Protestant Episcopal Church

By: Lawrence L. Brown

Type: Overview Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: September 24, 2020

There were members of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America in Mexican Texas, but because the laws under which they had been granted land demanded allegiance to the Catholic Church, they could not practice their faith openly. During the Texas Revolution Rev. Richard Salmon of New York state headed a colony of Episcopal people who intended to settle on lands that Salmon believed to have been granted to him, but the land grant was found to be spurious. Salmon established schools at Brazoria and Houston, but was not accepted as an Episcopal clergyman by the members of the church there. Chester Newell, another Episcopal clergyman, moved to Texas and taught school at Velasco. Both Salmon and Newell applied to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church for appointment as foreign missionaries but were not accepted. In 1838 two clergymen were invited to open schools in the new Republic of Texas and had promise of full support from teaching. Rev. Caleb Smith Ives conducted the first service in Matagorda at Christmas 1838 and reported the organization of the first Episcopal church in Texas, Christ Church, Matagorda, on January 27, 1839. Rev. R. S. Chapman began holding services at Houston, Galveston, Velasco, and Quintana. Christ Church, Houston, was organized on March 16, 1839. Episcopal oversight for the Texas mission was provided when Rev. Leonidas Polk of Tennessee was elected missionary bishop of the Southwest in 1838; Polk visited the missionary stations in May 1839. He reported that a resident bishop was needed. Chapman remained in Texas only seven months and was replaced by Rev. Benjamin Eaton, an Irishman, who arrived in January 1841 and organized Trinity Church in Galveston in February 1841. Another missionary, Rev. Charles Gillette, was appointed to Houston. He was asked to solicit money to restore the Galveston building before journeying to Texas, and in this he succeeded. In Houston, the Christ Church congregation purchased the land on which the present cathedral is located and moved an unused school building on it to serve as church and school until funds were available to build a church. Christ Church, Matagorda, meanwhile, had put up a ready-cut church that Ives purchased with funds he had solicited in the eastern United States; the building was shipped to Matagorda in pieces. It has been blown down by hurricanes several times and as often rebuilt on the same plan. Christ Church is the mother church of Texas Episcopalians.

At the General Convention of 1844 Rev. George Washington Freeman of Delaware was elected missionary bishop of the Southwest, with provisional care over the church in the Republic of Texas. When Texas was annexed to the United States in 1846, the Episcopal churches in Texas came under the care of the Domestic Committee of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the American church. On January 1, 1849, the Diocese of Texas was organized at a meeting in Christ Church, Matagorda. Other congregations were organized, and Gillette founded St. Paul's School and College, a diocesan school. He used candidates for the ministry as tutors while he instructed them for ordination. Although the school was short-lived, many of the students became missionaries throughout Texas. On October 13, 1859, Rev. Alexander Gregg , rector of St. David's Church, Cheraw, South Carolina, was consecrated as bishop of Texas. So great was the growth that the diocese petitioned the General Convention of 1871 to separate out a missionary area. In 1874 two missionary areas were provided. The Diocese of Texas was limited in area to the fifty-seven counties of Southeast Texas, while North and West Texas were made missionary districts. After the separation of the two missionary districts, the Diocese of Texas prospered. New work under Gregg's episcopate included missions for Blacks in Galveston and Tyler, and urban missions in Galveston, Houston, and Austin; elsewhere missions were established along new rail lines as they were being constructed, and in lumbering communities. Upon Gregg's death on July 10, 1893, Rev. George Herbert Kinsolving of Philadelphia became the second bishop of Texas. He focused on work among students at the University of Texas, where under his jurisdiction Grace Hall and All Saints' Chapel were built. Grace Hall was built as a home for girls attending the university, and included provision for instruction in subjects not offered at the university. Kinsolving also emphasized missionary work and traveled over the diocese.

In 1918 Rev. Clinton Simon Quin was elected coadjutor bishop. His greatest contributions were in the areas of men's and young peoples' work. He was the first to employ summer youth camps, and he promoted youth groups in all congregations in the diocese. Bishop Kinsolving died in September 1928, after which Quin became the third bishop of Texas. The outbreak of World War II, which brought the establishment or enlargement of numerous military facilities, increased the work load for Bishop Quin, and in 1945 Rev. John Elbridge Hines, rector of Christ Church, Houston, was elected coadjutor. In 1956 Hines became the fourth bishop of Texas. He made his headquarters in Austin. During this time St. Luke's Hospital and the diocesan headquarters building were constructed in Houston, and St. Stephen's Episcopal School and the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest were established in Austin, and Christ Church, Houston, was designated the cathedral of the diocese. By 1964 St. Luke's Hospital, in partnership with Children's Hospital, was greatly enlarged in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, and both St. Stephen's School and the seminary carried out large building programs to accommodate enlarged enrollments. The debt of the diocese became threatening to the progress of missionary work during this time of social unrest, in which racial barriers were removed in the diocese. At the 1964 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Hines was elected its presiding bishop, and Rev. James Milton Richardson, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, was elected to replace him. Richardson set his priorities to include payment of the debts of the diocese and its institutions, which he accomplished well before his death in 1980. When he died, Rev. Maurice Manuel Benitez, rector of St. John the Divine Church in Houston, became sixth bishop of Texas. In 1986 the Episcopal Diocese of Texas had a clergy staff of 276, 104 parish churches, 52 mission congregations, and 76,975 baptized members; it was numerically one of the largest dioceses in the Episcopal Church in the United States, and it is one of the largest contributors to the missionary and social work of that church. In 1995 the Diocese of Texas had 158 congregations with a total membership of 74,000 and clergy numbering 318, 81 of whom were retired and 27 of whom were women.

