Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Early Christianity in Texas with special emphasis on events within the present Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth

The Episcopal Diocese
of Fort Worth
Through 1895

[The following is a revision of a seminary paper submitted by me while at Nashotah House in 1991. It was subsequently edited and adapted for use in catechism class, as a hand-out on local Church History using the Christian Formation curriculum as an outline (Section III; part 5). -- W. C. Giles, 16-Mar-2010]

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth contains twenty-three Texas counties1 and one additional municipality2, contains 1,475,431 people3 (which is larger than the populations of the fifteen least populated states) and covers roughly 20,000 square miles. The current bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is the Right Reverend Clarence C. Pope, Jr., and the Diocesan headquarters is located in Fort Worth, Texas, the seat of Tarrant County.

Although the Diocese is currently less than ten years old, the history of the Church within its current boundaries dates back to the Spanish explorers who were bringing the Gospel to the Indians as they searched for gold and other riches. The first known such explorer to enter into our area was the successor to De Soto, Luys de Moscoso whose travels took place in the mid 16th century. Five days after crossing the Red River, traveling from the region of Hope, Arkansas, Moscoso and his band fought with the local Indians near Gainesville in Cooke County, the northeastern most county in the diocese. Learning that some of the Indians had indicated seeing other "Christians" farther west -- those of the Coronado expedition -- the Moscoso expedition moved west through the territory. There are five missionaries recorded as being part of this expedition, and their records indicate that five hundred Indians were baptized during their wanderings.4
The next story concerning the geographic boundaries of the current diocese also involves the Spanish explorers. These, as legend has it, were 18th century Spaniards escaping across the area towards the west from hostile Indians. The legend takes place in what is now Palo Pinto County, on the banks of the Brazos River. Claude Beesley, who produced a history of the area tells the story:
The white men reached the river just at nightfall and were able to make the crossing in safety. However, before the Indians could cross in the morning, one of those typical Brazos floods of swirling copper-colored water came down and made it possible for the Spaniards to get away. At a Eucharistic Mass the next day, a priest likened their escape to that of the Children of Israel, who were saved from Pharaoh's hosts by the roaring water of the Red Sea. He stated in his sermon that only the arms of God had saved them, and he re-named the river, calling it Rio de los Brazos de Dios (River of the Arms of God).5
The legend also includes the former name of the river which was supposed to be Rio del Espiritu Santo. If there is any support to the legend, or at least the antiquity of the legend, it may be in a possible connection between the original name of legend and the existence of the town of Santo only a couple of miles from the river. In any case, the folklore certainly substantiates that the Spanish missionaries made their impact on this region of Texas.
The Spanish explorers left the region towards the end of that (the 18th) century. And except for a battle with a French outpost in northern Montague County, nothing else is known of subsequent endeavors. The Spanish concentrated on the southern coastal regions of the state, and the natives in our area apparently had no further contact with Christianity for several decades.

