Thrall, Homer Spellman (1819–1894)

By: Norman W. Spellmann

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 28, 2020

Homer S. Thrall, historian, journalist, teacher, and Methodist minister, was born at Underhill, Vermont, on December 19, 1819. By 1837 he was in Ohio, where he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. While a student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, he read letters of Martin Ruter in the New York Christian Advocate describing the work of the Methodist mission in Texas and determined to be a minister in that new republic. He joined the Ohio Conference in 1840 and served his probationary period. After ordination as a deacon and reception into full connection in 1842, he requested transfer to the Texas Conference. On November 20 he landed at Galveston, where he preached the first sermon in the new Ryland Chapel. Guided by David Ayres, he arrived at Bastrop in time for the session of the Texas Conference. With his appointment to Brazoria, Thrall began a ministry of fifty years in Texas. On the rounds of this circuit and at camp meetings, he became acquainted with Emily Austin Perry, members of Austin's original colony, veterans of the war for independence, and such political leaders as Mirabeau B. Lamar, Anson Jones, and Henry Smith. He later attributed his interest in Texas history to conversations with these men. His second appointment (1843–44) was to the Egypt circuit, which he described as "imperial in its dimensions"; it included the counties of Lavaca, Colorado, Wharton, Jackson, and Calhoun and portions of Fayette, Fort Bend, and Victoria counties. During that year he held the first camp meeting on the Guadalupe River (near the present location of Cuero), with Texas Rangers on hand to guard against Indian raids. When the Methodist schism over slavery and principles of polity occurred in 1844, the vast majority of ministers in Texas elected to join the proposed Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Despite his northern background, Thrall committed himself to Southern Methodism.

In order to keep pace with rapidly increasing membership and expanding circuits, the churches in Texas were divided into two conferences, the Eastern Texas and the Texas. Thrall remained in the latter and received his ordination as an elder from Bishop Edmund S. Janes at San Augustine in January 1845. Although he was appointed in January 1845 to Bastrop at the conference session, his presiding elder changed his assignment and sent him to the Rutersville circuit. Thrall also served as principal of the male department of Rutersville College that year. In 1846 he was sent to form the Austin circuit. Until a church could be built the following year he preached in the Capitol to a congregation that included Lamar, Governor James P. Henderson, Gen. Edward Burleson, and Chief Justice John Hemphill. Between sessions of the legislature Thrall taught school in the Capitol. During his second year in Austin he purchased a lot at the corner of Congress and Cedar (Fourth Street) and supervised the construction of the first Methodist church building in Austin. He also raised the money for the project and dedicated the frame structure in December, free of debt. While riding the Washington circuit (1848–49), he served on a committee with Chauncey Richardson and Robert Alexander that established the Texas Wesleyan Banner (see UNITED METHODIST REPORTER). Thrall was an agent for the American Bible Society in 1852–53. From 1854 to 1891 he served terms as presiding elder and circuit preacher in several districts in both the Texas Conference and the West Texas Conference. Among the districts in which he preached were Rutersville, Galveston, Austin, Victoria, Houston, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Seguin, and Del Rio. In addition, he was a delegate to the General Conference in 1854, 1878, and 1886. He was secretary of the Texas Conference from 1852 to 1857 and of the West Texas Conference from 1882 to 1890.

Toward the end of his work with the Bible Society and during his supervision of the Rutersville District (1853–55), Thrall taught again at Rutersville College. In 1855 he was secretary of the commission that located Soule University at Chappell Hill and was a trustee of that institution. Thrall wrote five widely read books: History of Methodism in Texas (1872), A History of Texas (1876), A Pictorial History of Texas (1879), The People's Illustrated Almanac, Texas Handbook, and Immigrants' Guide (1880), and A Brief History of Methodism in Texas (1889). After he retired in November 1891 he lived in San Antonio and wrote historical articles for the San Antonio Daily Express (see SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS). Southwestern University honored Thrall with a doctor of divinity degree in 1884. On June 27, 1847, he married Amanda J. Kerr, daughter of Hugh and Lucy (Thomson) Kerr. She died in July 1851, and he married Mrs. Amelia Trueborn West of Port Lavaca in July 1852. After a long illness Thrall died, on October 12, 1894, at his home in San Antonio. He willed his library of 2,300 volumes to Southwestern University.

H. A. Graves, comp., Reminiscences and Events in the Ministerial Life of Rev. John Wesley DeVilbiss (Galveston: Shaw, 1886). H. G. Horton, "Homer S. Thrall, A.M.," Texas Methodist Historical Quarterly 1 (July 1909). Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (Nashville: Southern Methodist Publishing House, 1845–1923). Minutes of the Thirty-Sixth Session of the West Texas Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

  • Education
  • Educators
  • Social Sciences
  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Religion
  • Methodist

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

Norman W. Spellmann, “Thrall, Homer Spellman,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 28, 2020