I do like church news, even if it dates to 1872. This post started as a one-note joke about a minister in a town with a funny name, but uncovered a Universalist pioneer in Texas. According to the University of Texas archives abstract (see below), he “he moved to Texas in 1854 and subsequently organized the first Universalist Society in Texas at Smith Springs, now Lawhon Springs.” (Lawhon Springs is extinct, save a cemetery; perhaps the one below.)
The following comes from the Board of Trustees report of the Universalist General Convention. The General Convention had the power to extend fellowship to ministers and churches in places not covered by a state convention, thus,
Under the powers conferred by Article III, Sec. 6 of the Constitution, your Board has granted a letter of Fellowship to the Rev. Maramduke Gardner, of Sand-Fly, Bastrop Co., Texas.
Some notes. Bastrop County is immediately to the southwest of Lee County.Â The UGC had just beenÂ reorganizedÂ with new powers, so it seems more like the “rehabilitation” of an experienced, senior minister with no other fellowship, pending research to the contrary. He came from South Carolina, making me wonder if he’s aÂ descendantÂ of the German Brethren-Universalists whoseÂ descendantsÂ survive in Universalist churches in Newberry, S.C.; Canon, Georgia and elsewhere.
His obituary, from the papers of the 1880 Universalist Register, speak of servant whose labors were little known among the bulk of the Universalist ministerial college
Rev.Â MarmadukeÂ GardnerÂ was born in 1812, in South Carolina, and died in McDade, Texas, May 4, 1879, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. He spent the earlier part of his life in his native State, though he lived for some years in Mississippi previous to his removal to Texas, which occurred more than twenty-five years ago. Ho began to preach May 12, 1848, was ordained Sept. 2,1849, and received the fellowship of the General Convention Jan. 10, 1872. He was pastor of the Universalist Church in Williamson Co., Texas, twenty-five years, where his memory will long be fragrant in the hearts of those who best knew him. He travelled very extensively in Texas, and did a great amount of missionary work, and was a very faithful and useful minister, highly esteemed in the community where he lived for his integrity and sincere Christian spirit. His faith in the full grace of God sustained him in life, and was more fully manifested as the shadows of the tomb gathered around him, and he died peacefully and happily. Mr. Gardner was twice married â€” first March 12, 1833, to Miss Rhoda Ussery, by whom he had nineteen children. She died in 1878, and he was married a few weeks before his death, to Mrs. Jones, of McDade, Texas.
And an interesting polity note. Gardner and his church locally ordained another minister, J. C. Lawhon, who then — about 18 months after Gardner’s death — ordained a third minister, J. S. Dunbar. The Universalist General Convention recognized these ordinations, given that “ordination in the regular form was at that time impractical” and admitted them into direct fellowship.
His and family papers at the University of Texas
FamilyÂ cemetery, in Lee County, where he and family members are buried