Sumner Bacon

1790 - 1844

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister


[Revs. J. B. Renfro, John Buchanan, and W.G.L. Quaite]

SUMNER BACON is supposed to have been a native of Massachusetts. The first account we have of him is as a regular soldier in the army of the United States. The regiment with which he was connected was stationed at Fort Smith, Arkansas, about the years 1823 and 1824. In 1824 his term of service expired, and he was discharged. Says my informant: "He spent two years as a hired hand in a family in Arkansas, dressed in buckskin--pants and hunting-shirt--as were myself and most of the day-laborers at that time in Arkansas." He seems to have been very profane. It could hardly have been otherwise, after an experience of some time in the army; but in 1826 he professed religion, and in a short time was received by the Arkansas Presbytery as a candidate for the ministry. In a year or two he was licensed by that Presbytery. The date, however, of his licensure is not known. The records are lost.

His early efforts in the ministry were not very satisfactory. The Arkansas ministers at that time were John Carnahan, Josephus A. Cornwall, James H. Black, Andrew Buchanan, and Jesse M. Blair--all solid, serious, and thoughtful men. Bacon was considered to be rather erratic.

In 1828, he went to Texas, and penetrated into the country as far as San Felipe. This was the field for him, so true it is that when God calls out a workman he always finds a work suited to the character of him who is thus called. In traversing the wilds of Texas he preached whenever and wherever an opportunity was offered. He bore a high character of scrupulous honesty, great energy, and punctuality in fulfilling his engagements. Though of a rough exterior, and unpolished manners, he had a soul which gleamed with the noblest affections, while he was a stranger to fear. It required a heroic spirit to bear what Protestantism was compelled to bear at that time in Texas. That spirit he possessed in large measure.

In 1832, he was appointed an agent for the distribution of the Scriptures in Texas. "He scattered," says my informant, "the Word of Life from San Antonio to the Sabine with an industrious hand." Of course this brought him into collision with the Roman Catholic prejudices of the country. On one occasion he was taken by a band of desperadoes, and threatened with death. He asked permission to pray. Permission being granted, he threw himself upon his knees and poured forth an earnest prayer for the men who were threatening to take his life. Concluding his prayer, he opened his eyes, and his persecutors were gone. The appeal was too strong to be resisted. The tradition is, that when the ringleader of the band returned to his home, his savage mother asked him if he had succeeded in killing the preacher. He replied, with earnestness: "I would not hurt a hair of that man's head for this cabin filled with gold."

On another occasion, while he was distributing the Bible, Colonel James Gains reported him to Colonel Bean. The latter told him to go on and distribute as many Bibles as he pleased, with the injunction that he should not disturb the peace.

On still another occasion, Mr. Bacon and others were preparing to hold a camp-meeting near San Augustine, and a number of wicked men conspired to break it up. Colonel Bowie, one of Texas's noblest men, providentially was present at the meeting, and being so deeply impressed with the simplicity and solemn earnestness of Bacon, that he said to the ruffians in his expressive manner, "Captain Bowie is in command to-day," and, making the sign of the cross upon the ground, he told the preachers that they could proceed with the meeting. This, of course, settled the matter.

About the year 1835, Mr. Bacon was ordained by one of the South-western Presbyteries, perhaps the Presbytery of Mississippi. I make this statement on my own authority, still not being certain that I am correct. I have a distinct recollection of having heard of the occurrence about the time, and that Thomas B. Reynolds and William A. Scott were present and promoted and participated in the ordination. These were then recent graduates from Cumberland College, but earnestly favored the measure from the consideration of Mr. Bacon's great usefulness in his field of labor, although in literary attainments he was known to fall below the requirements of the Form of Government. It was certainly an indulgence to be granted.

In 1836, Mr. Bacon organized the second Cumberland Presbyterian Church which was organized in Texas. In the fall of that year he attended the meeting of the Mississippi Synod, and succeeded in procuring an order of the Synod for the organization of a Presbytery as soon as three ministers of the country could be collected together in that capacity. In the winter of 1837, a Presbytery was organized, holding its first meeting five miles east of San Augustine. In 1841, three Presbyteries were formed out of this one, the Texas Presbytery. The names were Texas, Red River, and Colorado Presbyteries. In 1842, these Presbyteries were organized into a Synod, which held its first meeting near Nacogdoches. Rev. Samuel Bacon was Moderator. In a short time after the meeting this pioneer of Cumberland Presbyterianism, and of Protestantism in Texas, died at his home in San Augustine county.

I close this brief and imperfect sketch of the life and labors of one of our good men with a letter From Rev. W. G. L. Quaite, one of the successors of Mr. Bacon in Texas. It will be seen that a little fire has kindled a great matter in that country. God works wonders, and sometimes, too, by agencies which men would not have selected. The following is the letter:


"BROTHER BEARD:--I inclose you a sketch of the life and labors of Rev. Sumner Bacon, by Rev. J. B. Renfro, with additional statements by Rev. R. O. Watkins, who was the co-laborer of Mr. Bacon for several years in Texas.

"For several years before his death his great anxiety and prayer was that God would spare his life to see a Synod organized in Texas. This God permitted him to see, and preside over, in the fall of 1842, in Nacogdoches county, Texas.

"This was the last time he and Watkins ever met. Bacon told Watkins that his work was done. He said he had a presentiment that he should die soon. He called Brother Watkins his Texas boy; committed to Watkins his mantle; told him he was going home to die.

"Bacon returned to his home in San Augustine county, and in December, 1842, closed a long, and laborious, and eventful life.

"In the latter part of the year 1836, he married Miss Elizabeth McCrosky, of Middle Tennessee.

"Rev. Sumner Bacon left a wife, one son, and two daughters, who all became worthy members of the Church he labored so faithfully to plant in Texas.