The Episcopal presence in Texas began with Bishop Leonidas Polk, Bishop of the Southwest, unknowingly crossing over into the then Republic of Texas from Arkansas on Saint Patrick's Day, 1839. The area was disputed by Arkansas, but was legitimately Texas soil, but none-the-less was technically under his jurisdiction.6
Bishop George Washington Freeman was elected Missionary Bishop of Arkansas by the 1844 General convention, and was to function over missions in the Republic of Texas7. Up until 1845, Texas (as a sovereign republic since 1836, and Mexican Territory prior to that) was considered to be a foreign mission. It was in the first year that Texas was admitted into Union with the United States that Bishop Freeman made his first visit into this state. However, Neither bishop had wandered as far as the territories which now comprise the Diocese of Fort Worth.
On the first day of 1849, the Diocese of Texas was formally organized at Matagorda on the Gulf Coast -- some two hundred miles from the nearest point to our area. The young diocese would have no impact on our territory for years to come, but would eventually spawn the two missionary districts from which our diocese evolves. The lack of involvement with our area was not due to a lack of interest, but a lack of settlements. To put it in perspective, Fort Worth would not be founded as a frontier outpost against the Comanche Indians until May of this same year. Fort Worth was then, truly "Where the West Begins."
Another impetus for the Church in our area came from an unexpected source. In 1858, Captain R. B. Marcy with a company of soldiers explored the Little Wichita River at the beginning of a search for the headwaters of the Red River. This trip would have taken him through Archer and Clay counties. At the time, there were no white settlements within a hundred miles of this location, but the area was populated by Indians. After his adventure, he wrote that of all the hardships that have come to the Indians at the hands of the white man, that the only reparations that the whites could make would be to bring Christianity and civilization to them. Captain Marcy also noted that to his knowledge, no missionaries had ever visited the Indians that he saw.
Four men would turn down the episcopate in Texas before the new diocese could find a leader. And it wasn't until October of 1859 that Alexander Gregg would be consecrated as the first bishop of the Diocese of Texas. Within a year, Bishop Gregg would visit at least two towns in our territory: Fort Worth and Hillsboro8. We know that Fort Worth had no regular minister at that time.
Hillsboro is in the extreme southeast corner of what is now the Diocese of Fort Worth, and about fifty miles west of an active parish in Corsicana which was also on Bishop Gregg's itinerary. Fort Worth, at the central eastern edge of the area is only thirty miles from Dallas where another parish existed (Saint Matthew's -- now the Cathedral of the Diocese of Dallas). These towns represented the absolute frontier of Texas at the time. For example, in 1857 Clay County, on our northern edge, was created. However, it was abandoned and disorganized in 1860 due to Indian raids. Ten years later, this County was scarcely safe from Indian raids as Chief White Horse attacked and burned Henrietta in 1870. During this same time period, Geronimo attacked a settlement near Bowie (Montague County on the northern edge of the diocese).9
Other sources of hardship were also active at this time. The northern aggression and cessation resulted in a virtual blockade of the Confederate Texas, creating an often desperate situation for thousands of people. The Southern Episcopal Church, in response to the political changes and the necessity of shepherding its own people broke from the Episcopal Church of the United States, and became the Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. This, however, resulted in the missionary funds and other monies being denied the Diocese by the Northern Church, thus disabling the church from assisting the growing needs of the people, and temporarily making mission building in our part of the state impossible.
In the 1868 General Convention in New York, legislation was recommended by several diocese (including Texas) to enable the dioceses to divide more easily. The final version of the legislation was unhelpful for Texas in that it included a requirement for a minimum number of clergy in each division which Texas could not produce. The unavailability of clergy had been particularly difficult for Texas, and the Civil War added to the problems of attracting more men to an impoverished diocese which was involved in a civil war and under Indian attack. Bishop Gregg then suggested that legislation be passed to allow a diocese to give back some of its territory to the National Church to be regarded as a missionary diocese (having in mind the western part of the state). The concept was to reduce the size of the diocese so that the clergy in one could more adequately cover the territory, and thus reduce the financial burden of a young and unwealthy diocese in trying to minister to the enormous territory. This matter would not be taken up until the next General Convention in 1871, and then would await taking final passage in 1874. During those six years, the growth in North Texas had incited a more immediate need, and this section too was presented to the General Convention as a missionary jurisdiction.
The legislation passed, and two bishops were elected by the convention to serve the new missionary diocese. Bishop Alexander Garrett was elected and consecrated to serve as the bishop of the Missionary Jurisdiction of Northern Texas

Bishop Garrett was born and raised in Ireland. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all priests, and rectors of the same Irish parish. Alexander was ordained in Ireland, and came to North America at the urging of the Bishop of Columbia who wanted to bring the Church into the areas of Canada where the recently found gold had caused many to immigrate.

It was however, the native Indians in Canada that Alexander Garrett paid the most attention to. He started a school which included eight tribes together, did his best to learn the five different languages of those tribes, organized for their protection when the government wanted to drive them out by violent means, cared for them during a smallpox epidemic. Soon after, he moved his family to San Francisco to tend to the flock there. The Bishop of Nebraska heard him preach there, and invited him to come to his Cathedral in Omaha to be his Dean. In 1874, Garrett was asked to be a "missionary speaker" at the next General Convention. It was this sermon that had such great influence on the Convention which subsequently decided that he was the right man for the New Missionary Jurisdiction.10

The Missionary Jurisdiction of Northern Texas contained at the time only five clergymen (one a deacon), four parishes (of which only three had buildings) and ten missions11. None of the parishes were in our diocese and the portion of this new missionary diocese that would become our own contained the following three missions: Fort Worth (1861), Cleburne (1871), Hillsboro (1872)12. In 1872 the mission in Fort Worth had acquired a regular minister, the Reverend Thompson L. Smith from Virginia, to hold services. These services were held in the Tarrant County courthouse. That same year he was replaced by the Reverend Nelson Ayers.

