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 V. Election to the Episcopate.

AFTER the Rev. Mr. Weston declined the election to the Bishopric of Texas, the clergy and laity of that Diocese determined not to decrease their efforts to get a Bishop, but to select a man who would be wholly adapted to their needs, and at the same time likely to accept an election when made. Several names were discussed, all men of Southern birth and sentiment. In a conversation on the subject in Bishop Polk's study in New Orleans, Bishop Elliott of Georgia suggested to the Rev. W. T. D. Dalzell, Rector of Christ Church, Houston, the name of the Rev. Alexander Gregg, of Cheraw, South Carolina, and Judge Gray wrote to Bishop Elliott asking more particularly about him. Bishop Elliott replied to the Judge in a letter full of interest:--

"As I consider the future status of the Church in Texas to depend very much upon the choice you may make of a Bishop at this moment, I should not hesitate to speak very pointedly to you upon the subject. And I give you full liberty to make any use of my opinion you may think proper, as I shall have no objection to express it freely everywhere in the face of the whole Church.

[46] "While the question of slavery has never entered the councils of our Church, and I trust it never will, we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that there is a wide and settled difference of opinion upon the subject between the best minds of the two sections of the Union and that our church people, although they have been conservative enough to keep quiet, so far as any overt acts are concerned, do share largely in this disagreement. There is scarcely a man of any character, north of the Potomac, who would not tell you that he considered slavery a great evil, which should be abated as soon as practicable. Whether this opinion be sound or not, in the present sensitive condition of the Southern mind, it would not be tolerated in a public man and would abate his influence largely in any efforts he might make to extend the Church. However prudent he might be, this opinion would creep into public notice and would hang like a mill-stone about his neck. It would offer a point of attack to any who might desire to annoy him or the Church and would hinder his efforts for the introduction of the Church among the negroes, which I consider one of the noblest duties of a Southern Bishop

"Texas is destined to be an intense slaveholding state and is now rapidly filling up with emigrants from the cotton-growing states, who carry with them large bodies of negroes, for which they have paid enormous prices. These circumstances are tending to make your Diocese [46/47] peculiarly jealous upon this topic; and I have no doubt that the question of the survival of the slave trade will agitate your state perhaps more than any other because of the need of labor and the high price to which slave labor has risen

"There is another matter to which you ought to look in the choice of your Bishop, as distinct from any qualifications of piety or eloquence which he may possess, and that is, his habits of life. So far in Texas, your churches are in the towns and you may not perceive the unsuitableness to the field of what might be called a city man. But in deciding the question of your Bishop, you ought to look to the whole state as it is rising in power and importance and choose your man, not merely for the present moment, but for his power to influence and mould Texas, as a whole, into a strong Diocese. And what a breaking up of habits, should it be for a man, who had lived all his life in Philadelphia, or New York, or Boston, to be compelled to traverse Texas as a Missionary Bishop, getting along in any vehicle he might chance to find, sleeping anywhere, eating anything, fording rivers, encountering perils and combating prejudice and opinions at every turn!--it would be a perfect torment to him, which would a thousand times a year cause him to bewail his fate that had dragged him into such a relation. . . .

"Believe me, sir, that I have not had the slightest intention in what I have said to Mr. Dalzell or written to Dr. Eaton (for I have in a letter to him in answer to the one he wrote me respecting [47/48] an Episcopal visit to Texas, expressed briefly some of the same opinions) of interfering in your selection of a Bishop. I have always premised any expression of opinion I have uttered by the question whether there was not among yourselves some man to whom you might commit the Diocese. As the answer has generally been in the negative, and as your own action has proved it to be so, I have not hesitated to express my opinion about other men.

"Outside of Texas there are two persons, either of whom I think well qualified for the position. Mr. ---- of ---- and Mr. Gregg of South Carolina. What I may say of Mr. Gregg in reply to your inquiries is not to be considered as putting him at all in antagonism to the other gentleman, of whom I have a very high opinion.

"Mr. Alexander Gregg I have known from his early manhood, he having graduated while I was professor of Sacred Literature in the South Carolina College as the first honor man of a very fine class. He was distinguished though his whole college life for his excellent sense, his unflagging industry, his high tone of character and his manliness of deportment, whether to the faculty or to the students. He was not an Episcopalian at the time I knew him and embraced the Church in after life. I have watched his course with a great interest and can safely say that I know of no man for whom I entertain a higher regard and in whose judgment I have a profounder reliance.

[49] "He has qualities of great value in a Bishop for dignity of character, self reliance, sound judgment, good common sense, fine administrative capacity, unwearied industry, an excellent knowledge of men and things, of pleasant, easy manners, a good writer, and a most excellent preacher. He is about forty years of age, of fine physical development and with an iron constitution. He has grown up in very much the same society that he would encounter in Texas, that of intelligent planters, and understands them and has great influence among them. His field of labor has been in the town of Cheraw and he has distinguished himself as a literary man, so far as his pastoral duties have permitted. He was selected by the Diocese of South Carolina as its clerical Trustee in the University of the South. He is agrowing man and will one day stand in the Church, as he did in college, at the very head of it. ... He is a South Carolinian by birth and has received the very best education that state could afford, and she has been distinguished for her careful training of her children. His churchmanship is very much my own, firm in all the principles of the Church, but not offensive to others in his maintenance of them. I consider him a very conservative man and of such good sense as not likely to run into any extremes of any sort."

