Sumner Bacon, pioneer Cumberland Presbyterian missionary, was born in Auburn, Massachusetts, on January 22, 1790, to Jonathan and Mollie Bacon. His parents planned a career in law for him, but due to his father's death he left home sometime after 1810 and never returned. For a time he served as a private in the United States Army. His travels took him down the Ohio River valley and eventually, as a member of a surveying party, to Arkansas, where in the mid-1820s he was converted at a Cumberland revival meeting and decided to become a minister.
Because Bacon lacked even a basic grasp of grammar and spelling the Cumberland Presbytery of Arkansas asked him to spend two years improving his education before applying for a license to preach. Unwilling to study, he made little progress. After being refused by the Arkansas Presbytery, he went to Texas as a freelance itinerant evangelist in the fall of 1829. Since Catholicism was the legally required religion of the territory, Bacon did his preaching surreptitiously, moving from place to place when government pressure became too strong. In 1830 he wrote to Stephen F. Austin unsuccessfully seeking an appointment as chaplain in Austin's colony. His application to the Arkansas Presbytery was again refused in 1832. The following year Bacon met Rev. Benjamin Chase, a Presbyterian minister and agent for the American Bible Society. On the basis of Chase's recommendation the society commissioned Bacon in 1833 as its first regular agent in Texas. In two years of colportage work for the society, Bacon distributed more than 2,000 Bibles and New Testaments in both English and Spanish. In March of 1835 he presented himself to the newly formed Cumberland Presbytery of Louisiana. With Chase's help and his own persuasive speaking, Bacon was licensed and ordained a minister, although clearly as an exception to normal practices.
The outbreak of the Texas Revolution in the fall of 1835 temporarily halted Bacon's itinerant ministry. After marrying Elizabeth McCarroll (McKerall) on January 28, 1836, he participated in the hostilities by serving as a chaplain and courier for Gen. Sam Houston. As a courier he carried dispatches to the Alamo, Goliad, and Victoria and traveled to New Orleans for gunpowder and, secretly, to General Dunlap of Tennessee to seek aid against an expected Mexican invasion.
After the battle of San Jacinto Bacon resumed his missionary activities. In the summer of 1836 he organized the first Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Texas near San Augustine. The following year he and Cumberland clergymen Amos Roark and Mitchell Smith began the Texas Presbytery at a meeting held at Bacon's home on November 27. Afterwards Bacon's leadership in church activities diminished. Plagued with poor health, he could not maintain an itinerant ministry and was able to preach no more than once a month, although he did serve as the first moderator of the Cumberland Synod of Texas in 1843. He died on January 24, 1844. Although Bacon was not the first Protestant to preach in Texas, evidence indicates that he was the first resident Protestant evangelist to maintain a continuous ministry in the new territory.
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Robert Douglas Brackenridge, Voice in the Wilderness: A History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Texas (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1968).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
R. Douglas Brackenridge,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 18, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
November 1, 1994