Saint Matthew's, Dallas was chosen for the Cathedral (127 communicants)13 and the bishop quickly began to organize the diocese. In May of 1875, the first Convocation was assembled and the bishop laid out his plan for growth, which included aggressive attempts to buy land all through the territory while it was cheap, in anticipation of the continuance of the immigration that had created a population boom over the last decade. Bishop Garrett traveled the diocese constantly, keeping close ties with the existing missions and starting new ones. One of his journals mentions preaching in Cleburne for nearly an hour and a half and that the congregation listened with "rapt attention" throughout. On March 17, 1875, the bishop went into Fort Worth. Here he organized the mission mentioned earlier14 in which the Reverend Edwin Wickens was placed in charge. There were ten communicants, and a new wood frame building was erected at the intersection of Bluff and Pecan streets (four blocks east of the courthouse). The Reverend Wickens was paid three hundred dollars each year and lived in the mission building. The railroad had not entered Fort Worth at this time, but the route had already been prepared, which set Fort Worth on the brink of a tremendous population growth from its then current two thousand members. An excerpt from the bishop's journal states:
The telegraph wire points out the course of the future railroad which, more that any other thing is now impatiently desired by Fort Worth.
Fort Worth would only have to wait until July 19th of the following year (1876) for the desire to be fulfilled, when the Texas and Pacific Railroad finally came through. Land was secured in Fort Worth that year for $200.00 and was one hundred feet square. Little did it know that in just over a hundred years it would be considered the Holy See of Anglican Christianity in the Western Hemisphere15.  

The entire region from Fort Worth and west was primarily cattle land. Oil was discovered later, but cattle would continue to be a major industry even until the present. Lands west of Fort Worth would be made up of primarily ranch land, farms and oil production, thereby maintaining relatively sparse populations. The railroad did effect this somewhat by centralizing some of the populations who moved to be near the convenience. An example of this was a town called Eagle Cove near Abilene. Tennesseans decided to settle there, who were from a strong Christian background. In his missionary journeys, Bishop Garrett, we learn from his journals, frequented this community, and a church was built. When the railroad arrived, Eagle Cove soon became a ghost town, losing its entire population to the cities along the rail. From the bishops address to the Convocation in 187616, we learn that Henrietta, Comanche17 and Hillsboro had been visited by Bishop Garrett three or four times each. We are also told that, "Plans for All Saints, Weatherford18 and St, Andrew's, Fort Worth have been drawn." 

He later says,

All Saints, Weatherford, grows apace. The severe taste, generous liberality and persistent zeal of Captain Henry Warren and his co-workers will tolerate nothing but the best material and workmanship. The site on which the building is being erected is probably the finest, at present, possessed by us throughout the jurisdiction.
In August of 1876, the bishop again visited Comanche for three days, and confirmed two people there. His journal indicates that he then left for Brownwood for a day (August 28, 1876), and returned again to Comanche for another day, marrying one couple, and lecturing on science and religion to what he called, "a very large assembly." The bishop was a very energetic man. Three of the six missions/parishes in our area at this time were in need of and actively seeking a priest. These were Fort Worth, Cleburne and Weatherford. The fact that half of the mission in our territory indicate both the difficulty in acquiring clergy of the time; and in particular, the difficulty in acquiring clergy in the frontier. 

The territory of the Missionary Jurisdiction east of Fort Worth had four positions open at this time, but this represented only a third of the number of mission parishes. Bishop Garrett also mentioned in his address at the Convocation that Fort Richardson was effectively managed by the General (Davidson) who was acting as lay reader. Fort Richardson is now known as Jacksboro, the site of a relatively new Episcopal mission, Saint Thomas the Apostle.Later in this same year, the mission in Cleburne (Holy Comforter) became a parish and added a rectory; while a mission in Henrietta was begun (not the Trinity of the present day, but called Saint Aiden's). In September of this year, W. L. Sartwelle was licensed as a lay reader in Comanche to make up for the lack of a regular priest to perform services. Mr. Sartwelle would continue in this role for the nine years until the mission obtained its own priest.
In 1877, Bishop Garrett was traveling the east coast by train to search for funds to help his young diocese. On this travel, he met the senior warden of a small Connecticut parish. The man, John Henry Smith, listened to the bishops stories of the work being done by the Church in Texas, and gave the bishop $500.00. The only stipulation made was that he wanted the money to go for a church to be built in Fort Worth, and that it be named Saint Andrew's. The account of the story mentions that the man claimed the money belonged to his son, but not why the church was to be named Saint Andrew's. It seems likely that there was, somewhere in Connecticut, a young Andrew Smith who must have had several questions of his father. 

In 1878, we find information from the Convocation indicating why the diocese was ailing from lack of clergy. The treasure's report indicated that Bishop Garrett had been paid only $200 over the past three years. The amount was to have been $1,500 for that period. From the previous Convocation, we learn that Bishop Garrett expected that a priest at a mission must be pledged at least $400.00 each year, and that a parish priest was to be paid at least $800.00 (25% more than the bishop himself had agreed to receive!). Therefore, it may very well have been financial hardship which caused the vacancies. The turnover rate was high, having only one clergyman attending consecutive Conventions in each of the last two Convocations. 

