Rev. William Penn McEwen
By Spessard Stone
The Rev. William Penn McEwen, a pioneer settler of Fort Hartsuff, Florida, was a circuit riding Methodist minister in old Manatee County, Florida.
William Penn McEwen was born September 20, 1815 in Washington County, Georgia. He enlisted as a young man as a private in the company commanded by Capt. Charles J. Malone in a Regiment of Georgia Militia. He volunteered at Sandersville, Georgia February 8, 1836 and was honorably discharged April 15, 1836 at Sandersville.
In Washington County, Georgia on November 17, 1839, William married Rutha Sheppard, born January 31, 1819, Georgia, probably a daughter of Charles and Elizabeth Sheppard. (The spelling of the surname also has been cited variously as Shephard and Shepherd. The first name of Mrs. McEwen has been given as Ruth by some family members, but several family historians advised this writer she was Rutha. The censuses of 1850 Washington County and 1870 Manatee County have "Rutha" while the 1880 census of Manatee County has "Ruth' and her tombstone has 'Ruth." I have been unable to find the family in the 1860 census.) The will of Charles Sheppard, dated March 23, 1843, was proved May 1, 1843 in Washington County. Bequests were made to his sons Charles H. Sheppard, Hudson W. Sheppard, Zachariah F. Sheppard, daughter Nancy Ann E. Sheppard, and wife, Elizabeth, who was appointed executrix May 5, 1843. Although Rutha wasn't named an heir the Sheppard will due to a courthouse fire on October 5, 1857 was re-recorded on oath of William P. McEweing (sic) and Emmanuel Brown.
The 1850 Washington County, Georgia Census, Division 91, 8th day of November
, household 779/779, listed as follows: W. P. McEwen, 34, planter & minister, born Georgia; Rutha, 31, born Georgia, Elizabeth Sheppeard, widow, value of real estate $900, N Carolina; Charles J., 10; William E. , 6; Elizabeth F., 4; Nancy V., 1. The last three childrenís surname was McEwen; Charles identity hasnít been identified. Slave Inhabitants in 1850 Washington County, Georgia, Division 91, 4th day of November
, showed that W. P. McEwen owned six slaves as follows: 45 m, black; 35 f, black; 14 f, black; 10 m, black; 7 m, black; 1 m, black.
About 1858, the McEwens moved to Florida, probably Lake City. In 1867, the McEwen family resettled about a mile and a half south of present-day Wauchula at the site of old Fort Hartsuff. William and Rutha McEwen, and children, Milton, Zachariah, and Mary Ann, were listed in household 22/22, township 34, of the 1870 census of Manatee County. William's occupation was given as "minister gospel."
William Penn McEwen was a circuit riding Methodist preacher. His coming was greatly welcomed by the Rev. John Wright Hendry
, a Baptist minister. W. D. Payne in his booklet on the Rev. Hendry John W. Hendry A Pioneer Baptist Preacher of South Florida
"The consecration and unbounded enthusiasm of this saintly man of God did much to encourage Bro. Hendry in the prosecution of his arduous work. Traveling together over the same roads, preaching from the same pulpits, there sprang up between them a mutual love and close friendship seldom, if ever, met with between ministers of different denominations. Indeed, it may be said that no Baptist preacher has ever filled a larger place in the affection of Bro. Hendry than did this godly man."
An example of this cooperation is cited by Tommy Underwood in "A Brief History of the First Baptist Church, Wauchula, Florida" (1976), which was founded in 1876 as Fort Hartsuff Baptist Church, and later became the First Baptist Church of Wauchula:
"Often, Rev. J. W. Hendry, the first pastor of Ft. Hartsuff Church, would travel many miles to be with his small congregation. After Rev. Hendry preached at Fort Hartsuff for several Sundays, the church may have been without a pastor for several weeks. Then Rev. McEwen, the Methodist preacher, would be in the pulpit. Both the Baptists and Methodists apparently had no problem with their respective groups."
The following article appeared in the October 31, 1912 edition of the Florida Christian Advocate
"Long before DeSoto County appeared upon the map, while this great section belonged to Manatee, we find the faithful pioneer Methodist preacher, with his pony, and his saddle-bags, his Bible, hymn-book, and discipline, making footprints on the sands of Peace River, and making history for future generations.
"So far as we can learn the first man to preach the gospel in this country was Rev. W. P. McEwen, a consecrated local preacher, and from the accounts that came down to us this faithful man of God did a great work in planting Methodism in this section, & in blazing the way for greater things than he ever dreamed of.
"Came to Manatee County in 1867 and settled near where the town of Wauchula now is, there was no organized church south of Ft. Meade. He preached at Fort Green, Ft. Ogden, and at Oak Hill-now Parish, in Manatee County and Pine Level, and organized churches.
