This letter was written by Rev. J. L. Hawley, a Baptist minister employed by the Baptist American Home Mission Society. The only notice I can find for him, however, was published in the Home Missionary records wherein he was appointed in September 1847, by the executive committee of the board “to go to Texas.”
We learn from the letter that he was suffering from a chronic lung impairment — probably consumption — and that he travelled to Texas from Kentucky with his wife and child.
Addressed to Rev. Drs. Milton Badger & Hall, [American Baptist Home Mission Society] 150 Nassau Street, New York
Near Seguin, Guadalupe County, Texas
March 5, 1848
Messrs. Badger & Hall
I sit down to write you with a heavy heart.
We arrived at Port Lavaca about the last of November ’47. The voyage was tedious — ten days — and dangerous. At one time our main anchor was lost & we were beating on the bar in a “Norther.” The Lord delivered us. On our way, we called at Indian Point — a small but flourishing town on Matagorda Bay. I called to see Rev. Mr. [William Cochran] Blair, ¹ Old School Presbyterian. What I shall say of him will be strictly confidential. He asked where I was going &c, &c.? I have thought of stopping at Victoria. To this he replied that he intended going there himself & remaining till he could get some one from the North. I found that he owned the house where church was held, that he preached there many years under the Board of Home Missions, that he had an organized church, &c. He advised me to go further. Of course I would not intrude.
From Fort Lavaca, we took stage 30 miles Northwest to Victoria, set on Guadelupe River & is the most important town in Western Texas. Rev. Mr. Blair arrived the next day with his family. This was December 5th — 3 months ago. Rev. Mr. [Stephen F.] Cocke from Port Lavaca was also there. I, being urged, preached twice. A number of the citizens tried hard to have me remain. Mr. Blair’s elder was very solicitous to ___ me. They all said they had never paid anything as yet for preaching, but if I would remain, they would get up a subscription for me. I accordingly took board, but told them I could not preach while Mr. Blair remained. And indeed, my physicians Drs. Hubbard, Kennedy & Ragland all said I ought not to preach. (On my way to New Orleans, I preached twice one Sabbath on steamboat which injured me & was obliged to call Dr. Kennedy, M.D., &c. who said I must not preach for six months.) Had I come here, instead of going to Kentucky, I believe I should now have been well. But I fear that it is too late now.
For some 4 weeks I did well. My cough nearly left me. I gained in flesh & strength. But at length a relapse came. My cough was worse than ever. God only knows the result. I greatly fear. I trust you still remember me in your prayers. While at Victoria, I had the superintendence of the Sunday School. I prepared myself & the children (some 40) seemed delighted. We at length thought it our duty to go to Indian Point & see what could be done there. We became acquainted with nearly everyone there & they are anxious to have us remain. The population is principally German & they seem really attached to us, but I fear the salt water. My cough grew worse while I staid.
Three weeks ago, I left my family there for the purpose of exploring this valley & seeing where the gospel is most needed. Thirty miles above Victoria, in DeWitt County, is a neighborhood where a tolerable congregation might be collected & where till recently, some persons had lived to the age of 18 years without ever hearing a sermon. One good Presbyterian, who lives there, says they will raise from $100 to $150 if we will come. From thence I went to Gonzalez, population 300 or 400. They have preaching every Sabbath (such as it is) from Methodists & Cumberland Presbyterians. From there I rode to Seguin. This is a small town — county seat of Guadalupe County situated on the river; population 100. They want us to go there. There are no Presbyterians — nearly all Methodists. From this place I went to New Braunfels. This is the town which Mr. Burke said was entirely destitute of preaching. But I found a Cumberland Presbyterian settled there — & Methodists of course.
On my return to Seguin, I found they had raised for subscription about $100 for my support if we would go there. I think it possible we may go. Flour is from $12 to 17 per barrel there. It will cost us more than double to live anywhere in western Texas than it did in Kentucky. I left Seguin more than a week since, but have proceeded but 12 miles. I was taken sick & unable to travel for 2 days, & then my horse ran away or was stolen. We cannot find him. He was a borrowed horse & cost $125. I must now be in debt. My dear wife & child are 150 miles from this, whether sick or well I know not, nor do I know when I shall see them.
