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Excerpts on Louisiana Conference History
Here are some excerpts from Nathan Bangs' The History of the Methodist Episcopal Church that deal with the Louisiana.
Nathan Bangs' classic History of the Methodist Episcopal Church is available online from at Christian Classics Etheral Library. It covers Methodism from 1766 to 1840.
Here are excerpts from that work that deal with Louisiana.
This year Methodism was introduced into some parts of Louisiana. This territory had been recently
purchased by the United States from the French government for the sum of fifteen millions of dollars,
and was admitted into the Union in 1811. The country was originally settled by the Spaniards and
French, the descendants of whom, to distinguish them from other white inhabitants who have emigrated to the country, are called Creoles. In a large portion of the country the French language and manners prevailed, and their religious faith and practice were regulated by the Roman Catholic Church; but as the country is fast filling up by Anglo-Americans, and has been for some time connected with the Union as an integral part of the great American family, the language, manners, and institutions of Louisiana are becoming more and more conformed to those generally prevailing in other sections of the republic.
At the time, however, of which we now speak, there were comparatively but few American settlers in
the country, and these were scattered thinly in the wilderness or mingled among the French and Spanish inhabitants. As to true religion, it was a stranger to most of the people. Those who made any profession at all were chiefly of the Roman Catholic communion, and these were exceedingly loose in their morals, and much given up to sports and plays. The Sabbath was neglected as a day of sacred rest, or only attended to as a religious festival, alternately for devotional exercises and profane revelry. This being the general state of society as formed by the Creoles of the country, it could not be otherwise expected than that the emigrants who settled among them should gradually assimilate to their manners, modes of thinking and acting. Hence it is stated that profaneness of almost all sorts prevailed to an alarming extent, when, in 1806, the Rev. Elisha W. Bowman made his entrance among them as a messenger of the cross of Christ.
The Mississippi district was this year under the presiding eldership of the Rev. Learner Blackman,
whose charge included Nachez, Wilkinson, Claiborne, Ochitta, and Appalousas circuits, to the last of
which Mr. Bowman was sent, with a view, if practicable, to form societies and establish regular
preaching. He penetrated into some of the English settlements on the banks of the Mississippi River,
amid many privations and hardships, and in some places was received by the people with gladness,
while in others both himself and his message were rejected. He succeeded, however, in collecting
congregations, and in forming a regular circuit, and a few classes, made up principally of members who had removed from the older states, who were happily reclaimed from their backslidden state by his instrumentality. The Rev. Thomas Lasley labored on the Ochitta circuit, which he found in a similar condition, in respect to religion and morals, to that of Appalousas. The success with which they cultivated this distant and wild field of labor may be estimated from the fact that they returned forty members of the Church, and that they opened the way for the successful prosecution of the work by those who succeeded them, though it was some time before Methodism gained much influence in that part of the country.
Notwithstanding what had been done to supply the destitute portions of our country with the word and ordinances of Christianity, there were yet many parts unprovided for, particularly in the southwestern states and territories. The state of Louisiana, which contained at this time not less than 220,000 inhabitants, about one fourth of whom were slaves, was almost entirely destitute of evangelical instruction. About three fourths of the population were French Roman Catholics, but few of whom could either speak or understand the English language, and the greater proportion of these had never heard a Protestant minister.
In this large territory there was a presiding elder's district, including only two circuits, called Attakapas and Washataw, in which there were one hundred and fifty-one white and fifty-eight colored members, under the charge of three preachers, including the presiding elder. How inadequate they were all to meet the spiritual wants of the people, may be inferred from the fact, that one of these preachers traveled not less than five hundred and eighty miles every five weeks, in order to preach to as many of the people in their scattered settlements as he possibly could. In this state of things the few whose hearts the Lord had touched sent up a loud and urgent call to the rulers of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and made their earnest appeals to the managers of our Missionary Society for ministerial help. After consulting with Bishop McKendree in reference to the best manner of answering these earnest appeals, the managers selected a young preacher of promising talents, Ebenezer Brown, who was approved of and appointed by Bishop George, and, with a view to qualify himself for his work, he entered upon the study of the French language. He went finally to his field of labor, but the enterprise proved a failure. Such were the prejudices of the French population, fomented as they were by priestly influence, that the missionary could gain no access to the people; and hence, after spending some time in preaching to an English congregation in New Orleans, he returned to the New York conference, in which he continued until he located.
