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,
is Texas’ oldest Protestant church--160
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 Galveston.
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."