"During those days we had no bridges, and the mode of travel was horse back by both men and women, and by ox-cart when taking the family."
As the ministry was not self-supporting, Rev. McEwen also engaged in farming and stock raising. In Manatee County on November 25, 1871, he registered his mark and brand: split poplar leaf in one ear, two under bits in the other. The 1873 Manatee County Tax Book listed him with 1 horse and 30 cattle.
The 1880 Manatee County census showed the neighbors of William P. and Ruth McEwen to be families, which included: Milton McEwen, Joseph L. Bostick, Dennis M. Cason
, Eli English
, Lewis Carlton, Alex. McEwen, William L. Bostick, and Albert Carlton
While at Nocatee for a revival, the Rev. William Penn McEwen died July 27, 1883 and was buried in Joshua Creek Cemetery. Mrs. McEwen died July 11, 1898 and was buried in Wauchula Cemetery.
Tombstone in Wauchula Cemetery
The August 11, 1883 issue of the Bartow Informant printed: "M. G. Carlton, of Manatee, writes us that Rev. W. P. McEwen died at the residence of R. C. Hendry in that county, on the 27 ult, after years of affliction. He was a faithful minister and a devout Christian."
On December 22, 1974, Gladys Carlton Clavel, a great-grand-daughter of the Rev. McEwen, visited his grave and reminisced:
"Martha Winfield McEwen's father, Rev. McEwen, was the first Methodist preacher in this part of the country. He came down to preach a revival and died.
"He used to ride his horse and swim the river. They had no bridges to cross Peace River. He'd take his horse with a high horn on the saddle, and he'd take his clothes off and get naked, and tie his clothes up on the horn of his saddle and swim across with his horse, and then dry off with moss, and put on his clothes and then he'd go out in the woods and preach.
"They had no churches, and they preached under the trees. He converted a lot of Indians.
"My father [Thomas N. Carlton] said that he was so poor because the people were not able to pay him anything, and he had a black frock coat. He came home, and his wife said, 'Mr. McEwen, you're going to have to stop preaching and get a job because we cannot raise these children on what you make.'
"He said, 'Patch my coat!'
"This coat has a big hole in it, and I can't patch it any more.'
"Patch my coat, woman! Woe unto me if I don't preach the Gospel.'
"So, she patched his coat, and he preached the Gospel until he died here in Arcadia."
Known issue of Rev. and Mrs. William Penn McEwen:
1. William Alexander McEwen, born February 14, 1844; died on April 24, 1913, Wauchula; married in Columbia County, Fla. on December 2, 1866 Louisa A. Warren.
2. Elizabeth F. McEwen, born August 1, 1846; died December 27 1899; married in Manatee Co. on January 7, 1868 Simeon Elias Whidden, son of Willoughby and Eliza (Pennington) Whidden.
3. Nancy Virginia McEwen, born December 1848; died March 10, 1914; married in Manatee Co. on January 19, 1868 Robert Calvin Hendry, son of Robert Hendry and Zilla Ann (Moody) Hendry.
4. Martha Winfield McEwen, born February 10, 1851; died August 6, 1944; married in Manatee Co. on October 11, 1868 Albert Carlton, son of Daniel Wilson Carlton and Sallie Ann (Murphy) Carlton.
5. Milton C. McEwen, born 1853; died 1890, Wauchula; married in Manatee Co. on April 12, 1871 Lodusky Whidden, daughter of Willoughby and Eliza (Pennington) Whidden.
6. Zachariah Francis McEwen, born October 7, 1855; died October 7, 1892; married in Manatee Co. on April 16, 1874 Charity C. Miller.
7. Mary Ann McEwen, born September 3, 1857; died July 31, 1937; married in Manatee Co. on August 22, 1872 Lewis Carlton, son of Daniel Wilson Carlton & Sallie Ann (Murphy) Carlton.
References: Richard Livingston, "Wade Hampton Whidden 1810- 1865," South Florida Pioneers 39/40 (Jan./Apr. 1984); U. S. Original Censuses 7th Census 1850 Washington County, Georgia, 9th Census 1870 Manatee County, 10th Census 1880 Manatee County; pension application of William A. McEwen, Florida Archives; W. D. Payne, John W. Hendry, A Pioneer Baptist Preacher of South Florida, 1907; T. C. Underwood, "A Brief History of the First Baptist Church, Wauchula, Florida," 1976; Florida Christian Advocate, October 31, 1912; Gladys Carlton Clavel tape recording of December 1974; August 11, 1883 issue of the Bartow Informant; Joshua Creek and Wauchula cemeteries.
This profile is adapted from my profile in South Florida Pioneers 51/52 (Jan./Apr. 1987) and my Lineage of John Carlton.
January 26, 2001 & McEwen photo January 26, 2002 & tombstone photo added June 10, 2010, May 23, 2011 (1850 Slave Inhabitants)