The Early Years
Angus McAllister Stewart entered this world at Cedar Springs, Early County, Georgia and left it from Carthage, Panola County, Texas. In the dash between, he became an educator, pastor, evangelist, and the “Founding Father” of the first Free Will Baptist Church in Texas.[i]
A. M. Stewart was the son of (presumably) John M. Norman Stewart and Hulda (or Susan) Stewart.[ii] He was born August 25, 1853, grew up on a farm, and attended the public schools in Early County. Altogether the 1850, 1860 and 1870 censuses list five siblings: Amanda, Martha, Angus, Wesley, and Kilby (or Kelby). At present little is known about his extended family, but Amanda married in 1870 and eventually came to Texas. Wesley died before the 1870 census was taken.
At about age seventeen Angus entered the Buford Academy in Gwinnett County, Georgia,[iii] some 250 miles north of his home in Cedar Springs. During that year he professed faith in Christ, and was ordained to the ministry the next year. “While a student at the Buford Academy he was employed as an assistant instructor, which was the beginning of his life’s work, while yet a boy, of teacher and minister of the Gospel.”[iv]
[i] Stewart’s status as the founder of the first Free Will Baptist Church in Texas must be understood with this caveat – he was the founder of the first Anglo-American Free Will Baptist work possessing historical continuity. First, there was a prior “spontaneous” Anglo work that had a brief existence circa 1850 in the area of Sabine County, Texas. Second, the African-American Freewill Baptists in Lancaster preceded Stewart’s church in Panola County by 6 years. Third, other Anglo Free Will Baptists entered Texas independently of Stewart and started churches – albeit later than he.
[ii] The 1860 and 1870 Early County, Georgia censuses are confusing at this point, giving different parental names for what is clearly the same group of siblings. It is presumed that the variation is due to the use of first and second names in one census and the other – a thing not uncommon from census to census. On the other hand, the Susan Stewart of 1870 may be a second wife after the death of the first.
[iii] “Rev. A. M. Stewart Passes Away,” The Panola Watchman. Vol. 41, No. 7, Wednesday, September 24, 1913, p. 8. This probably occurred in the fall of 1870. A. M. Stewart is listed with his parents in Early County in the 1870 census, which is dated July 5, 1870. The present Buford Academy is an elementary school that opened in 1999. Its history page speaks of another Buford Academy that originally opened in 1884, which apparently was not the one A. M. Stewart attended. (Perhaps the opening refers to the building rather than the organization?) The correct Buford Academy is probably the one mentioned in Annual Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year 1883-‘84 by the United States Office of Education(Washington, DC: Government Printing Office,1885, p. 487). According to this record the Academy was not organized until 1872, but perhaps the Stewart obituary was off a few years re the age he entered the Buford Academy.
[iv] “Rev. A. M. Stewart Passes Away,” The Panola Watchman.