Liberty County History

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


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 21, 2006

The First Sermon Preached in Liberty (1840)


The first sermon ever preached in Liberty came about largely by accident, although I would prefer to think it was the hand of Divine Providence at work. In the late summer of 1840 Liberty was nothing more than a sparsely occupied frontier settlement, composed mostly of log cabins and lesser structures. There was a good east and west road that roughly followed the modern meanderings of US Highway 90, and there was a fairly decent dirt road that began at Liberty and ran up to Livingston and was known as the Liberty-Livingston Road. Another trail, an ancient footpath once favored by Native Americans, meandered south to what would later be Wallisville. There was no air conditioning. No electricity. No cable TV or Internet. No radio or television. No planes, trains or automobiles.

If one traveled north of town about one mile, the road would have passed the home of Benjamin Franklin – no apparent relation to the Founding Father of the same name – and his wife Zilphey. Also living in that house was a young man, who boarded there for $8.00 a month, by the name of David Carlton Hardee, who many years later wrote ten articles that described his life in Liberty County during the late 1830s and early 1840s. Hardee described this house “as sort of a gemble with a good many rooms to it. Like most of the houses [at that time] it was built of cypress slabs and covered with cypress boards, and the floors were made of cypress puncheons. With a long broad front gallery it was a comfortable place to stay at.”

Hardee described Mrs. Franklin as “tall and slender and swarthy in complexion.” She had been the Widow Orr [George Orr being her first husband] when Franklin first came there to work along about 1836, soon after the battle of San Jacinto. But after a couple of years, Franklin and the Widow married. Hardee said he spent many happy hours there talking with Franklin about history and politics, and Franklin was a great admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte. Hardee wrote: “In the freedom of our intercourse, I asked him on one occasion how a man of his age and good looks could marry a woman so homely as his wife was and besides several years older than himself. Well, he said, good coffee and biscuit and waffles for breakfast, and chicken for dinner was sentimentality enough for him.”

One day in the latter part of 1840, Franklin and Hardee were sitting out on the gallery near sunset talking about whatever was the hot topic of the day, when a middle aged gentleman riding a stylish looking horse stopped in the road in front of the house and asked if he and his horse could be accommodated for the evening. “Of course, he was accommodated,” Hardee wrote. “He was on his way to the western part of the Republic to visit some friends and relations on business. We soon learned that he was a Methodist preacher from Columbus, Mississippi, and his name was Hugh Fields. At bed time he requested the family to join with him in song and prayer. The same request was made before going to breakfast in the morning. There were present two or three persons beside the family. Everyone enjoyed the entertainment. He was full of love and his words seemed to burn into the hearts of everyone present.”

To make a long story short, Franklin and Hardee asked Rev. Fields if he could stay over another day or two – this was a Friday night – so that he could preach at the courthouse on Sunday morning and they told him that no one had ever preached a sermon in Liberty, not ever. The preacher agreed to this, and so they sent word out to all of the settlers in this area, and the sermon was preached at 11 o’clock that Sunday morning. And a large crowd gathered, and more than half of them had never heard a sermon before in their lives. Every chair in the modest courthouse was filled. Others sat outside on stools or chairs or benches. Some may have simply lounged on the ground.

Although the history of Liberty's Methodist church probably bears no mention of Rev. Hugh Fields or this sermon, I cannot help but to think that his sermon that day was a seed that landed in fertile ground and it is no surprise to me that this Methodist church, this great congregation, sprang forth later that same year and still meets the needs of the spiritual needs of this town one hundred and sixty-six years later.

That sermon stuck with Hardee, and he remembered this particular passage: “Surely this world is not our final rest. Not only the word of God as found in the Bible, but all of the works of nature teach us the immortality of the soul. In the evening the sun dies and is buried in the west. In the morning it rises in beauty and glory in the east. The moon disappears to shine again with her silver light. The stars that hide themselves in heaven each night soon shine again. The lilies of the field die and are buried by the night of winter, but in spring they bloom again with a beauty which Solomon in all his glory cannot equal. The grass withers, and flowers fade and die. The falling leaf teaches us that we too must fall and perish and die. But the budding tree teaches us that the doctrine of the resurrection. For it is not all of life to live nor all of death to die. Every dying flower teaches the doctrine that if we die we shall live again.”

There is a freshness and vitality to these words, even as they come back to us across the span of a century and a half. As we go about our daily business of life – let us, like Rev. Hugh Fields, be ever mindful of the opportunities that God brings to us to touch the lives of others, not only those who are part of the Kingdom of God but more importantly those who do not know God. Let us leave a mark upon this place, so that the things we do today will count for something long after we ourselves have hopefully gone to that place where Rev. Hugh Fields surely resides.


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