"The Cumberland Presbyterian Church numbers three Synods in Texas, fourteen Presbyteries, and one Presbytery in the Indian country, one hundred and eighty ministers, and more than twenty thousand communicants, with an institution of learning second to none of its age, and a large number of young men of fine promise preparing for the ministry.

"The labors of this faithful man of God, with those of the sainted A. J. McGown, and others, will tell for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the great day of God Almighty."

[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Second Series. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 375-379]

BACON, SUMNER (1790-1844). Sumner Bacon, pioneer Cumberland Presbyterian missionary, was born in Auburn, Massachusetts, on January 22, 1790, to Jonathan and Mollie Bacon. His parents planned a career in law for him, but due to his father's death he left home sometime after 1810 and never returned. For a time he served as a private in the United States Army. His travels took him down the Ohio River valley and eventually, as a member of a surveying party, to Arkansas, where in the mid-1820s he was converted at a Cumberland revival meeting and decided to become a minister.

Because Bacon lacked even a basic grasp of grammar and spelling the Cumberland Presbytery of Arkansas asked him to spend two years improving his education before applying for a license to preach. Unwilling to study, he made little progress. After being refused by the Arkansas Presbytery, he went to Texas as a freelance itinerant evangelist in the fall of 1829. Since Catholicism was the legally required religion of the territory, Bacon did his preaching surreptitiously, moving from place to place when government pressure became too strong. In 1830 he wrote to Stephen F. Austin unsuccessfully seeking an appointment as chaplain in Austin's colony. His application to the Arkansas Presbytery was again refused in 1832. The following year Bacon met Rev. Benjamin Chase, a Presbyterian minister and agent for the American Bible Society. On the basis of Chase's recommendation the society commissioned Bacon in 1833 as its first regular agent in Texas. In two years of colportage work for the society, Bacon distributed more than 2,000 Bibles and New Testaments in both English and Spanish. In March of 1835 he presented himself to the newly formed Cumberland Presbytery of Louisiana. With Chase's help and his own persuasive speaking, Bacon was licensed and ordained a minister, although clearly as an exception to normal practices.

The outbreak of the Texas Revolution in the fall of 1835 temporarily halted Bacon's itinerant ministry. After marrying Elizabeth McCarroll (McKerall) on January 28, 1836, he participated in the hostilities by serving as a chaplain and courier for Gen. Sam Houston. As a courier he carried dispatches to the Alamo, Goliad, and Victoria and traveled to New Orleans for gunpowder and, secretly, to General Dunlap of Tennessee to seek aid against an expected Mexican invasion.

After the battle of San Jacinto Bacon resumed his missionary activities. In the summer of 1836 he organized the first Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Texas near San Augustine. The following year he and Cumberland clergymen Amos Roark and Mitchell Smith began the Texas Presbytery at a meeting held at Bacon's home on November 27. Afterwards Bacon's leadership in church activities diminished. Plagued with poor health, he could not maintain an itinerant ministry and was able to preach no more than once a month, although he did serve as the first moderator of the Cumberland Synod of Texas in 1843. He died on January 24, 1844. Although Bacon was not the first Protestant to preach in Texas, evidence indicates that he was the first resident Protestant evangelist to maintain a continuous ministry in the new territory.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Robert Douglas Brackenridge, Voice in the Wilderness: A History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Texas (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1968).

R. Douglas Brackenridge

[Source: The Handbook of Texas Online is a joint project of The General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas State Historical Association. © The Texas State Historical Association, 1997,1998,1999.

Family Information

Jonathan Bacon
wife: Molly ?

Children of Jonathan Bacon and Molly?:

1. Jonathan Bacon
born: 29 May 1784 - Ward, Massachusetts

2. Betsey Bacon
born: 22 July 1786

3. Sumner Bacon
Cumberland Presbyterian Minister
born: 22 January 1790 - Auburn (formerly Ward), Massachusetts
died: 24 January 1844 - San Augustine County, Texas
buried: Chapel Hill Church Cemetery about five miles east of San Augustine
married: 19 January 1836 - Spring Hill, Maury County, Tennessee
wife: Elizabeth Carroll
born: 29 March 1810 - near Chapel Hill, Orange County, North Carolina
died: 30 November 1879
buried: West Hill Cemetery - Sherman, Texas

Children of Sumner Bacon and Elizabeth Carroll:

3.1. Jonathan Bacon
born: 2 June 1838 - San Augustine, Texas
died: 1 November 1923 - Denton, Texas
married: 3 February 1874
wife: Susan Elizabeth Pace

Children of Jonathan Bacon and Susan Elizabeth Pace:

3.1.1. Elizabeth R. Bacon
husband: D. B. Wolfe

3.1.2. Myrtle A. Bacon

3.1.3. Sumner D. Bacon

3.1.4. Jonathan Bacon

3.1.5. Willis Bacon

3.1.6. Anna Bacon
husband: F. D. Thomas

3.2. Mary "Mollie" Ann Chase Bacon
husband: J. D. Thomas

Children of J.D. Thomas and Mary Ann Chase Bacon:

3.2.1. Bettie T. Thomas
husband: Silas E. Wright

3.2.2. John Thomas

3.2.3. Joshua Thomas

3.2.4. Fannie Thomas
husband: Dave McFarland

3.2.5. Sumner Thomas

3.2.6. William Thomas

3.2.7. Anna Thomas

3.3. Frances Ellen Bacon
husband: Robert Walker

Children of Robert Walker and Frances Ellen Bacon:

3.3.1. Mary Walker
husband: Early Matthews

3.3.2. George Walker
died: 13 April 1935

3.3.3. Jennie Walker
husband: Benjamin Utterback

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Updated March 6, 2009