[Autograph Letter Signed to the Secretaries of the American Home Missionary Society, Reporting on his Attempt to Establish a Church in Western Texas, and Talking about his Visits to Indian Point, Victoria, De Witt County, Gonzales, Seguin, and New Braunfels, and high Prices for food in Western Texas, &c.].
Near Sequin, Guadalupe Co., Texas: 5 March 1848.
Quarto bifolium (ca. 25x20 cm). 3,4 pp. Brown ink on blueish wove paper. Addressed, sealed and docketed on verso of the second leaf. Fold marks, wax seal residue on verso of the second leaf; but overall a very good letter.
Detailed and historically interesting letter by Rev. J.L. Hawley, a Presbyterian missionary (apparently, from the “New School”) of the American Home Missionary Society (AMHS), reporting about his attempt to establish a church in western Texas in the autumn-winter of 1847-48. The letter was addressed to Rev. Milton Badger & Charles Hall, the Society’s secretaries for correspondence, located at the Society’s headquarters (150 Nassau St., New York). Records show that Rev. J.L Hawley was appointed by the AMHS “to go to Kentucky” in November 1846 (The Home Missionary. Vol. XIX, No. 8, December 1846, p. 210) and “to go to Texas” in September 1847 (The Home Missionary. Vol. XX, No. 7, November 1847, p. 164).
The letter describes Hawley’s sea voyage to Port Lavaca, a stop at Indian Point, and his missionary travels by a stagecoach or horse between Victoria, Indian Point, De Witt County, Gonzales, Seguin, and New Braunfels, with notes on the religious views of inhabitants and the presence of missionaries in each town. The letter reveals an intense competition for the Texas congregation between New and Old School Presbyterians, Cumberland Presbyterians and Methodists. The place Hawley found suitable for establishing a church was Seguin, whose inhabitants “had raised pr. subscription about $ 100 for my support.” He also presented the report of his expenses to date and asked the Society for financial support, as “it will cost us more than double to live anywhere in Western Texas, than it did in Ky.” He also complained about his poor health, his horse that ran away or was stolen, and vaguely described his confrontation with other priests and missionaries. Overall a rare content-rich original source on the early history of the Presbyterian Church in Texas, which had become a U.S. state just three years prior (1845).
Excerpts from the letter: “<…> On our way [to Port Lavaca] we called at Indian Point, a small but flourishing town on Matagorda Bay. I called to see Rev. Mr. Blair, Old Schl. Presbyterian. What I shall say of him will be strictly confidential. He asked where I was going, &c. &c. I have thought of stopping at Victoria. To this he replied, that he intended going there himself & remaining till he could get some one from the North. I found that he owned the house where church was held, that he had preached there many years under the Bd. of F. Missions, that he had an organized church &c. He advised me to go further. Of course I would not intrude. From Port Lavaca we took stage 30 ms. to N. West to Victoria, sit. on Guadelupe River & is the most important town in Western Texas. Rev. Mr. B. arrived the next day with his family. <…> I, being urged, preached twice. A number of the citizens tried hard to have me remain. Mr. B’s elder was very solicitous to keep me. They all said they had never paid anything, as yet for preaching, but if I would remain, they would get up a subscription for me. I accordingly took board but told them I could not preach while Mr. B. remained. <…> While at Victoria, I had the superintendence of the S. School, prepared myself & the children (some 40) seemed delighted.
We at length thought it our duty to go to Indian Point & see what could be done there & they are anxious to have us remain. The population is principally German & they seem really attached to us, but I fear the salt water. My cough grew worse while I staid [sic!]. Three weeks ago I left my family there, for the purpose of exploring this valley, & seeing where the gospel is most needed. Thirty ms. above Victoria, in De Witt Co. is a neighborhood where a tolerable congregation lived to the age of 18 yrs. without overhearing a sermon. One good presbyterian, who lives there, says they would raise from $100 to $150 if we will come. From thence I went to Gonzales, pop. 300 or 400. They have preaching every Sabbath (such as it is) from Methodists & Cumberland Presbyns. From there I rode to Seguin. This is a small town, country seat of Guadelupe Co., sit. on the river, pop. 100. They wanted us to go there. There are no Presbyterians – nearly all Methodists. From this place I went to New Braunfels. This is the town wh. Mr. Burke said was intirely [sic!] destitute of preaching. But I found a Cumb. Presbyterian settled there & Methodists of course.
On my return to Seguin, I found they had raised pr. subscription, about $100 for my support, if we would go there. I think it possible we may go. Flour is from $12 to 17 pr. bbl. there. It will cost us more than double to live anywhere in Western Texas, that it did in Ky. <> There is a room for 3 ministers in this valley who could receive one third of their support from the people, or nearly so. I of course shall receive nothing from the people for I have not preached among them. I do wish that two or three could be sent here by yr. Board. Infidelity lifts a bold front here. The difficulties of the Missionary differ widely from those of Ky. But go where I may, I never expect to find such an other man as Dr. Hubbard. I have much to say, but it hurts me to write. I beg you to accept this as my first yrs. report <…>
The family with whom I have been an unixected [sic!] guest two weeks, is a very interesting one. He is a physician. They say they are not Christians but want to be. To this end they never retire to rest, without private prayer. They appeared really glad of my stay & say they would build us a house if we would come & live with them. I, of course tried to direct them to the Saviour & in family worship have had a good chance to express my feelings to God respecting them in their presence.”.
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