wasn't supposed to be but one religion in Texas, in 1835. But a crusty old Baptist
by the name of Z.N. Morrell had plans to bring the Protestant religion
to the settlers anyway, even though it went against Mexican law.
Anglo settlers were given permission to colonize Texas, one of the rules was that
everyone had to worship as a Catholic. And although this rule wasn't strictly
adhered to, it was still a Mexican law that forbade any religion but Catholicism.
Z.N. Morrell was a fiery Baptist minister who came to Texas in 1835
to explore the possibilities of forming churches in the settlements. It is apparent
that "Wildcat", as he was known, had no problems with going against the
Mexican government's rule regarding other religions. But by the time he was ready
to act on his plan to begin building churches in Texas, the revolution was over
and Texas was a free country. So it was that when Morrell finally brought his
family to the new republic in April of 1836, he was able to start his church without
fear of repercussions from the government.
According to The Handbook of Texas Online, Morrell first settled near the
falls of the Brazos. But Indian raids soon forced him to move his family to Washington-on-the-Brazos.
It was there that Morrell helped form one of the first Baptist churches in Texas
in 1837. He was an Indian fighter, land speculator, schoolteacher, and politician,
as well as a preacher.
article in the July 27, 1972, edition of The Gonzales Inquirer commemorated
the history of the Baptist movement in Gonzales. The article stated that
Z.N. Morrell was an interesting combination of missionary, frontiersman, and preacher.
The Inquirer article included the following about Morrell: "… he will stand in
the history of Gonzales as the first Baptist to preach in this area, and one of
the organizers of the first church here.
Morrell's book, Flowers and Fruits in Wilderness, evidently gives an eyewitness
account of the problems faced by frontier missionaries during the early
days of the Republic of Texas.
of the quotes from the book indicate what Rev. Morrell considered to be some of
the biggest obstacles facing organized religion at the time. He blamed the Indians,
anti-missionaries, and "King John Barleycorn" for most of the problems.
Morrell saw to it that the citizens of Gonzales would receive the "Word" and that
they would receive it on a regular basis. He preached in a schoolhouse some four
miles from the settlement and at his little church in town. The Indians were a
constant threat and according to Morrell they even committed a murder once while
church was in session.
He said that folks attending the services that evening heard a "shrill Indian
whistle" and some shots. The next morning they found the body of a scalped "non-believer"
near the church. Morrell mentioned that after that incident, the meetings were
more like armed gatherings with some men standing guard while the others listened
to the sermon with guns across their laps.
After his time in Gonzales, Morrell was appointed by the Domestic Mission Board
of the Southern Baptist Convention to be a circuit-riding preacher. He made routine
trips from Cameron to Corsicana on horseback, which was a monthly round-trip of
some 300 miles. Morrell was in ill-health most of the time, yet he helped raise
funds for Baylor University in 1847. Twenty years later, in 1867, he was involved
in missionary work in Honduras.
in The Handbook of Texas Online states that Morrell's most notable contribution
was his written ministry in the book, Flowers and Fruits from the Wilderness.
The Boston printing firm, Gould and Lincoln published it in 1872.
December 19, 1883, after an historic 50-year ministry, Z.N. Morrell died in Kyle,
Texas. He is buried in the State Cemetery at Austin.
Lone Star Diary
Published with author's permission.