Presbyterian Church

By: John R. "Pete" Hendrick

Type: Overview Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: December 1, 1995

Scottish and British Presbyterians who laid the foundations of Presbyterianism in America began to enter Texas in the 1820s, especially from the Southern states. Cumberland Presbyterians began work in Texas with the coming of Sumner Bacon in 1829. In 1833 Milton Estell organized Shiloh Church near Clarksville. The first Cumberland presbytery was organized in 1837, and in 1840 Richard Overton Watkins became the first Protestant minister ordained in Texas. The Cumberland Presbyterian minister, based in Nacogdoches, rode a circuit throughout East Texas. 1843 the Cumberland Synod of Texas was organized at Nacogdoches. This church pursued a vigorous evangelistic policy that spread a network of congregations over the state before the end of the century. The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America began work in Texas when Peter H. Fullenwider, an Old School minister of that communion, moved to Stephen F. Austin's colony in 1834 to teach and do religious work. In 1838 Hugh Wilson organized the first Old School church near San Augustine. In 1840 the Brazos Presbytery of the Old School was organized near Washington-on-the-Brazos. In 1851 the Synod of Texas, Old School, was organized at Austin with three presbyteries. New School Presbyterians came in smaller numbers but by 1854 had organized a presbytery. In 1861 Texas Presbyterians, Old and New School, joined with other Presbyterian churches in the South in organizing the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America. In 1865 the majority of Presbyterian congregations in Texas affiliated with the Presbyterian Church U.S. (Southern). That same year the Old School-New School breach was healed, and the New School group was added to the Old School synod.

When some congregations desired to renew fellowship with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (Northern), they withdrew from their presbyteries in 1867 and organized the Austin Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. In 1906 most Cumberland congregations in Texas merged with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., though a small group continued the Cumberland tradition and organization in the state. In 1943 the Cumberland Synod had 66 ministers and licentiates, 87 churches, and 4,945 members; the Texas Synod of the Presbyterian Church U.S. had 340 ministers and licentiates, 366 churches, and 63,790 members; the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. had in Texas 225 ministers and licentiates, 269 churches, and 35,425 members. In 1958 the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. became the United Presbyterian Church as a result of a national union between that body and the United Presbyterian Church in North America. In 1983 the United Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church U.S. merged to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In 1993 that body had 149,641 active members in 564 congregations with 1,007 ministers in Texas. Total contributions that year from Texas Presbyterians were $87,959,935. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1993 had 9,465 members in 50 congregations with 34 ministers. Institutions and agencies related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Texas include Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Austin College in Sherman, Trinity University in San Antonio, Schreiner College in Kerrville, the Presbyterian Children's Home and Service Agency (headquartered in Austin), the Presbyterian Pan American School in Kingsville, the Texas Presbyterian Foundation in Dallas, and the Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest in Austin. In addition to the major bodies discussed above, there are scattered congregations related to the Presbyterian Church in America, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the Bible Presbyterian Church.

William Stuart Red, A History of the Presbyterian Church in Texas (Austin: Steck, 1936). S. M. Templeton, "A Paper on Early Cumberland Presbyterian History in Texas" (Joint Session of the Synods of Texas, Fort Worth, September 23, 1931). Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South (3 vols., Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1963–73).
  • Peoples
  • Scots
  • Religion
  • Presbyterian
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Republic of Texas

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

John R. "Pete" Hendrick, “Presbyterian Church,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995