McMahan Chapel

McMahan Chapel

Heritage Landmark for first Methodist church in Texas

Just over the border from Louisiana stands McMahan Chapel, the oldest Protestant church with a continuous history in Texas. In 1831, when Samuel Doak McMahan (1789-1854) emigrated to Texas from Tennessee, that area was the San Augustine Municipality of the Mexican Government, and Protestant preaching was illegal.

The following year, Methodist preacher James P. Stevenson was appointed to the Sabine Circuit in Louisiana, a few miles east of McMahan’s home. Stevenson was asked by some Texans to come over the border and preach for them; after being assured of his safety from possible arrest, Stevenson came and held services. McMahan attended the services and then invited Stevenson to come and preach in his home, too.

Stevenson preached at McMahan’s home several times; he also held a camp meeting on McMahan’s property. In September 1833, Stevenson organized a “religious society” since it was illegal to organize a church.

The Society had at least twenty charter members, including McMahan and his wife and four of their children and spouses. McMahan was named class leader and in 1837 was licensed as a local preacher.

After the Texas War of Independence in 1836, Protestant preaching was no longer illegal, and the little congregation grew as more and more white settlers moved to Texas. In December 1837 Littleton Fowler (1802-1846) was sent as a Methodist missionary to Texas. He was named Presiding Elder (now District Superintendent) of the Texas Mission District and built his home (and district headquarters) near Samuel McMahan’s house.

Some months later, the McMahan congregation built its first house of worship, a pine log chapel forty by thirty feet. Littleton Fowler served as the church’s first pastor. He died in 1846 and was buried beneath the pulpit, as he had requested.

The log chapel was replaced by a frame church in 1872, which was in turn replaced by a new building in 1900. The present structure, a brick church, was built in 1949 and is the fourth building on the site.

The nearby cemetery contains the remains of Samuel D. McMahan and other early Texas Methodists.

Taken with permission from Heritage Landmarks: A Traveler’s Guide to the Most Sacred Places in The United Methodist Church, by the General Commission on Archives and History. For more information, see