William Stevenson

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In the fall of the year 1813 while I was living in the township of
Bellv(ue), Mo., following farming, by which I was enabled to support my
family decently and to labor as a local preacher, my brother James
Stevenson, who then lived on the Ouachita river, now state of Arkansas,
Clark county, visited me and remained a few weeks with us; and seeing the
great advantage of a preached gospel among the people he lamented the
condition of the wilderness settlements of the Ouachita, Red River and 
Forche Caddo, where he lived, and also the settlements of White river and 
many other settlements on smaller streams ... I felt a great desire for the
salvation of those destitute people, and was pressed by my brother to go 
home with him, see the people, and preach to them. He hoped also that I 
might like the country and move to it. I agreed to accompany him.

We prepared for the journey, it being about four hundred miles, mostly 
wilderness except on some rivers and rich lands, where we found settlements
of industrious people; and among them many hunters for wild game: buffalo, 
bear, deer, beaver, etc. were common. All were alive to their calling and 
we found them friendly and humane. Prayer in families and the gospel 
preached was a new thing; but all, with few exceptions, received us, joined
in family prayer, or at least had nothing against it, and truly my soul was
happy in praying with and speaking to them on the importance of providing 
for the soul as well as the body. Our journey was a pleasant one. 

At length we arrived in the settlement where my brother lived (and) ... 
(the) next Sunday I had an appointment at Mr. (James) Cummins, a few miles
below, on the Forche Caddo, a branch of the Ouachita. The congregation was 
respectable, and before the meeting commenced, I was introduced to an old 
mother of Israel, a widow indeed, late from the States. Her name was Mary 
Dickson. She appeared delighted to hear that God was mindful of the country
in sending the gospel to them. While preaching that day to a desirous 
looking people, a good spirit was among them; ... The old widowed mother 
rejoiced in God her Savior, and there appeared to be a good work beginning,
...

From this settlement I went westward, visited the settlements and preached 
on the Turnwaw, Wolf Creek, Little Missouri, and Mound Prairie, ...

The people had made a great many settlements all through the country from 
five to twenty miles apart. No wagon roads yet laid out, as they had 
generally moved on pack horses; nothing but horse-paths, many of them along
the buffalo road or trails, rivers, large creeks, etc. No ferry boats, 
except on one or two rivers. We had to cross by canoes or rafts, or on 
horse back. Hence, I saw a great difficulty in getting men who would be 
willing to face all these difficulties to carry the gospel to this people; 
and when they pressed me hard to come, or get some of the preachers from 
the Illinois Conference to come and preach to them, I said, being a 
preacher, I could not tell what the Conference would do for them, I would 
return next fall and stay as long as possible with them.

At home with my family in the spring of 1814, I had not forgotten my 
promise to the people on the Red River, Ouachita and Arkansas, White Spring
and Current rivers, with many of less note ... 

I left my family early in the fall of 1814, in company with Bro. Joseph 
Reed, a local preacher and Bro. John Johnson, a professor of religion and 
husband of my eldest daughter. We had a pleasant journey to the new circuit
which I intended to form and travel, beginning on the South side of the 
Current, about one hundred miles from my family, and extending southwest 
400 miles to Pecan Point on the southwest side of Red River - a settlement
of Americans in the bounds of the province of Texas ...

At one of my appointments on Wolf Creek, I was hindered from going on my 
way for several days; but having formed a society there some time before, 
with some conversions and a goodly number of mourners, we had meeting(s) 
every day; for I had brother Friend McMahon with me as an exhorter who I 
had licensed, and he was warm in love. Here we labored day and night while 
we stayed and the word was fruitful. One poor Indian, a Choctaw, was 
converted under preaching; he could speak but little English, but I saw by 
his looks that he understood truth, at least to make him tremble and weep; 
and while some of the people were crying for mercy and others praising God 
for what he had done for them, the Indian received the Spirit of joy and 
peace in the forgiveness of sins. He came to me, took hold of my hand, 
looked up and by signs told me that the Great Spirit had come down into his
heart and he now loved him. This he told in his own tongue to an 
interpreter. Afterwards he was always glad to see me. I saw him a year 
after, with some eight or ten Choctaws; he ran to meet me, held my hand, 
spoke to the others and in their tongue, called me brother. None can tell 
how I felt on this interview.
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New Orleans Christian Advocate, April 29, 1858, Volume VIII, page 1,
excerpts: Autobiography of Rev. William Stevenson, 1841. "On the 5th of
March, 1858, at the house of his son-in-law, Major Dyer, in Claiborne
parish, La., the good old man died, in the 89th year of his age."
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                          Stevenson, Rev. William

