Lynched Methodist minister remembered only in family lessons

Posted Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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kennedy “Today in History” was haunting Friday.

Sept. 13, 1860: Methodist minister Anthony Bewley was lynched in Fort Worth.”

More than 150 years later, we still don’t talk much about the hanging of a Methodist minister who had a Johnson County pastorate.

The “Fort Worth Vigilance Committee” accused Bewley, 56, of opposing slavery and organizing resistance.

On the verge of the Civil War, Texas had already seceded from free speech or religion.

It is not clear whether Bewley ever did anything more than passively follow the beliefs of his church.

By 1860, Methodists had split north and south, with Bewley presiding over a mission outreach for Texans — mainly German settlers west of San Antonio — who stayed with the Missouri-based northern conference of what was then called the Methodist Episcopal Church.

A Bonham-based “vigilance” group had chased Bewley and other pastors from meeting there, proclaiming “that the teaching and preaching of the ministers of that church do not meet the views of the people … and must therefore be stopped.”

In summer 1860, when fires broke out in downtown Dallas and several nearby towns, a Dallas newspaper editor accused abolitionists of plotting with Bewley’s Methodists.

Soon, a White Settlement farmer found a letter purportedly written from Denton Creek, describing a plot and a “Buley.”

Leaders in Fort Worth and Bonham put a $1,000 bounty on Bewley’s head.

He had fled to Arkansas, but was brought back and hanged late at night from a pecan tree on White Settlement Road.

From Missouri, Methodist Episcopal Bishop T.A. Morris wrote to newspapers that Bewley was a man “of a meek and quiet spirit” who was anti-slavery only in the “conservative Methodist sense.”

“Texas logic seems to be this,” Morris wrote:

“Any man to whom an incendiary letter may be addressed — whether with or without his consent — deserves to die.”

Bewley was half-buried at first, then dug up.

History books tell us his bones were spread on the roof of a general store on West Weatherford Street between Main and Houston streets, facing what was then the former fort and would become the courthouse square.

The New York Times reprinted his last letter to his widow and nine children, denying involvement.

“In these times of political excitement,” he wrote, “molehills are raised mountain-high.”

“North Methodists” were targeted, he wrote: “From what we learned in Texas about that Fort Worth Committee, they had sworn vengeance against all such folks.”

His descendants went on to retell Bewley’s story, some as ministers.

As far as I know, the quiet pastor is not remembered on any marker or memorial in Fort Worth.

Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy

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