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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 VI. The Ante-Bellum Bishopric of Texas.

THE General Convention meeting in Richmond, Virginia, in October, 1859, was remarkable for many things, perhaps most of all because of the consecration, on Sunday, the 13th of October, of four Bishops, namely: Odenheimer, of New Jersey; Bedell, of Ohio; Whipple, of Minnesota; and Gregg, of Texas.

The Presiding Bishop, desirous that the service should be held in some place large enough to accommodate the large throng which it was estimated would desire to witness such an unusual sight as the consecration of four Bishops at one time, and for which none of the Richmond churches was adequate, without consulting with any of his brother Bishops, took order for the consecration of all four bishops in Capitol Square. He yielded, however, to the storm of protest that was at once precipitated, and ordered the consecration in different churches at the same hour. Thus it came about that Dr. Gregg was consecrated in Monumental Church. His consecrator was the Presiding Bishop, Hopkins of Vermont, who preached the sermon on that occasion; and the sermon produced such an effect that the representatives from Texas requested a copy for publication, which was generously granted. [59/60] Bishops Otey, Polk, Elliott, Green, Davis and Atkinson assisted in the service and united in the laying on of hands. It is related that the day of the consecration was not a bright one, the skies being overcast until the time of the actual consecration, when the sun broke through the clouds, and shining through the stained-glass windows of Monumental Church, "fell with tinted radiance upon the head of the man kneeling at the chancel rail to receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Bishop in the Church of God."

After the adjournment of the General Convention, the newly consecrated Bishop of Texas, returned to Cheraw. About three weeks later, on the 10th of November, he set out upon a preliminary visit to his Diocese. He had never been in Texas nor in any contiguous territory, nor had he experienced any of the conditions of life prevailing there. But after his election he had made himself thoroughly acquainted with the history of the state and its natural characteristics, as well as with the conditions of the Church in Texas. He obtained all the data about the state that had been published, and he procured with no little trouble a complete set of the journals of the Diocesan Conventions, in order that he might have a thorough knowledge of what the Church had been doing there. He had kept up a correspondence with the leading [60/61] men of the Diocese and had thus become acquainted with them. So that he was coming to his Diocese not as a total stranger.

An epidemic of yellow fever was prevailing at the time, but it did not deter him, though it did prevent his entering his Diocese by way of Arkansas and the northern part of Louisiana, causing him to go by boat from New Orleans to Galveston; delayed his arrival at Galveston until Thursday, the 8th of December, and prevented his visiting at this time certain points in the northeastern section of his episcopal jurisdiction. He remained in Galveston until the following Monday at noon, his time being employed in holding services and visiting the people. Trinity Parish, Galveston, was the largest parish in Texas at the time. From Galveston he proceeded to Houston, which he reached on Tuesday morning by stage coach. By the same conveyance he proceeded to Brenham and Austin, reaching the latter place on the morning of Friday, the 16th, having thus spent three nights in stage coaches.

But in order to appreciate more fully the character of this remarkable missionary journey of the new Bishop, it would be well to see something of the conditions of the region through which he was travelling. The population of Texas was then nearly confined to the eastern, southern and lower-middle portions of the [61/62] state. Along the frontiers were scattered at wide intervals, unimportant villages; beyond in the north and west, crossed occasionally by lines of timber, ranges of hills and various streams, lay the rolling and trackless prairies, where still the Indian, the buffalo and the famous cowboy held sway,--the first named probably predominating.

A few steam vessels entered the two or three imperfect harbors on the coast; and a railroad reached a point nearly one hundred miles from the principal port, Galveston, having two short and insignificant connecting lines. From the terminus of the principal railroad, at Hempstead, and between some of the larger towns, such as Austin, San Antonio and Waco, ran regular four-horse stages, but the more general mode of travel was by two-horse coaches, or by what was known, on account of the sticky qualities of the "black-waxy" soil, as "mud-hacks." A four-horse stage left San Antonio at six A.M. and via New Braunfels, San Marcos, Austin, Georgetown, and Belton, reached Waco, a distance of two hundred miles, at noon on the third day. A similar conveyance left Hempstead at ten in the morning and going through Burleson, La Grange, Bastrop, and some less important places, reached Austin at noon on the second day, a distance of about one hundred miles. The making of this time, however, was dependent upon [62/63] the state of the roads and other contingencies; for swollen streams and "hold ups" and other accidents were not infrequent.

It was under the conditions here briefly sketched that Bishop Gregg accomplished his first series of visits in Texas. From Austin he proceeded to Wilbarger (now Manor), a distance of fourteen miles, and there held services in a school-house. This was on Saturday, and he visited several church families residing upon plantations in that vicinity and then returned to Austin and that night held the examination of a candidate for Deacon's Orders. He had services in Austin on Sunday and on Tuesday left for San Antonio, and after a fourth night spent in a stage coach, he reached that city on the z1st. He officiated twice in the Methodist church at San Antonio, and laid the corner-stone of St. Mark's Church. Leaving San Antonio on the following Thursday, he spent a fifth night in a stage coach and reached Seguin, where he held services in the court-house and visited church families in the vicinity. On Saturday he left for Gonzales, a distance of fifty miles. There services were held in the Baptist church. Setting out thence for Columbus, "seats in an ambulance having been provided," a sixth night was spent in a conveyance. Richmond was visited and there the Bishop met the Rev. Mr. Dalzell, just recovering from yellow [63/64] fever. Then after a seventh night spent for the most part in a stage coach, the Bishop reached Houston where he held services in the court-house on New Year's day, 1860. The following Wednesday he officiated in Galveston, and the next day he set out upon his return to South Carolina to prepare for taking up his residence permanently in Texas. He was greatly gratified by the cordial welcome he had everywhere received and by the earnest attention of the congregations gathered to hear him in courthouses, school-houses, Masonic halls, and in Presbyterian, Methodist and other meeting houses very kindly offered. ["A Saint of the Southern Church."] He had confirmed about one hundred persons.

