news that San Augustine
businessman Jack Maund has contributed $100,000 for a museum and events center
at McMahan Chapel Methodist Church has focused new attention on one of
East Texas’ most historic churches.
Standing in a rural setting eleven miles east of Texas Highway 21 in Sabine
County, McMahan Chapel
is Texas’ oldest Protestant church--160 years old.
was under Mexican rule and only Catholic churches were allowed, McMahan’s
Chapel was organized in 1833 as a Methodist Society by Rev. James Stevenson
and met in the home of Colonel Samuel Doak McMahan. A year later the group became
a Methodist church under the leadership of Stevenson. While Stevenson is credited
with founding the church, it was Littleton Fowler, a Kentucky-born circuit
rider whose missionary zeal brought fame to the birthplace of Texas Methodism.
was a circuit rider, a missions superintendent, chaplain of the Texas Senate,
and a brilliant pulpiteer.
And, almost if he looked upon these as petty
exploits, he rode and walked thousands of miles between the Sabine
River and Texas to found new churches.
Licensed to preach the gospel
in 1826, Fowler volunteered for service as a missionary to the Republic of Texas
in 1836, but illness delayed his departure until 1837.
He arrived in time
to help build the first church building at McMahan’s
Chapel. It became his headquarters for carrying the faith throughout the Republic,
“even into pagan Houston.”
At San Augustine
in 1838, he stood on a cornerstone with Texas hero Sam
Houston to dedicate the town’s First Methodist Church. He wrote in his diary:
“Since the birth of time, no cornerstone of a Protestant church has been laid
between this and the Isthmus of Panama, the Pacific Ocean, and the southern extremity
of the continent of South America.”
That same year Fowler’s evangelistic
zeal dimmed when, as chaplain of the Texas Senate, he accompanied a band of politicians
on a steamboat trip from Houston to
In his journal, he wrote: “I saw men in high life...if what I saw and
heard were a fair representation, my God keep me from such scenes in the future.
On our return on Sunday afternoon, about half on board got wildly drunk and stripped
to their linens and pantaloons...their bacchanalian revels and blood-curdling
profanity made the pleasure boat a floating hell. I was relapsed from the trip
and brought near the valley of death.”
In 1846, after nine years in Texas,
Fowler became ill while preaching at Douglass in Nacogdoches County. He was carried
to his home at McMahan’s
Chapel and died on January 29 at the age of 43.
But he retained his
fervency for the faith to the end.
As his wife leaned over his deathbed,
he asked: “Who’s there?” She replied, ”Your unhappy wife.”
“Ah,” he said,
just before he died. “I thought it was an angel.”
Complying with his last
wish, his followers buried his body under the pulpit of McMahan’s
Chapel and carved on his headstone these words:
“His native land,
Kentucky. His adopted, Texas. His final home, Heaven.”
the road from the Chapel is the cemetery and a Depression Era Park." - Barclay