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GOD & TEXAS: Captain John M. McCoy

In 1872, the Sunday morning church services might suffer brief interruption while the men ran outside to chase away the squealing pigs from underneath the temporary house of worship! But those memories are long forgotten now as the faithful gather each Sunday at the stately First Presbyterian Church in downtown Dallas.

First Presbyterian began in 1856 with 11 worshippers under the leadership of Rev. Robert Hamilton Byers and has continued to minister for over 166 years. Because they had no church building in the early days, congregants met in private homes, a blacksmith shop, a lumber yard, the courthouse, and even a printing shop.

In 1913, First Presbyterian moved into its third and present home on the corner of South Harwood Street at Wood Street. This inspiring congregation was instrumental in starting the Presbyterian Children’s Home and the Children’s Medical Center. They have continued to operate the nationally acclaimed Stewpot Ministry for street people since 1975.

Over the years, First Presbyterian has boasted a membership that included some of Dallas’ most prominent citizens. Chief among them was noted lawyer, Captain John Milton McCoy. Captain McCoy actually wrote the official charter for Dallas in 1871, and was elected the first city attorney by the city council in 1872.

McCoy also authored several books including, “When Dallas Became a City: Letters of John Milton McCoy, 1870-1881.” This seminal manuscript is said to be the most important primary source ever published about the history of Dallas and the surrounding area as it transitioned from a frontier settlement into a thriving boom town.

When Captain McCoy started attending First Presbyterian church in 1870, it had dwindled to only a few members. But McCoy had a zeal for God and immediately started strengthening the church. He became a teacher in the Sunday School, and helped initiate and fund three building programs that placed First Presbyterian as the foremost church in the Dallas community.

John was born in Indiana in 1835 into a deeply religious home. Even though he became a Presbyterian, John’s father was a Baptist and his mother was a Methodist. McCoy was an excellent student and received his B.A, M.A., and LL.D degrees from Indiana University in Bloomington, while teaching in public school full-time. He moved to Dallas after his first wife, Laura, died.

In 1873, he married Mary Peele, who died soon after. His third wife Mary Ostrom bore several children before her death. Mary was buried in the newly opened Greenwood Cemetery, where John was buried a few years later following his death on January 2, 1922.

McCoy was a true Texas legend who loved God, supported his local church, taught the others about Jesus, and loved his family. He had no scandals or unethical business practices. John lived out his Godly principles in public and should be long remembered in Texas history.

John Milton McCoy fulfilled Proverbs 16:3 MSG, “Put God in charge of your work, then what you’ve planned will take place.”

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