Bishop Davis, who had in 1853 succeeded the Rt. Rev. Dr. Gadsden in the Bishopric of South Carolina, and was Mr. Gregg's Diocesan, wrote to Judge [49/50] Gray on the 13th of April: "I agree entirely with Bishop Elliott in his opinion of Mr. Gregg. He is a man of very sincere and earnest piety, of great purity and of transparent integrity of character, as honest and open as the day. I write from personal knowledge, as well as from general reputation, and I sincerely say that I know of no man who, I think, would better suit the Diocese of Texas.

"As to his accepting, I am wholly unable to say. His election to the Episcopate, I am sure, would come upon him like a thunderbolt. He is a man of retired habits, simple tastes and unambitious purposes. I suppose such a thought has never entered his mind, but he is perfectly conscientious and would give to the subject his deepest thought and heartfelt prayers. Whatsoever, as the result would appear to be his duty, he would do. He is also a man of enterprise and a warm advocate of Church advancement. I have not felt myself at liberty to communicate with him; and I suppose you do not wish it.

"As to some of your special inquiries, will say that his connections are of the highest and most respectable character. He is now in the possession of moderate means, with the expectation of large increase on the death of his father-in-law, who is now advanced in years. He has remarkable health and vigor of constitution--a stout and energetic man. [50/51] His mind is clear and manly, more correct than imaginative, but a man of sober wisdom, sound thought, clear insight and very just knowledge of men and things. He has very much of that most valuable quality which we call 'common sense.' . . . He has occasionally been before our convention and has produced very high and able discourses. I have no doubt that as a Bishop he would be a fine and striking preacher. As a Churchman, he is moderately high, with expansive views and a tendency to the broad. (I confess to the same infirmity myself.) He does not unchurch other orthodox Christian bodies, but his ideas of honor and discipline and perhaps of doctrine are more with the High Churchmen. His temper is remarkably self-possessed, capable of excitement, but habitually cool and controlled and very determined: productive when necessary of great and even noble effort. His character and manners are very simple, open and attractive, and insure confidence. I therefore think that he would draw many to him. Those brethren who know him well esteem him very highly, confide in him entirely and love him cordially.

"I will say one thing more:--he is a most conscientious and laborious minister of the gospel, condescending to men of low estate and working hard always. I give it as my private opinion that he would [51/52] plough up your Diocese of Texas more in one year than has been done in the last ten. ... We can poorly spare Brother Gregg from this Diocese; still we strive for a Catholic spirit; and if it please God to send him to you, we most affectionately bid both him and you God speed."

Bishop Polk, of Louisiana, who knew Mr. Gregg from his conversations with him on the Board of Trustees of the University of the South, also commended him strongly to the inquirers from the Diocese of Texas, as admirably fitted for what he, Bishop Polk, deemed a most exacting position.

It was with a knowledge of Mr. Gregg, derived from such letters as those, that the Diocesan Convention of Texas met in Austin, under the presidency of the Rev. Dr. Eaton, on the fifth day of May, 1859. Nine parishes were represented. The election of a Bishop was made the order of business for the morning session of the second day. When the time arrived, four ballots were taken, and then, "On motion, it was resolved that the Rev. Mr. Gregg be unanimously nominated by the clergy." The laity immediately "on the first ballot unanimously concurred." Upon the formal announcement of this result "much feeling was manifested by the clergy and laity, and on motion, some time was spent in silent thanksgiving to Almighty God." The Rev. [52/53] Messrs. Eaton, Gillette, Dalzell and Owen, Judge Gray and Mr. E. B. Nichols were appointed a committee to notify Mr. Gregg of his election.

As Bishop Davis had surmised, the notice of his election to the Episcopate came upon Mr. Gregg like a "thunderbolt." His first intimation of so much as the faintest allusion to him in such a connection was when he was in attendance upon the Diocesan Convention of South Carolina, at Charleston. He had been engaged in prayer and had just risen from his knees, when a gentleman sitting behind him leaned over and told him that he had been elected Bishop of Texas. It struck him almost dumb. With his retired habits, simple tastes, and unambitious purposes he was little likely to have anticipated such a mark of esteem. The full import of the situation flashed upon him--the grave responsibility of the episcopal office, especially in a territory such as Texas was then understood to be,--the pain of sundering the closest ties of association and the abandoning of cherished and noble objects,--yet he never allowed himself to be diverted from the beckoning hand of duty.