There is room for 3 ministers in this valley who could receive one third of their support from the people, or nearly so. I, of course, shall receive nothing from the people for I have not preached among them. I do wish that two or three could be sent here by your board. Infidelity lifts a bold front here. The difficulties of the Missionary differ widely from those of Kentucky. But go where I may, I never expect to find such an other man as Dr. Hubbard. I have much to say but it hurts me to write. I beg you to accept this as my first year’s report. As to what you owe me, I can’t say. You must pay me just what you see proper. I need not tell you how exceedingly & with how many tears I regret not having been able to labor more abundantly. I have done the best I could, & leave it entirely with you to pay me or not, as you may deem right.
Our expenses to Victoria were $50 even tho’ our passage down the Mississippi & a week at Hickman for our traveling expenses, subtracted from 50 leaves 15. $15 added to $33, the amount due me for labor in Kentucky, makes $48, which being subtracted from $100 — the amount of your draft sent me for traveling expenses — leaves $52. This 50-35=15, 15+33=48, $48-100=52 the amount of your funds in my hands. Should I move my family to Seguin, it will cost some $35.
And now, my dear Brethren, be plain with me & advise me what & how to do about forming a church — if I could — [and] about stopping in places where there is preaching &c., &c. Rev. Mr. Cocke, Old School, wants me to join the Old School but Mr. Blair complains of my orthodoxy. I remain with great esteem, yours sincerely, — J. L. Hawley
Rev. Mr. Blair still remains at Victoria. Please direct your letters to Victoria. I ought perhaps to say that I found my horse & expect to start tomorrow. The family with whom I have been an unexpected guest two weeks is a very interesting one. He is a physician. They says they are not Christians, but wants to be. To this end, they never retire to rest without private prayer. They appeared really glad of my stay & say they would build us a house if we would come & live with them. I, of course, tried to direct then to the Savior & in family worship have had a good chance to express my feelings to God respecting them in their presence.
¹ William Cochran Blair (1791-1873), Presbyterian missionary, was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, on March 16, 1791. During the War of 1812 he volunteered in Ross County, Ohio, and served as a private with Maj. Robert Harper’s battalion. Blair graduated from Jefferson College, Pennsylvania, in 1818 and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1821. He was ordained in 1822 and spent eight years among the Chickasaw Indians. During the early years of his ministry he worked under the synods of South Carolina and Georgia and under the Mississippi Presbytery. He married Susan Mueller on June 20, 1827, in Natchez, and they had one daughter. In 1828 he founded the First Presbyterian Church of Memphis, and in 1835 he became the first moderator of the Synod of Mississippi. At some time the family moved from Natchez to East Baton Rouge in Louisiana. Blair visited Texas in 1838, and the following year the Board of Foreign Missions of the General Presbyterian Assembly sent him to Texas as a missionary, primarily to the Mexican population. Blair settled in Victoria in the spring of 1840 to preach, teach, and distribute Spanish-language Bibles and religious tracts. Although one of several ministers authorized by the Mississippi Synod to organize the Presbytery of the Brazos, he was delayed by high water and so was unable to participate in the work at Independence in April 1840. On October 2, 1841, he organized a church in Victoria, where he preached until 1847, when the property was lost in a lawsuit. Blair and his family were forced to flee twice from invading Mexican forces and several times from raiding Comanche Indians. He and his wife cared for Rebecca Jane Fisher and her brother for some time after the murder of their parents and the children’s recovery from Indians in the spring of 1840. Blair moved to Goliad and was principally responsible for the town’s donation of land for Aranama College in the early 1850s. He presided over the college for a time and was a member of the board. He also aided in securing funds for Austin College. By 1857 he was living in Green Lake, west of Port Lavaca. He moved to Port Lavaca as he became less active and preached there until his death, on February 13, 1873. He was buried in Port Lavaca. [Source: Texas State Historical Association]