign Committee," from the "Eastern Diocese," in 1838 and arriving in Houston early the following year. He organized a parish in Houston and raised $5,000 towards a church building there. But neither Mr. Chapman nor his immediate successors remained long in the field, and it was not until January, 1841, that Houston. secured the services of the Rev. Benjamin Eaton, appointed by the Board of Missions. He removed to Galveston and organized a parish there, and although intending at first to divide his time between the two places, Houston and Galveston, he shortly elected to spend his whole time in the latter town. So the rectorship at Houston was vacant for two years and until filled by the Rev. Charles Gillette, who went first to Washington, then [38/39] the seat of government for Texas, and offering as he supposed a favorable field for church work. But finding the opening better at Houston, he proceeded to build there upon the foundations laid by his predecessors. In 1845, he and Mr. Eaton made a missionary journey through middle and western Texas, visiting Bonham, Independence, Austin and San Antonio. And in 1847, Mr. Gillette, at the request of certain citizens, visited Austin and organized the parish of Christ Church.

The question of episcopal oversight for Texas had already engaged the attention of the American Church while Texas was yet a republic, and it was [39/40] tentatively settled by the election and consecration, in 1839, of Bishop Polk to be Missionary Bishop of Arkansas and the Southwest. He visited the Republic in 1839 at the request of the Foreign Committee of the Board of Missions, and again in 1844. The three resident clergymen, the Rev. Messrs. Ives, Eaton and Gillette, had made a futile attempt to organize a diocese in May, 1843, and after the second [40/41] visitation of Bishop Polk, the three prepared a memorial to be presented to the General Convention, soliciting action that would provide such episcopal supervision as was enjoyed by the missionary districts of the United States. Bishop Polk having been, in 1841, elected Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana, the General Convention elected the Rev. George W. Freeman, of Delaware, Missionary Bishop of Arkansas, to exercise episcopal functions in the Indian Territory south of the parallel 36% degrees and to exercise episcopal supervision over the missions in the Republic of Texas. Bishop Freeman found upon his first visitation, in 1847, about two hundred communicants in Texas. He confirmed thirty-five persons in Houston and reported in October of that year that "there was scarcely a more promising field in the whole range of our missionary operation than that presented by Texas."

[Under date of July 31, 1843, Bishop Philander Chase, then Presiding Bishop of the Church in the United States, issued a circular letter to his fellow bishops, containing the following words:--

["This letter is at present in confidence. I shall soon write you one on the subject of the application of the Christians of Texas for a Bishop that they may form a national church. Ought I not to state that the Bishop elected by themselves (for it seems they have already formed a Convention prepared to be summoned together for that purpose) must previously to his consecration sign a "Concordat" whereby, having been empowered by the clergy and laity of Texas, he binds himself and his successors and the Church of the Nation of Texas, forever to repudiate and disavow and to shun the errors of Arius, Socinus, Pelagius and Papal Rome as well as more modern heresies and schisms by name, and adhere only to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as understood by the Church before the usurpations of the Bishop of Rome and as set forth by the Church of England?

["Pray let me hear from you soon and oblige,

["Your faithful Friend and Brother,


[Upon the copy of this letter in the hands of the present writer is endorsed the reply of the Bishop who received it, under date of August 1S, 1843:

["Rt. Rev. and Dear Sir:

["Your recent circular has come to hand and in reply to its leading subject, I have to say, that should a Bishop-elect of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Republic of Texas appear before the House of Bishops at the next general convention, bringing with him documentary evidence of the due organization there of an Independent Branch of the Church Catholic, of their adoption of a safe and wise Constitution and Canons, of their assent to sound scriptural reformed Doctrines; and of his own election to the Episcopate; and calling upon that body to make provisions for the Consecration of said Bishop-elect, it is my opinion that that convention should not adjourn without taking the proper steps for complying with said request."]

Texas having been annexed to the United States in 1845 and admitted to the Union as a state, colonization had been quickened thereby and the need of increased missionary activity was felt. Steps were therefore taken for the organization of the Diocese of Texas. A meeting of the clergy and laity was held at Matagorda on the 1st of August, 1849. Bishop Freeman presided. The constituents of the assembly were members of the Church in the United States [41/42] living in Texas. The organization was duly effected and a Convention was appointed to be held in Houston the following December, but was then postponed to May 9, 1850. When then held, five clergymen were present, with the Bishop, and lay delegates from three parishes. The increase in the clerical force were the Rev. H. N. Pierce, afterwards Bishop of Arkansas, and the Rev. Henry Sansom. Four new parishes were admitted to union with the Convention. Effort was made to induce Bishop Freeman to make his home at some central and convenient place within the Diocese. At successive annual conventions the number of parishes in union with the Diocese was increased and Bishop Freeman urged the necessity of securing a Bishop to be exclusively their own. In 1852, a ballot was taken and resulted in the unanimous choice of Bishop Freeman. Bishop Freeman did not formally decline the election until 1854, and the election of a Bishop was then postponed until 1856, when the Convention, meeting in Galveston, elected the Rev. Dr. Arthur Cleveland Coxe, of Baltimore, Bishop. Dr. Coxe declined, though he showed his deep interest in the Diocese of Texas by writing a letter which was read at the Convention of 1857, offering, if the Diocese of Texas would raise annually $1,000for three years, he would pledge, with the cooperation of several clergymen in New York, [42/43] Philadelphia, and Baltimore, the additional sum of $1,500 annually for the same length of time, for the salary of the person who might be elected Bishop, besides his expenses of travel, so that he might be exempt from all encumbrances of parochial work or work of other sort, and devote his whole time and talents to the episcopal work. Another election was held and resulted in the choice of the Rev. Alexander H. Vinton, D.D. Bishop Freeman feeling assured that the question of the Bishopric for Texas was settled, resigned his provisional charge. Dr. Vinton, however, declined. At the following Convention, held in Houston in April, 1858, but a few days before the death of Bishop Freeman, the Rev. Sullivan H. Weston, was elected Bishop. The infant Diocese was again doomed to disappointment, for the Rev. Mr. Weston declined.

The letters of declination of the three clergymen who had thus in succession been elected to the Episcopate of Texas expressed either an inaptitude for such a missionary field or lack of bodily strength for the heavy work. That a Northern man in the then prevalent agitation of the slavery question, might have found himself in uncongenial surroundings in an intensely Southern state, seems also to have been a weighty influence in causing them to decline. The clergy of Texas had been strengthened by the [43/44] addition to their number of the Rev. W. T. D. Dalzell, Rector of the Church at Houston, the Rev. Mr. Owen and the Rev. L. H. Jones, Rector of St. Mark's Church, San Antonio, who was also Secretary of the Convention. And Judge Gray of Houston, an eminent jurist, was taking an active interest in the Church and continued for many years to be one of the most highly esteemed laymen in Texas. In an exchange of letters between Judge Gray and the Rev. Mr. Jones about this time, is reflected the feeling in the Church as the time approached for another election to fill the Episcopate in that Diocese. Judge Gray wrote, "We want an active and enduring man, mentally and physically." Mr. Jones in his reply, used the following words:--

"In re the impending election, my views coincide with yours. . . . No consideration of high or low church will influence my vote. Only give us a man of healthy body and generous mind and much religion and who has been, as presbyter, widely in favor with all the people."

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