Funds notwithstanding, the building of the Cathedral in Dallas continued, and Saint Andrew's, Fort Worth had begun on the last day of December of 1877. The later's progress was attributed by Bishop Garrett to The Reverend T. J. Mackay, the rector of that parish, and to his "zeal and energy" that had made it (except for Saint Matthew's), the finest church in the diocese. Only four and a half months later, the building was consecrated, with 64 communicants under Father Mackay's charge.

Further west, the mission in Comanche first visited by the bishop in 1875 had been growing. In 1886, The reverend Peter Wager was put in charge of the mission, tending to services once a month. A parishioner donated a plot of land for the mission building in the following year, and the building itself erected for about $600.00.
In 1888, the Reverend W. W. Patrick took charge of the once-a-month services, at Comanche, separating his time with his church in Dublin, and missions in Hamilton, Morgan and Albany. The Hamilton mission built their own mission building in 1889, and this mission continues as Saint Mary's, Hamilton. The successor to the Reverend Patrick19 is of particular interest in that it is the son of the parishioner who had been licensed by bishop Garrett in 1877, W. L. Sartwelle. The Reverend Mister W. D. Sartwelle was one of the first native Texans to be ordained into the Episcopal Church. In 1895, the Reverend Patrick returned to the mission now counting 35 communicants, and continued there until his death at the end of the century. 

The original building still stands and is still used by the congregation there. Saint Matthew's, Comanche, is the oldest church building in Comanche County. The mission in Brownwood built a sandstone structure in 1892. The stained glass windows in this church have an interesting story behind them. While the sanctuary of Saint John, Brownwood was being built, the architectural plans were sent to Belgium so that the stained glass being prepared there could be made to size. The original plans came from the New York office, and were being used to build another episcopal church in Tokyo at the same time. Unfortunately, the stained glass for this church was also being prepared at the same Belgium location. The Tokyo church was named Saint Peter's. The obvious mistake was made, and Saint John's windows to this day depict events in the life of Saint Peter. They also contain the word Tokyo in one corner of one of the windows. Presumably, there once was a church in Tokyo named Saint Peter's which had windows depicting the life of Saint John.20

The archives of the Diocese of Fort Worth indicate that Bishop Garrett first came to the unorganized congregation in Hubbard, Texas in 1887. Soon after, the aforementioned Reverend W. D. Sartwelle "cottage services" were begun at the home of Colonel and Mrs. Bodwell E. Wells. The congregation later began to meet in the local Presbyterian church, and it was there, in 1895, that Bishop Garrett performed the first confirmations in Hubbard. The little congregation remained faithful and became an organized mission in 1918.

In 1895, the Missionary Jurisdiction of Northern Texas was divided into the Diocese of Dallas and the Missionary District of North Texas. All of the counties which now make up the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth were included in the new Diocese of Dallas.


1 Wichita, Archer, Clay, Montague, Cooke, Young, Jack, Wise, Stephens, Palo Pinto, Parker, Tarrant, Eastland, Erath, Hood, Somervell, Johnson, Brown, Comanche, Mills, Hamilton, Bosque and Hill Counties.
2Grand Prairie, Dallas County, Texas, which the Diocese agreed to exchange for Denton County which remains a part of the Diocese of Dallas.
3 1980 Census data. Current population is somewhat larger.
4Beesley, Claude A., The Episcopal Church in Northern Texas, Wichita Falls, Texas, 1952, p. 4f.
5ibid, p. 5f.
6ibid. p.10.
7Consecrated on October 26, 1944 by Bishop Philander Chase and assisted by Jackson Kemper and others.
8Beesley, p. 25. If an account of this visitation exists, it is not noted in this source.
9ibid. p.27f.
10ibid. pp.34-46.
11ibid. pp 32,48.
12Murphey, Rev. Dubose, A Short History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Texas, Turner Company, Dallas, 1935; p.130f. Table I.
13Beesley, The Episcopal Church in Northern Texas, p.47.
14ibid. p.52. From this information it is assumed that they were the same mission. Cross referencing to Murphey's Short History, Table I, p. 130ff, it seems apparent that this was the only Episcopal mission in Fort Worth at this time.
15At least it is held so by nearly half of the Nashotah House class of 1994! 
16Although this is the date of the address found in Beesley, it conflicts with other information which would indicate that this material actually was in the 1878 address -- editor.
17From the Comanche Chief, August 2, 1973 edition, we learn that the date of the first visit was September 10, 1875, which quotes from the Bishop's journal. From this we also learn that there were few churchman and that they met in the Masonic College building. The following day, the bishop confirmed six people, and gave two sermons. 
18Established from a mission in 1875.
19Went to care for Saint Andrew's, Fort Worth.
20Smith, Susie, "Historic Area Churches", Central Texas Pride Magazine, Brownwood, Texas, Spring 1985, p.22.
21Formal Mission Organization.

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