Several weeks were spent at Cheraw in preparations for the long journey, as it then seemed, and indeed was, and in taking leave of the varied interests of the life there. In selecting the negroes who were to accompany the family to Texas, age, inclination, relationship and feelings were taken into consideration. The delicate attitude of the owner toward slaves was characteristic of Bishop Gregg to a marked degree, and those who accompanied the family always retained a sincere affection for their master and his family. Toward the end of January the Bishop left Cheraw with his family, servants and household [64/65] effects. His first objective point was New Orleans. Here he obtained, among other things, a strong carriage and a buggy, to take the place of the stages in many cases in his journeys in Texas. This portion of his equipment proved very important and valuable in his career as a Bishop in a frontier state. During the first year he made many trips in his buggy alone, and for several years he was able to visit places distant more than two hundred miles from his home without being dependent upon the stages. Nearly all of the short trips were made in his own vehicles. The Bishop's carriage and pair of large powerful bay horses, with Cato, the driver, were long a familiar sight to every community in the state. One of the bay horses, "John" by name, was purchased with great difficulty in Texas, and proved a remarkable animal for his strength, proportions and intelligence. He lived to be nearly thirty years old and maintained his spirit and sagacity to the last. Mrs. Gregg often accompanied her husband upon his visitations, and soon they were known as a strikingly handsome couple in every part of the Diocese.

Immediately after establishing himself in his new home, the Bishop sent out a circular letter, to be published in all the principal newspapers of the state, inviting all the members of the Church "who might be scattered abroad, beyond the bounds of any organized [65/66] parish," to communicate with him, and encouraging them "to a patient waiting for a day of better things." He noted as a result that "no little fruit appeared in responses of an interesting character, from various parts of the Diocese," giving him reason to hope that much permanent good had been effected He persisted in this method of reaching the people and in following up the clews thus obtained to the whereabouts of the members of the Church and in visiting the places whence he received answers to his letters, until he had gone to nearly every place where there was a human habitation in the vast extent of territory.

He began his work very systematically, as was the habit of his life. He first visited isolated points within a radius of one hundred miles of Austin, and on the first of April began a series of visitations in the towns between Austin and Matagorda, where the Convention was to meet on the 13th. He thus visited Bastrop, La Grange, Columbus and other points in that part of the state. He presided at his first Diocesan Convention in Matagorda and preached the Convention sermon from the text, "The field is the world." The reports to the Convention showed fourteen clergymen at work in Texas and four hundred and fifty-six communicants. The Convention exhibited a marked awakening and the anticipation of great progress.

[67] After returning from the Convention and visiting neighboring towns, the Bishop set out upon his first series of visitations in the most populous portion of the state, including the towns of Navasota, Anderson, Montgomery, Huntsville, Nacogdoches, San Augustine, Jefferson, and Marshall. This involved a journey of more than a thousand miles and an absence from home until July, and was named by him as his "Northeastern" circuit or section. He then laid out his series of visitations in "Northern," "Southern," and "Southeastern" sections, taking them up in that order. This systematic plan he maintained substantially until the division of the Diocese in 1874, when under the changed conditions of travel he was able to arrange his visitations by seasons, and had his "Fall," "Winter," and "Spring" visitations. The principal newspapers in the state, and especially the Galveston News, published his list of appointments in advance, and he adhered to the published list with extraordinary regularity until the end of his work.

In September, 1860, he set out on his "Northern" visitations, and reached Dallas (distant two hundred miles), and other places, at that time of little importance, but which he then noted were destined to become large cities. He returned to Austin late in October, and was off again early in November on his "Southern" [67/68] visitations, in the direction of Brownsville, in the extreme southeastern portion of the state, returning in the latter part of December. In February and March he was engaged with his "Southeastern" visitations. In the course of these three series of visitations he confirmed one hundred and thirty persons.

The effects of his work began to be seen when in April, 1861, the Diocesan Convention met in Austin. A missionary society, organized in Matagorda a year previously, was able to report the collection of more than $1,5oo, and disbursement of that amount for the expenses of clergymen not regularly supported by parishes, to enable them to extend their labors. The society had a list of annual and life members embracing nearly all the persons connected with the Church throughout the state. Among its life members was Col. Robert E. Lee, then commandant of the United States Army post at San Antonio. The plans for church building and also for the establishment of St. Paul's College, upon the plan of Nashota in the Northwest, laid before the Convention, gave evidence of the awakening of a great Church movement in Texas. But dark days were in store for the Bishop of Texas and his Diocese, and he must needs wait until these passed before he could see the fruition of the labors of his first year in the Episcopate.

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