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RENFRO, HENRY CARTY

RENFRO, HENRY CARTY (1831–1885). Henry Carty Renfro, Baptist minister, was born near Maryville, Blount County, Tennessee, on July 18, 1831, the son of Absalom C. and Levicy (Tipton) Renfro. The family moved to Rock Spring, Walker County, Georgia, before moving to Cass County, Texas, in June 1851. Renfro enrolled at Baylor University at Independence, Washington County, where he studied to become a minister under well-known educators such as Baylor president Rufus C. Burleson and George Washington Baines. In 1857, during a period of disagreement between Burleson and Horace Clark, Renfro was called to become the pastor of the Independence Baptist Church, then one of the most important Baptist churches in Texas. He was the only student ever chosen to fill the position. Continuing bitter divisions between Burleson, Clark, and others in the congregation, however, prompted Renfro to resign the post and return to Cass County. Soon after, he moved to Johnson County, where he conducted revivals and helped to establish the Bethesda Baptist Church, the county's first Baptist congregation. In Johnson County Renfro met Mary Robinson Ray, a recent arrival in Texas from Tennessee, and they were married on November 24, 1859. A son was born in 1860. With the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Renfro enlisted in Company C of William H. Griffin's Twenty-first Texas Infantry Battalion. Efforts of Rufus C. Burleson eventually led to Renfro's appointment as chaplain of Joseph Speight's Regiment, Fifteenth Texas Infantry, after Burleson's resignation from the position. Renfro remained with the regiment for the remainder of the war, participating in the battles of Bayou Bourbeau, Vidalia, Mansfield, Pleasant Hill, and Yellow Bayou. In July 1864, while he was with his unit in Louisiana, his wife had a daughter in Johnson County.

After returning to Texas, Renfro served as the minister of several Baptist congregations in Johnson and Tarrant counties. He also farmed and traded in land. He sold the property that became the town of Burleson and named the site after his old friend and professor Rufus Burleson. Renfro generally was regarded as one of the most prominent Baptist ministers in Texas. However, he began to question the organized church and Baptist orthodoxy, and his studies resulted in his being charged with "advocating and preaching the doctrine of infidelity." Despite Burleson's request for a delay, Renfro was dismissed from the ministry and the Baptist Church on February 2, 1884. He continued to lecture about free thought to large audiences in north central Texas. He died on March 2, 1885, after contracting pneumonia on a cattle drive from his farm to Fort Worth. His son, Burleson, died of the same disease three days later. Renfro's death was not without controversy, however, as Baptist publications reported that he recanted his conversion to liberalism on his deathbed, a charge vehemently denied by his family and friends. Rufus Burleson preached Renfro's funeral service to over 1,000 persons, and the former minister was buried in the cemetery at Bethesda Baptist Church in Johnson County.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

William C. Griggs, Parson Henry Renfro: Free Thinking on the Texas Frontier (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994).

William Clark Griggs

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

William Clark Griggs, "RENFRO, HENRY CARTY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/frery), accessed August 28, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.