David Ayres, pioneer merchant and a founder of the first Methodist missionary society in Texas, son of Silas and Mary (Byram) Ayers, was born in Morristown, New Jersey, on August 10, 1793. He and his wife, Ann, were married in 1815 in the John Street Methodist Church in New York City. From 1817 to 1832 Ayres, who changed the spelling of his name from that of his parents, was a merchant in Ithaca, New York, where he played a significant role in establishing Methodism and building its first church there. In 1832 he came to Texas to buy property and build a home. He landed at the mouth of the Brazos in early 1833 and proceeded up the river to Washington County, where he bought a tract of land thirty miles west of Washington-on-the-Brazos. After clearing part of the land and building a stone house called Montville, he returned to the East.
In May 1834 he, his brother, and their families returned. Ayres brought with him what he believed to be the first box of Bibles ever shipped to Texas and a supply of books from the New York Sunday School Union. The family settled on the Nueces at San Patricio. In November Ayres moved his family and remaining possessions to Montville, Washington County. He distributed Bibles to all who would receive them. In addition to running his mercantile business, he began a school in his home, taught by his wife and Lydia Ann McHenry. William B. Travis left his son, Charles Edward Travis, with the Ayreses to attend that school. Charles stayed there for two years after the battle of the Alamo.
While attending a camp meeting in Austin County in September 1835, Ayres assisted in the formation of an unofficial Methodist quarterly conference. As secretary, he wrote to the Methodist Missionary Society in New York requesting that missionaries be sent to Texas.
When war with Mexico broke out he furnished supplies for the army. Deafness prevented his participation in active service, but Sam Houston assigned him to protect the families fleeing in the Runaway Scrape. Upon returning to Montville after the victory at the battle of San Jacinto, Ayres found his property in ruins and moved to Washington-on-the-Brazos. By 1837 he had sufficiently recovered financially to purchase land at Center Hill, near Bellville, in Austin County. He organized a Sunday school, led worship services every Sunday, and held thrice-weekly prayer meetings in his home.
In November 1837 he met Martin Ruter in New Albany, Indiana, and served as companion and guide to the newly appointed superintendent of Methodist missionary work in Texas. During a camp meeting held on Caney Creek, twenty-five miles southwest of Washington-on-the-Brazos, the first Methodist Missionary Society in Texas was formed, and Ayres was elected secretary. He headed the list of subscribers with a $100 contribution. He was also a major contributor to the funding of Rutersville College in 1840.
In 1847 Ayres moved his family to Galveston, where he opened a mercantile business and served for a time as a United States deputy marshall. In 1857–58 he was publisher of the Texas Christian Advocate (see UNITED METHODIST REPORTER) and wrote some of the earliest accounts of Methodism in Texas. He was a major contributor to the building of St. James Methodist Church in Galveston. Ayres died on October 25, 1881, and is buried in Galveston. See also METHODIST CHURCH.