But though these efforts to send the gospel in that direction, like many others of a similar character
which had been made to benefit the Catholic population, were unsuccessful, the prospects in other
places, particularly among the aborigines of our country, were more flattering. These long neglected
people, the original lords of the soil, began to attract the attention of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and by one of those singular providences which so strikingly indicate the wisdom and power of God in selecting the means for the accomplishment of his purposes of mercy, a work of grace had been commenced among the Wyandot Indians in Upper Sandusky, in the state of Ohio.
That the reader may duly estimate the difficulties with which the missionaries had to contend, in their
efforts to convert these savages to the Christian faith, it is necessary that he should know something of their superstitions, customs, and manner of living, as well as the great diversity of languages which are spoken by the several tribes.
Several attempts had been made, but with little success hitherto, to establish Methodism in the city of
New Orleans, a place which needed the reforming influence of the gospel as much, perhaps, as any on the continent.
This city, which is now equal in importance, in a commercial point of view, to any in the United States, was first settled by the French, toward the close of the seventeenth Century, and the Roman Catholic religion was incorporated with its civil regulations. The progress of the settlement, like all the others in that region of country, for a number of years was extremely slow, owing to a variety of causes, but chiefly to the wars between France and Spain, to the unhealthiness of the climate, and the want of industry and enterprise among the original settlers. In 1763, that part of Louisiana west of the Mississippi and Pearl rivers, of which New Orleans was the capital, was ceded to Spain, and so remained until 1801, when it passed into the hands of the French republic, from whom it was transferred, in 1804, by purchase, to the United States. At this time the population, chiefly French Roman Catholics, numbered about twelve thousand; but from that period the increase of its citizens was much more rapid, by emigrants from various parts of the Union, so that, at the time of which we now speak, there were probably not less than forty thousand. These Anglo-Americans, mingling with the Creoles of the country, gradually introduced their habits and modes of living, as well as their religious tenets.
But though New Orleans was thus early settled, and possessed so many local advantages for commerce, as before said, its progress was slow, and the population were encumbered with all those embarrassments arising out of the peculiarities of the Roman Catholic religion. In 1815, three years after the memorable victory of the American army under General Jackson, the City contained about thirty-six thousand inhabitants, most of whom were descendants of the French and Spaniards. And until about the year 1820, when a Presbyterian church was erected, there was no place of worship besides the two Roman Catholic churches. It is said, indeed, that the sabbath was generally desecrated by profane sports and plays, the principles of morality exceedingly relaxed, pure religion little understood, and its precepts less exemplified in practical life.
Among others who were lured to New Orleans for the purposes of traffic from the other states were
some members of our Church, who spent the winter months in the city, but, on account of the insalubrity of the climate, retreated to their former places of abode during the heat of summer. These, however, beholding the degraded state of society, and feeling the deleterious influence of such a general inattention to religion, called upon the authorities of the Church for help. Accordingly, in the year 1819, the Rev. Mark Moore was sent to New Orleans, and he preached, under many discouraging circumstances, to a few in a room which was hired for that purpose, and some ineffectual efforts were made to build a church. In 1820 the Rev. John Manifee was sent as a missionary to New Orleans, and in the same year the place was visited by the Rev. Ebenezer Brown, who, being disappointed in his attempts to gain access to the French population in Louisiana, assisted Mr. Manifee in preaching to an English congregation in t he city. From this time until 1824 New Orleans seems to have been forsaken by the Methodist preachers thinking probably that it was useless to spend their strength to so little purpose, for I find no returns of any members of the Church until the year 1825. In 1824 the Rev. Daniel Hall stands as a missionary for New Orleans, but the prospect was yet but gloomy.
This year, 1825, the Mississippi district was placed in charge of the Rev. William Winans, whose eminent talents as a preacher, and indefatigable labors as a presiding elder in that part of the country, gave a more vigorous impulse to the work of God; and New Orleans was blessed with the labors of the Rev. Benjamin Drake, who was instrumental in reviving the hopes of the few pious souls who prayed and sighed for the salvation of Israel in that place; for we find that in 1826 there were returned on the Minutes of conference eighty-three members, twenty-three whites and sixty colored. But still the work of God went on slowly, the preachers having to contend with a host of opposition from without and feebleness within the Church, with the unhealthiness of the climate, and the want of suitable accommodations for holding their meetings. The next year, however, the society had increased to one hundred in all. From this time the work has steadily advanced, and they have finally succeeded, by struggling bard with difficulties of various sorts, in erecting a large and elegant house of worship, so that in 1835 they numbered six hundred and twenty-five members, five hundred and seventy of whom were Colored, chiefly, I believe, slaves.
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