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  • Texas | Columns

    McMahan Chapel

    by Bob Bowman
    Bob Bowman
    The 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.
    McMahan Chapel Tx - McMahan Chapel
    McMahan Chapel
    Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson
    McMahan Chapel Tx - McMahan Chapel
    McMahan Chapel Historical Marker
    Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson
    When Texas 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.

    Fowler 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.”
    McMahan Chapel Tx - McMahan Chapel and Centennial Monument
    Chapel and Centennial Monument
    Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson
    McMahan Chapel Tx - Cemetery and Centennial Monument
    "Across the road from the Chapel is the cemetery and a Depression Era Park." - Barclay Gibson
    McMahan Chapel Tx - McMahan Chapel Centennial Monument
    McMahan Chapel Centennial Monument
    Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson
    More Texas Centennial Monuments
    McMahan Chapel Centennial Highway Marker TX
    McMahan Chapel Centennial Highway Marker
    On Hwy 21 and 35, about 7 miles SE of San Augustine
    Photo courtesy Sarah Reveley, July 2008
    Bob Bowman's East Texas May 30, 2011 Column.
    A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
    Related Topics:
    Texas Churches | Columns
    (Bob Bowman of Lufkin. is the author of almost 50 books about East Texas history and folklore. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)
    Bob Bowman's East Texas >
    "All Things Historical" archive >

    Related Topics:

    East Texas
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    The Forgotten Towns of East Texas, Vol. I
    By Bob and Doris Bowman
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