The Missionary District of Northern Texas was defined in 1874 as that area lying west of the boundaries of Marion, Harrison, Gregg, and Smith Counties to the New Mexico line, and north to the Oklahoma line, and following the northern boundary of Texas to the western boundary of Marion County. The convention elected Rev. Alexander Charles Garrett to be the missionary bishop of northern Texas. The district had four self-supporting parishes-at Cleburne, Dallas, Paris, and Sherman. Garrett designated St. Matthew's Church, Dallas, as his cathedral. By 1895 the district had enough strength to become a diocese. The Diocese of Dallas was formed with twenty-one clergy, fourteen parishes, twenty-nine missions, and 2,321 communicants. In 1910 the Missionary District of Northern Texas was separated from the dioceses of Dallas and West Texas. The Very Rev. Harry Tunis Moore, Dean of St. Matthew's Cathedral in Dallas, was elected coadjutor bishop of Dallas in 1917, at which time Garrett turned over the administration of the diocese to him. In 1982, by action of the General Convention, the Diocese of Fort Worth was separated from the Diocese of Dallas. It comprises Wichita, Archer, Young, Stephens, Eastland, Brown, Mills, Hamilton, Comanche, Erath, Somervell, Palo Pinto, Jack, Clay, Montague, Wise, Parker, Hood, Bosque, Hill, Johnson, Tarrant, and Cooke counties, and that part of Dallas County within the city of Grand Prairie. In 1995 the Diocese of Dallas had sixty-nine parishes and six missions, all served by eighty-five ministers. Another twenty-five licensed clergy served in the diocese as chaplains, assistant clergy, and heads of schools. The estimated membership of the diocese in 1995 was around 40,000.

The missionary jurisdiction of Western Texas, set apart by the General Convention of 1874, was bounded on the east by the western boundaries of counties crossed by the Colorado River (Matagorda, Wharton, Colorado, Fayette, Bastrop, and Travis), on the north by the northern county lines of Caldwell, Blanco, Llano, San Saba, McCulloch, Concho, Tom Green, and El Paso counties as then constituted, on the southwest along the Rio Grande to the Gulf, then northeast along the coast to the western boundary of Matagorda County. Most of the territory west of San Antonio was Indian country, traveled only with armed escort. Indianola and Port Lavaca were seaports from which goods were transported inland, mostly by wagontrain. Churches north and westward of these were at Victoria, Chocolate, Cuero, Goliad, Gonzales, Luling, Lockhart, San Marcos, Seguin, and San Antonio. At Corpus Christi and Rockport were the only other churches along the Gulf Coast except for that in distant and isolated Brownsville. Westward, El Paso was separated from all the rest by deserts and mountains, with only a few army posts in between. Army chaplains assigned to some posts kept the witness of the church alive in their environs. As missionary bishop of Western Texas the General Convention elected Rev. Robert Woodward Barnwell Elliott, rector of St. Philip's Church, Atlanta, Georgia. After his consecration in Atlanta, he made San Antonio his headquarters and named St. Mark's Church there his cathedral. In the thirteen years of Elliott's episcopate a great deal of progress was made. Three additional churches were founded in San Antonio: St. Luke's in a new suburb on San Pedro Creek, St. John's as an outgrowth of a Sunday school and free dispensary to minister to the poor, and St. Paul's adjacent to Fort Sam Houston. Great effort was devoted to education. Elliott refounded St. Mary's Hall, San Antonio, which had been established by Bishop Gregg in 1865 but lost because of financial difficulties during Reconstruction. Because Seguin had no public school, by popular demand a day school for boys, St. Andrew's Academy, and a school for girls, Montgomery Academy, were established there. To succeed Elliott the General Convention elected Rev. James Steptoe Johnston, rector of Trinity Church, Mobile, Alabama. He took hold of the still-pioneer work with a will, and was as energetic a traveler as his predecessor in visiting the scattered members of the West Texas congregations. In 1895 the General Convention added Texas west of the Pecos River to the Missionary District of New Mexico and Arizona. St. Clement's, El Paso, by that time a strong parish, was thus lost to West Texas but furnished a fine measure of strength to the other jurisdiction. A new work with African Americans was begun in 1896, when a group from a Black Protestant congregation applied to Johnston to take them under his care. The convocation of that year admitted them under the name St. Philip's Mission, and a building formerly occupied by the German Methodist Church on Villita Street in San Antonio was bought for them. The bishop also sponsored a school to teach industrial arts to girls on the premises; this institution later became St. Philip's College.

