Bewley, Anthony (1804–1860)

By: Donald E. Reynolds

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 1, 1994

Anthony Bewley, abolitionist Methodist minister, was born on May 22, 1804, in Tennessee, the son of John Bewley, a Methodist preacher. While still a young man he decided to enter the ministry. From 1829 to 1834 he served the Methodist Church as a circuit-riding member of the Holston Conference of Virginia. Around 1834 he married Jane Winton of Roane County, Tennessee. They had five sons and three daughters. In 1837 the Bewleys moved to Polk County, Missouri, and six years later Bewley resumed his circuit-riding ministry and joined the Missouri Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. When the church divided over the issue of slavery in 1845, the Missouri Conference voted to join the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Bewley was among the antislavery members of the conference who refused to accept this decision and chose instead to remain in what they considered to be the true Methodist Church. By 1848 these Methodists had reorganized into the Missouri Conference of the Northern Church, though many still referred to themselves simply as members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

By 1858, after serving for ten years in Northern Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri, Bewley had moved his family to Johnson County, Texas, and established a mission sixteen miles south of Fort Worth. Although he was considered to be weak on the slavery issue by some northern Methodists, his antislavery views were threatening to southerners. Thus, when vigilance committees alleged in the summer of 1860 that there was a widespread abolitionist plot to burn Texas towns and murder their citizens, suspicion immediately fell upon Bewley and other outspoken critics of slavery (see TEXAS TROUBLES). Special attention was focused on Bewley because of an incendiary letter, dated July 3, 1860, addressed to a Rev. William Bewley and supposedly written by a fellow abolitionist, William H. Bailey. Many argued that the letter, which urged Bewley to continue with his work in helping to free Texas from slavery, was a forgery. The letter was widely published, however, and taken by others as evidence of Bewley's involvement with the John Brownites in Texas.

Recognizing the danger, Bewley left for Kansas in mid-July with part of his family. En route he stopped for eleven days in Indian Territory to wait for the remainder of his family and later visited with friends in Benton County, Arkansas. On September 3, 1860, a Texas posse caught up with him near Cassville, Missouri. His captors returned him to Fort Worth on September 13. Late that night vigilantes seized Bewley and delivered him into the hands of a waiting lynch mob. His body was allowed to hang until the next day, when he was buried in a shallow grave. Three weeks later his bones were unearthed, stripped of their remaining flesh, and placed on top of Ephraim Daggett's storehouse, where children made a habit of playing with them. After Bewley's death the Northern Methodists ended their activities in Texas.

Dictionary of American Biography. Charles Elliott, South-Western Methodism: A History of the M. E. Church in the South-West, from 1844 to 1864 (Cincinnati: Poe and Hitchcock, 1868). Macum Phelan, History of Early Methodism in Texas, 1817–1866 (Nashville: Cokesbury, 1924); A History of the Expansion of Methodism in Texas, 1867–1902 (Dallas: Mathis, Van Nort, 1937).
  • Religion
  • Methodist

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

Donald E. Reynolds, “Bewley, Anthony,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994