Church founder’s family finds pains and triumphs of Black history

Date Posted: 4/22/2021


By Lindsay Peyton
 
Pastor Johnnie Simpson Jr. has stood at the helm of historic churches before, but his current congregation, Faith UMC in Dickinson, is unique. It’s not about the building itself, but the people in the pews, he explained. A number of the current members are related to church founder Alexander Winfield, who played a key role in forming the church that carried his name. Still, his story remained buried for years until his great-granddaughter started digging.
 
Faith UMC retains its connection with original history, even though the current building dates to the 1960s, Simpson said. “Faith UMC is a product of a merger, and some of our members grew up in one of those two previous churches,” he added.
 
There is a room in the church named for Alexander Winfield, who founded one of the original chapels that joined to become Faith.
 
A couple of weeks ago Simpson officiated at a wedding for relatives of Winfield. A staff member is also a descendant of the Winfield family.
 
“The history is more about the congregation than the building,” Simpson said. “They carry the history of their congregation.”
 
Winfield Chapel was founded in 1907 in League City. When a 1932 storm destroyed the first sanctuary, a second was completed about 10 years later.
 
The namesake of the church was influential in League City, but Deborah Konrad, one of Winfield’s great-grandchildren, said he was often overlooked in later retellings of the city’s history.
 
Deborah Konrad, one of his great grandchildren who lives in Cypress, north of Houston, started researching her family history in 2001. She dove into oral histories and microfiche at the Clayton Library Center for Geological Research in Houston.
 
Soon a picture of Alexander Winfield began to emerge, especially after she saw a tintype photo. “The detail brought him to life,” she recalled. “Something as simple as a pocket watch or the hat he wore. That hat was a Stetson.”
 

 
Winfield was born on May 9, 1847 in Virginia and then moved to Ohio as a child, where he later enlisted in the Union Army in 1867. For two years, Winfield served in the “Ohio Colored Troops” during the Civil War. Members of those original African-American units of the U.S. Army later became known as Buffalo Soldiers.
 
“Then Lincoln opened the doors for regular service,” Konrad recalled.
 
As soon as the opportunity became available, Winfield enlisted in the 41st Infantry Regiment that later consolidated into the 24th Regiment. He was stationed in forts in Texas, Konrad said, which is why he later returned to the state.
 
“Somewhere along the way, he met Rose Booker, my great-grandmother,” Konrad explained.
 
They married in 1873 and settled in La Grange, raising their family of 10 children. Konrad said that Winfield’s tax records show that he became established over the next few decades. “He was prosperous, but he didn’t commit to buying land yet,” she added.
 
In 1902, the Winfields purchased land in League City and moved to the area. The town’s name had only been created nine years earlier in 1893. “I still have a question mark as to what drew him there,” Konrad said.
 
She believes that his friendship with the Butler family, founders of the town, could have been one factor. Another could be the community of Black cowboys in a nearby Texas City.

Regardless of the reason, the Winfields settled in League City. “To really take root, what do you do? You buy land,” Konrad said.
 
Winfield purchased more than 40 acres, and his family would become a major part of the population of League City.
 

Only four years after coming to town, Winfield also played a pivotal role in founding the Methodist Church, Winfield Chapel.
 
“Alex had a fruitful life,” Konrad said. “This man bought land, served his country, raised his family. And this wasn’t the most welcoming environment for people of color. In my opinion, it speaks to his character that he was able to do this, and he still did it with his head held high.”
 
Later, League City would name a street “Hobbs Road” in honor of a Winfield relative, Obie Hobbs. Town residents know the area as the Winfield Settlement, Konrad said.
 
Still, few are aware of Winfield’s contributions to League City and his historic importance. One
of the main testaments to this remarkable figure is the historical marker at Faith UMC.
 
Konrad is still searching for answers and revealing Winfield’s history “I love research, and I could spend days on genealogy,” she said. “But not everything is pretty. There’s a lot of pain. That’s why not a lot of Black Americans tell their stories often.”
 
She remains dedicated to sharing that history, the pain and the triumphs of her family – and how it speaks to Black history in general, that also should be researched, shared and honored.