Reverend William Stevenson was born in 1768 at Ninety-Six in South
Carolina. The first recorded date of his being in Bellevue Valley comes
from the handbook of William Woods. His first Conference connection
appears in 1815. Before 1815 he was appointed as a surveyor to lay out the
road past Shiloh Meeting House, January 3, 1814, in Bellevue. He was the
son of James and Elizabeth Stevenson, Presbyterians. Through his pious
mother's influence he had strong religious impressions during his eighth
year. In 1792 he moved to Tennessee where he joined a Methodist Church in
1800 and was soon licensed to preach. In 1816 the Missouri Conference
included Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas, and the following year Reverend
Stevenson was appointed to the Hot Springs Circuit. Some relatives and
friends in Missouri followed him as he went to Mound Prairie, Arkansas a
fertile district five miles northwest of Washington in Hempstead County. It
has been the idea of some that so many people followed Reverend Stevenson
from the Bellevue Church that it almost had to close it doors. This was not
true, the church was very strong, as many others were coming to Bellevue
Valley at the time Reverend Stevenson and Joseph Reed and others were
going into Arkansas, although many did go.

Although Reverend Stevenson was told that any one going through Arkansas
preaching would be imprisoned, he did not give up on account of threats to
arrest him. While at Mound Prairie, he went across the Red River at
Jonesboro and preached in the sparsely settled community thought then to
be a part of Arkansas, but later found to be in Texas. In 1820 he was
elected a member of the first Arkansas Territorial Legislature and was
chosen speaker of the house. He resigned before the expiration of his term
on account of illness. He is credited as being the first Protestant to
preach in Arkansas and Texas. His father, James Stevenson, came to the
United States from County Intrim, Ireland. Reverend William (Stevenson)
and his wife, the former Jane Campbell, were residing in Russellville,
Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, July 22, 1830 as reflected in a deed made by
them on that day when they sold their property in Missouri. He died in
Claiborne Parish, February 5, 1857. The preceding information (is) taken
from Riggin "Lest We Forget" pages 76-79, Eugene Barker's "The Austin
Papers" Volume 1, page 698 and Macum Phelan's "History of Methodism of
Texas".
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Bellevue-Beautiful View, The history of the Bellevue Valley, and
surrounding area. Bellevue Valley Historical Society, 1983, page 272.
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William Stevenson (1768-1857), pioneer Methodist preacher, the son of James
and Elizabeth Stevenson, was born on October 4, 1768, near a station called
Ninety-six, South Carolina, on the Cherokee line. He was schooled in 
Methodist doctrine and polity in Tennessee under bishops Francis Asbury and
Richard Whatcoat, Rev. William McKendree, and other leaders near Nashville.
He also taught school for a time, served on juries wherever he lived, and 
was county magistrate in Arkansas. In Missouri he ran unsuccessfully in 
1815 against Stephen F. Austin for the office of representative in the 
General Assembly of Missouri Territory. In Arkansas, Stevenson served as 
the Hempstead County representative in the first General Assembly of 
Arkansas Territory in 1820. He was elected speaker of this assembly when it
first met, but soon resigned that post due to health problems. He opened
the house's daily sessions with prayer. Stevenson was in charge of all 
Methodist activities in Arkansas from 1815 to 1825, and in this capacity he
held the first Protestant service of record in Texas at Pecan Point in what
is now Red River County. He continued supervising Methodist activities 
there until 1825. He also negotiated with Stephen F. Austin between 1824 
and 1827 regarding the possibility of Protestant preaching in Mexican 
Texas. Stevenson married Jane Campbell in Greene County, Tennessee in 1794,
and they had eleven children. In 1826 Stevenson moved to Claiborne Parish, 
Louisiana, and continued his preaching, serving as pastor and presiding 
elder for some years before his death, on March 5, 1857. He was buried in
Bossier, Louisiana. Three historical markers have been erected to 
Stevenson: an official state marker on Interstate Highway 30 near Mount
Vernon, Texas; an Oklahoma state marker on U.S. Highway 259, a few miles 
north of the Red River; and a Red River County Historical Society marker
on the square at Clarksville, Texas.

                             Walter N. Vernon

Bibliography: New Orleans Christian Advocate, March 13, 20, 27, April 3, 
10, 17, 1858. Macum Phelan, History of Early Methodism in Texas, 1817-1866,
Nashville: Cokesbury, 1924; A History of the Expansion of Methodism in 
Texas, 1867-1902, Dallas: Mathis, Van Nort, 1937. Walter N. Vernon, 
William Stevenson, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1964.
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 The Texas State Historical Association, 1997, 1998, 1999.
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Update 03.19.01              David Kelley 2000                 BIO-0118.HTM