DeVilbiss, John Wesley (1818–1885)

By: Norman W. Spellmann

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: December 1, 1994

John Wesley DeVilbiss, Methodist minister in the Republic of Texas, son of Alexander and Priscilla Devilbiss, was born in Graceham, Maryland, on August 18, 1818, and moved with his family to Licking County, Ohio. In 1833, while learning the saddler's trade in Tiffin, Ohio, he went to a Methodist camp meeting and had a conversion experience that turned him toward the ministry. After attending Methodist College in Augusta, Kentucky, he joined the Ohio Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1840 and received his ministerial training by riding the circuits as an assistant to experienced preachers. DeVilbiss (as he now wrote his name) was admitted into full connection and ordained a deacon by Bishop Thomas A. Morris in 1842, then recruited with five colleagues by Littleton Fowler as a missionary for Texas. The party left Cincinnati in November 1842, traveled by steamer to Natchitoches, Louisiana, and reached Texas in December. On his second appointment to the Gonzales circuit he organized a congregation in Seguin and reportedly preached the first Protestant sermon in San Antonio in 1844. He was ordained an elder in 1845 by Bishop E. S. Janes. Despite unrest caused by hostile Indians, DeVilbiss's circuit grew so rapidly that it was divided and the northern area assigned to him. In 1846 he was assigned to San Antonio to develop the ministry further there. During the following two years he organized a congregation and purchased a lot and a bell for a church on Villita Street. Because of his efforts the city was made the center of a new Methodist district in 1848.

DeVilbiss served on the Caldwell Colored Mission (1852–53); in the German District (1855–58); as an agent of the American Bible Society (1866–69); as presiding elder of districts (Helena, 1859; San Antonio, 1860–61, 1865; Corpus Christi, 1870–72); twelve years on circuits and stations including Rutersville, Franklin, Nashville, Caldwell, San Antonio, Goliad, Cibolo, and Clinton; as professor of Aranama College (1863–64); and as agent of Southwestern University (1875–76). He represented the West Texas Conference on the Board of Curators of Southwestern University from 1872 until his death and was president of that board in 1883. He was three times president of the Rio Grande Conference and was a delegate to the General Conference in 1866.

DeVilbiss married Talitha Ann Menefee, daughter of William Menefee, on February 11, 1845. After her death on August 15, 1846, he married Martha Lucinda Kerr of San Antonio, on September 28, 1847. In October 1880 he retired to his Palo Blanco ranch home near the Medina River at Oak Island, where he died on January 31, 1885; he was buried in Oak Island Cemetery.

H. A. Graves, comp., Reminiscences and Events in the Ministerial Life of Rev. John Wesley DeVilbiss (Galveston: Shaw, 1886). Texas Christian Advocate, May 24, August 2, 16, October 11, November 8, 1884. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Education
  • University Presidents and School Administrators
  • Religion
  • Methodist

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

Norman W. Spellmann, “DeVilbiss, John Wesley,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 06, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994