Matagorda, Texas

Compiled by Thelma D. Smith

St. Mary’s Street          Demolished & Burned     c 1998

The Little Bethel AME Church at Matagorda, Texas, was one of the many outreach worshipping facilities prescribed by the Rev. Richard Allen and the AME religious denomination.

Allen, like thousands of slaves, bought his freedom.

In the early days of slavery, some Blacks, and especially those in New England, were permitted to belong and attend white churches. Even though they attended church services with whites, they were duly segregated.

One Sunday, while attending a prayer service in the St. George Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Richard Allen was pulled from his knees by a white usher. Allen made a firm resolution to establish a house of worship where he and his people would feel comfortable.

Several years later, he founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination. Its first meeting house was called Bethel (See Gen. 28:19). The church was dedicated in 1794 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Allen became its first bishop. He is noted as the first bishop for the AME church.

Later, Peter Williams, a sexton of the John Street Methodist Church in New York found himself and his people under circumstances similar to Allen’s in Philadelphia. Williams led the founding of the AME Zion Church in 1796 in New York. He helped finance the building of the church’s first sanctuary from wages that he earned as a tobacco laborer.


Church buildings of certain denominations were often established or erected because of different needs. The Little Bethel AME Church at Matagorda, Texas, not only was established as a needed place for Blacks to worship, but also because some persons beliefs or desires were grounded in the principles founded by the denomination of 1794, and because of family ties.

The church took the name of the 1794 denomination, but added the word “Little.” Possibly this word was used to indicate that the congregation was smaller than the founding body, that the building would be smaller, and that the community was smaller, but with God’s love and their fellowship they could feel just as big as the group in Philadelphia.

Before 1870, Blacks in Matagorda attended church with the white congregations. According to the Official Membership and Church Records of the Methodist Church of Matagorda, there were two colored members on the church roll, Jackson Holt and Hannah Carr. Hannah’s baptism and vows were recorded in 1891 and Jackson’s vows in 1892.

Later, Jackson was inspirational in helping to establish a Baptist Church, but Hannah Carr remained with the Methodist. It is assumed that other Blacks in the town helped to organize Little Bethel AME Church in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Mrs. Wilma Holt attended Sunday School at the church with one of the Trustees, Mrs. Nettie Thomas. She said that the first church building was located on the street one block west of the former church building. It was on the street very near the levee and the Colorado River.

On May 27, 1937, William Givens and his wife, Elena Mae Givens, deeded the northwest 60 feet of Lot Four (4) in Block 1, Tier 4, Matagorda Front of the town of Matagorda, in Matagorda County. The property being a plat of ground fronting 60 feet on the west side of St. Mary’s Street and extending all the way across the northwest end of said Lot 4; comprising a tract of 60 x 111 feet.

For benefits to grantee and the grantors, the sum of One Dollar was paid by David “Lump” Boone, Frank Baines, and Nettie Thomas, Trustees for the use and benefit of African Methodist Episcopal Church of Matagorda, Texas; their successors in trust as a religious organization domiciled in Matagorda, of the County of Matagorda, State of Texas.

After securing the property on St. Mary’s Street, the AME members began to raise funds and make contributions for the structure of the new church building.

There was an entrance area before entering the sanctuary. Once inside, there was the seating area with pews on each side of an aisle. A pulpit area was provided for the pastor and also included an altar rail or banister. Behind the pulpit were a piano and chairs for the choir. There was a back door to exit the building outside. Just to the left of the back door was a small room for the pastor to go for concentration.

Former pastors were: The Rev. M. Jedkins, Daniel Luther Miles, Hattie Robinson, Phillips, Evelyn Byars Johnson, and Mark Austin.

Some devoted members were: David “Lump” Boone and his wife, Hally, Jack Baines and wife, called “Auntie”, William Givens and his wife, Elena Mae Givens, John and Nettie Thomas, Jeff and Lena Mae Robbins, Buster Wright and wife, Juanita, Frank Baines and wife, Modiest Baines Burke, and Yetta Baines Luddington.

Buster Wright was the motivating member for the on going of the church. He spearheaded many programs and events to help bring life to the church.

Frank Baines, the son of Jack, was the musician. He played all of the music for the church and organized a men’s chorus. There were times that he played for Tyree Chapel AME in Bay City.

Following the Mission of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the church continued to minister to the spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional needs of all people by spreading Christ’s liberating gospel through words and deeds. It continued to carry out the spirit of the original Free African Society out of which the AME Church evolved; to seek out and save the lost, and serve the needy through a continuing program of preaching the gospel, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, cheering the fallen, ministering to those in prison, nursing homes, senior citizens, and encouraging thrift and economic advancement.


With the passing on of many members, the membership began to sag. After the death of Jeff Robbins, church services were no longer held in the building. Lena Mae, Jeff’s wife would sometimes come to Tyree Chapel in Bay City. She is the oldest living member from the Little Bethel AME Church. Later, she united with the United Methodist Church in Matagorda.

Several pews, and the building’s corner stone were housed at the United Methodist Church in Matagorda. It is understood that Lena Mae and her daughter, Lillie, received the corner stone, but the pews are still at United Methodist.


In 1998, Michael C. Howard of Houston, Texas, received a Cash Warranty Deed to the property for the sum of ten ($10) and other good and valuable consideration.

The building was bulldozed and set afire. For some reason or another, nothing else has been done to the property.


Copyright 2004 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
All rights reserved

Jan. 14, 2005
Jan. 14, 2005