Historically Fort Bend:
Religious observances have taken place in Fort Bend County since the days of Austin’s Colony. Perhaps, the settlers fresh off the Lively stopped to say a prayer of thanks when they reached land after months at sea. However, no such tale has been included in the story of those first colonists as it is told today. Mexico placed great importance on faith, most especially the Catholic faith. All migrants to Texas were required to practice Catholicism even though there were not enough priests to go around. Father Michael Muldoon served much of Austin’s Colony and presided over all official ceremonies such as weddings and baptisms. On weeks when the Father was elsewhere, other more unofficial ministers gave sermons and performed rituals. Oftentimes, a couple would marry once while Father Muldoon was away and then get married again by Muldoon so their union would be legal under Mexican law.
Protestant faiths didn’t let the ban on practicing their religion stop them from ministering to flock in Texas. Itinerant pastors made their way into Austin’s Colony in the 1820s. By the 1840s, traveling preachers from various denominations worked their way through Fort Bend County now that the Mexican ban was no more. Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist and other Protestant sects sent pastors to minister to the growing population of southeast Texas.
It is said that the first religious service in Fort Bend County was practiced by Baptist preacher Parson Woodruff after completion of the first trial in the county in 1834. However, Joseph Bays was holding Baptist worship near the Brazos in 1824. In 1839, the Rev. Jesse Hord, a Methodist missionary, and a group of citizens launched the first Methodist church in the county at the home of a Dr. Bryant who also ran a hotel in Richmond. By 1847, there were 116 white and 61 black members. Rev. Gilette held the first Episcopal services in Richmond in 1845. Services were held sporadically after that until Calvary Episcopal Church was formed in 1857. By June 1860, there were five Methodist churches, two Free churches, and one Episcopal church in Fort Bend County.
Not until around 1860 did the first persons of the Jewish faith settle in Fort Bend County. Merchants Levi Solomon, Nathan Mayblum, and Leon Blum arrived in Richmond with their families in the 1850s and set up shop, presumably continuing to practice their religion in some form or fashion. The practice of religious faith has exploded in Fort Bend County since these humble beginnings. A multicultural county now includes congregations from Baha’i to Hinduism and Buddhism to Muslim. It is reassuring in an increasingly secular age to remember, especially in this holiday season, that religious faith and freedom are one of the firm foundations of Fort Bend County.
Historical facts and photos courtesy of the Fort Bend County
Museum Association, Richmond, TX