Liberty County History

An occasional gathering place for articles, documents, photographs, records and other ephemera dealing with the history of Liberty County, Texas.

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Kevin Ladd is director of the Wallisville Heritage Park at Wallisville, Chambers County, TX and lives in Hardin, TX. He is chairman of the Liberty County Historical Commission and writes for "Texas Illustrated," a monthly publication of the Liberty Gazette newspaper, which is devoted to local history and folklore.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Bolt of Lightning Claims Rev. T. H. Feagin (1908)

Rev. Thomas Harold Feagin, the organizing pastor of Liberty’s First Baptist Church, met his Maker in the most unusual of circumstances. It was the sort of death that just seemed to make news all across the country. Even a newspaper in Brownsville, Tennessee reported his unexpected demise this way on July 10, 1908:

NEWS OF THE WEEK--The Rev. T.H. Feagin, a leading Baptist preacher, of Texas, was killed by lightening while conducting a revival meeting at China, Texas. He had just called upon sinners to repent.

Brother Feagin, as Baptists tend to call their pastors, was born in Ellistown, Tishomingo County, Mississippi in October 1857, a son of Thomas and Martha Feagin. He was licensed to preach by the Cross Roads Church in Texas in April 1888 and then was ordained into the ministry at the Friendship Baptist Church the next year. Over the next few years, the minister served as pastor at several different churches, including Mt. Pleasant, Mt. Zion and Spring Branch. In 1892, he went to work for the Southeast Texas Baptist Association out of Beaumont as a missionary, but not just any kind of missionary. The Baptists of that day referred to him and other like-minded men as a “Missionary Colporteur,” the latter term meaning “an itinerant seller or giver of books, particularly religious literature.” No matter how archaic or provincial this title may have sounded, he was actually charged with planting and nurturing new churches in Southeast Texas.

In the 1890s and the first decade of the 1900s, men like Rev. Feagin started houses of worship of the Baptist persuasion and most of these operated on a “quarter-time” basis. The minister would hold services once a month at one church and could likewise take on three other churches on those three other weekends. One minister or Missionary Colporteur could, therefore, offer pastoral services to four churches. Each church, conversely, could gradually build up a congregation and eventually move on to “half-time” or “full-time.” It was a win-win situation for the small church, the Baptist General Convention, and the Lord.

After doing this missionary work for a little while, Brother Feagin served a couple of years as pastor at the Third Baptist Church in Houston, but the idea of planting and nurturing churches must have beckoned to him again. Feagin took to it again. Among the churches he founded was the First Baptist Church of Liberty, which dates back to 1898. Like all of the churches in this area, it started out as Missionary Baptist Church, a subtle distinction in the Baptist sphere, but later became Southern Baptist.

The 1900 census found the Feagin family living in Liberty. A census is a lot like a snapshot, only without the picture, but it shows you what the household was like on a given day. The census shows Brother Feagin was 42. His wife, Susan Frances (Dennard) Feagin, was 46. She was better known as Fannie. The Death Angel had struck their household three times over the course of their married life. Among the six surviving children, five were still at home: Fannie, 17; Thomas, 14; William Noah, 13; George, 11; and Olive, a son, who was only four.

Rev. T. H. Feagin later moved to Beaumont in Jefferson County, Texas, where he continued to plant and nurture churches, preached the love of God, and inspired folks to become followers of the Risen Christ. The following newspaper account describes the fateful night of July 3, 1908.

The Liberty Vindicator
Friday, July 10, 1908

Death By Lightning.
Rev. T. H. Feagin Killed While Dismissing
Congregation at China, Was Once Pastor at Liberty
.

Just as he had finished preaching a sermon in the Baptist church at China last Friday night along about 9 o’clock, and had called upon members of the audience to come forward and shake hands, Rev. T. H. Feagin, the well-known and beloved Baptist minister and evangelist, was struck by a bolt of lightning, and instantly killed. At the time the fatal bolt of lightning entered the church and struck him, Rev. Mr. Feagin had just finished shaking hands with a young man and was about to dismiss the congregation. Deceased is survived by a wife and six children, the latter ranging in age from 12 to 27 years. Three boys and a daughter live in Beaumont while two sons live in Orange.
The news of the sudden and tragic death of Mr. Feagin came as a fearful shock to the people of Liberty. He had lived here and was pastor of the Liberty Baptist church, and being a good, earnest Christian gentleman, he won the love and respect of the entire citizenship.
Rev. J. F. Dobbs of this city preached the funeral sermon.

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