The district became the Diocese of West Texas in 1904, and Johnston became its first bishop. The strength of the diocese was heavily concentrated in San Antonio. In 1910, when the Missionary District of Northern Texas was being planned, West Texas offered to cede eleven counties to the new jurisdiction: Coke, Sterling, Glasscock, Midland, Ector, Winkler, Loving, Ward, Crane, Upton, and Reagan. The General Convention accepted the offer. In 1913 the San Angelo congregation petitioned to be added to Northern Texas, and Tom Green and Irion counties were ceded to that missionary district. In 1914 Rev. William Theodotus Capers, rector of Holy Apostles' Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was elected coadjutor bishop. He was consecrated at the 1914 diocesan council in San Antonio. Bishop Johnston turned over the administration of the diocese to Capers immediately and announced his intention to resign at the coming general convention. Capers placed the affairs of the diocese on a businesslike basis. He had an office with a secretary, an amenity his predecessors never had, and turned over much of the routine business to an archdeacon. Military installations that sprang up in the diocese during World War I, and the development of the Winter Garden Region and the citrus fruit culture of the Rio Grande valley stimulated church development. By 1944 there were twenty-six military facilities in the diocese, including the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi. Capers carried on a vigorous program of missionary advance, at the same time ministering to the physical and spiritual well-being of his clergy. In 1943 Everett Jones was consecrated bishop. The educational work of the diocese was strengthened under Bishop Jones. St. Philip's College was taken over by the San Antonio public schools. St. Mary's Hall, once again well housed and financially cared for, continued its services for girls. Texas Military Institute , once lost to the diocese under its former name, came back under diocesan ownership. Under Jones's leadership the diocese determined to reverse the decline in rural and small-town work. In 1968 Rev. Harold C. Gosnell, rector of St. Mark's Church, San Antonio, was elected bishop of West Texas. He was succeeded in 1977 by the Right Rev. Scott Field Bailey.

The entire Panhandle and High Plains region of Texas was included in the Missionary District of Northern Texas and the Diocese of Dallas in 1874, and continued as part of the Diocese of Dallas from 1896 to 1910. In 1910, when the Missionary District of Northern Texas was separated from the Diocese of Dallas, Rev. Edward Arthur Temple, rector of St. Paul's Church, Waco, was elected the first missionary bishop of northern Texas. Temple called Rev. Eugene Cecil Seaman to be archdeacon of the southern area of the district. Seaman received the gift of a motorcycle, and went about his rounds at a great rate. In 1924 he succeeded Temple as missionary bishop. In 1946 Rev. George Henry Quarterman, rector of St. Andrew's Church, Amarillo, was elected the third missionary bishop. Under Quarterman the district determined to become a diocese and raised a fund of half a million dollars for endowment. The district became the Diocese of Northwest Texas in 1958, with Quarterman as its first bishop. He continued his vigorous ministry until his retirement in 1972. In 1980 Rev. Sam Byron Hulsey, rector of Holy Trinity, Midland, became the third bishop of Northwest Texas. He proposed and achieved the establishment of a Cathedral House and Chapel in Lubbock as diocesan headquarters and prayer center. In 1986 the diocese comprised 54 clergy, 36 parishes and missions, and 8,523 communicants. In 1995 it had 10,116 members in 37 churches, with 45 clergy, including 5 deacons, 6 nonparochial clergy, and 9 women.

Texas west of the Pecos River was ceded to the Missionary District of New Mexico in 1895 and had only St. Clement's, El Paso, in its boundaries. St. Clement's was founded in 1870 as a parish of the Diocese of Texas. Other parishes and missions were founded in the area, with additional churches in El Paso, and St. Clement's was designated the co-cathedral of the Diocese of the Rio Grande, which has its cathedral and headquarters in Albuquerque, New Mexico. See also PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL EDUCATION.

Archives of the Episcopal Church, Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, Austin. Claude A. Beesley, The Episcopal Church in Northern Texas to 1895 (Wichita Falls, Texas, 1952). Lawrence L. Brown, A Brief History of the Church in West Texas (Austin: Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest, 1959). Lawrence L. Brown, The Episcopal Church in Texas, 1838–1874 (Austin: Church Historical Society, 1963). Andrew Forest Muir, "Early Missionaries in Texas, with Documents Illustrative of Richard Salmon's Church Colony," Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 10 (September 1941).

  • Religion
  • Protestant Episcopal
Time Periods:
  • Republic of Texas
  • Progressive Era

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

Lawrence L. Brown, “Protestant Episcopal Church,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 24, 2020