Ruter, Martin (1785–1838)

By: Norman W. Spellmann

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 9, 2016

Martin Ruter, Methodist minister, son of Job Ruter, was born in Charlton, Worcester County, Massachusetts, on April 3, 1785. Although his blacksmith father could not send him to school, he read widely in English literature and the classics and gained a working knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and French. After being called into the ministry, he joined the New York Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1801 and received his deacon's and elder's orders from Bishop Francis Asbury in 1803 and 1805. After the deaths of his wife, Sybil (Robertson), and two children, he married Ruth Young of Concord, New Hampshire, in 1810. Nine children were born to this second union. Ruter served churches in the New York, New England, and Philadelphia conferences and was a delegate to seven general conferences. He also served as an officer in three Methodist schools that he helped to found: as first principal of New Market Academy (New Hampshire), first president of Augusta College (Kentucky), and president of Allegheny College (Pennsylvania). In recognition of his contributions to education, Transylvania College, Lexington, Kentucky, awarded Ruter a doctor of divinity degree in 1822. In 1820 the General Conference chose him to establish a new branch of the Methodist Book Concern in Cincinnati. During his eight years as book agent, he edited or wrote more than a dozen books, the most influential of which, History of the Christian Church (1832), was required reading for Methodist preachers for nearly fifty years.

In May 1836 Ruter volunteered for missionary service in the new Republic of Texas. Within a year the Methodist Missionary Society established the Texas Mission, and the bishops appointed Ruter superintendent, to be assisted by Rev. Robert Alexander and Rev. Littleton Fowler. Ruter resigned the presidency of Allegheny College and moved with his family to Indiana that summer. Taking a large supply of Bibles, hymnals, and Sunday school books, he headed for Texas in early November with David Ayres as his companion and guide. On November 23, 1837, they crossed the Sabine River at Gaines Ferry, where they met Robert Alexander. In the following three weeks, Ruter preached in San Augustine, Nacogdoches, and Washington-on-the-Brazos and formed a new society at Egypt. By mid-December he was in Houston, where he preached in Congress Hall and met with Sam Houston and other leaders of the government. Ruter stated his plans to establish a college and received pledges for an endowment of six or seven leagues from large landholders. He even drew up several articles of a charter to be presented to the next session of the Texas Congress. Apparently he favored a site either at Bastrop or near Chappell Hill.

During the following months, except for a brief and dangerous trip to Bastrop, Ruter concentrated his missionary work in the area bounded by Houston, Egypt (Wharton County), and Washington. In his final report to the Methodist Board of Missions, dated April 26, he stated that he and his colleagues had gathered 325 members in twenty circuits scattered across the vast prairies from the Sabine to the Colorado and from the Old San Antonio Road to the Gulf Coast. His travels on horseback had exceeded 2,200 miles. The hours of exposure to rain and cold took their toll. In April when he attempted a journey to the East to raise money for the mission and to bring his family to Texas, Ruter's health broke, and he was forced to return to Washington-on-the-Brazos. He died there on May 16, 1838, apparently of typhoid fever complicated by pneumonia. His vision was realized in 1840 with the founding of Rutersville College and the formation of the Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

John O. Gross, Martin Ruter: Pioneer in Methodist Education (Nashville: Board of Education of the Methodist Church, 1956); Ernest Ashton Smith, Martin Ruter (New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1915).

  • Education
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • School Founders
  • Religion
  • Methodist
Time Periods:
  • Republic of Texas

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

Norman W. Spellmann, “Ruter, Martin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 19, 2022,

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January 9, 2016