Judge Gray, for the committee, enclosed the formal notice of the election, and in a letter of some length pressed the urgency of the call upon Mr. Gregg. The committee assured the Bishop-elect that "the [53/54] proceedings were characterized with harmony of spirit and that the election was completed with entire unanimity." The letter of notification proceeded:--"After the repeated disappointments from which our Diocese has suffered, under the providence of God, it is scarcely necessary to urge the acceptance.. . . The Spirit of God has manifestly governed our Council. It calls upon you to come over and help us. The whole Church expects and requires that we should no longer be left destitute. Your duty, it appears to us, is so plainly marked that we will not suffer ourselves to doubt your acceptance. We affectionately and urgently pray you to come, and receive the joyful welcome of your brethren in Christ."

Several of the bishops, many clergymen and laymen of his acquaintance, most of whom wrote before he had any opportunity to take counsel with them, advised Mr. Gregg not to refuse the election. All seemed to recognize the necessities of the Church in a great and hitherto comparatively neglected region, and that a Divine ordering had chosen him. He deferred action, as far as he could do so with propriety, until every phase of the subject could be investigated, so that his duty might appear absolutely clear. His immediate friends and relatives, as at the time of his determination to enter the ministry, could not at first reconcile themselves to his being uprooted from the [54/55] delightful surroundings at Cheraw and transplanted to a remote wilderness, or to his leaving his friends - in South Carolina. Some, in their zealous regard for him and unmindful of the character of the man, even attemped to dissuade him from answering the call, by presenting the alluring prospect of his elevation to the Episcopate in a nearer and more attractive country. Mrs. Gregg, however, as on the former occasion, tried to conceal her deep sadness at the thought of separation from all she loved best and the home to which she was so attached, and approved of whatever her conscientious husband regarded as his duty.

And having deliberately resolved that he must accept the call to the Bishopric of Texas or be guilty of dereliction, on the 27th of May, Mr. Gregg sent the following letter of acceptance:--

"Dear Brethren:--

"Your communication of the 6th inst. on behalf of the Convention of the Diocese of Texas, informing me of my unanimous election as Bishop, was received last week on my return from Charleston. Of my feelings on this occasion, unexpected as the event was to me, and overwhelming to one of proper sensibilities, I need not speak. To my brethren, clerical and lay, of Texas, for this highest mark of confidence, however unworthy I may be of it, I feel profoundly grateful. The fearfulness of the position can [55/56] only be understood by one who has been placed in it. Anxiously and prayerfully I have considered this call, and have sought counsel also of the wisest and truest of my brethren. Some of the Fathers of the Church and others have written in urgent strains.

"I had expected to live and die among the people of this my first and only charge. No one perhaps could be more pleasantly situated than I am here, or bound by tenderer ties to a parish; but these things I am to count as lost. The struggle is over--I trust God has given me a perfect willingness to go forth with my life and my all, where His providence seems to have called me.

"A painful and oppressive sense of my unfitness for such an office and position might have been an insuperable barrier, but for the opinions of those who know me and in whose judgment I ought to be willing to confide.

"One point at least I would like to leave open for the present, touching my health in connection with the water of Texas until some definite information can be obtained. I do not suppose, however, that it will present any serious obstacles.

"I feel that God has spoken in this matter, and yet cannot help feeling also: What am I that He should call me hence. But His will be done.

"The affectionate manner in which my brethren of Texas bid me come ought to draw me very tenderly toward them, as it does--holding out the prospect of a most delightful intercourse as I go in and out among them. No call could be more united or kindly [56/57] expressed. For this let God's holy name be praised. Express, if you please, to the brethren at large my feelings on this occasion. May God guide and direct us all and bless His Church in that vast and suffering field--a field toward which, as its cry has come ever through the past, my deepest sympathies have often been drawn out.

"I remain affectionately,

"Your Brother in Christ,


"To Rev. Benjamin Eaton and others, Committee."

From later letters to the Rev. Dr. Eaton and to Judge Gray it appears that his anxiety regarding the effect of the limestone water in Texas upon his health was lest his usefulness should early become impaired in his new field. Being reassured upon that point, he wrote proposing to proceed to Texas without delay immediately after the adjournment of the General Convention the following October, arrangements having been made for his consecration in Richmond at the sitting of that body; and to remain in his Diocese until the middle or latter part of December, then to return to Cheraw to arrange his affairs for a permanent removal.

His announcement of his decision and his resignation of the parish of St. David's, Cheraw, were followed by a flood of resolutions from the vestry of the [57/58] parish, and from the various organizations with which he was connected, and expressions of regard from the public press in that part of the state. One of the Charleston papers concluded its notice of his approaching removal with these words: "That he will be acceptable to his new Diocese, that he will sustain himself, that he will distinguish himself, we are satisfied, for he has few equals and no superiors in the Church of his native state. But the question recurs emphatically: Who is to take his place and fill up the wide gap which is to be left open by his removal to the West?"

Within a short time after his election Mr. Gregg received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Kenyon College, and the College of South Carolina conferred a similar degree soon after. Other honorary degrees were conferred at different periods of his life, but it is said that the one from his alma mater was the one he most appreciated.

Project Canterbury