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George Foster Pierce (1811 - 1884) was an American bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South elected in 1854.

Contents

Birth and Family

He was born on 3 February 1811 in Greene County, Georgia. George Foster was the son of the Rev. Lovick Pierce, a Pastor and a Chaplain in the War of 1812. Rev. Lovick Pierce was the brother of Rev. Reddick Pierce. Both brothers were well known within the southern Methodist circuit; though, Lovick and his son George were perhaps the more famous. Interestingly, the elder brother Reddick had a daughter, Sarah, who in turn (after marrying an Alexander McKinnon) had a son, which she name Robert George Pierce McKinnon. Robert George Pierce McKinnon, named after his mother's cousin, in turn was a Methodist minister (and subsequently, baptist, as employment demands dictated); though, his fame was localized within the area of Eastman, Georgia.

Education

He first studied law, but was converted to the Christian faith at the age of sixteen in a revival at Franklin College in Athens, Georgia (the founding college of the University of Georgia), from which he later graduated. While at Franklin College, he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society. He joined the Traveling Ministry of the Georgia Annual [Regional] Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1831, the only college graduate at the time. He was ordained by Bishop James Osgood Andrew.

Ordained Ministry

Prior to his election to the episcopacy, Pierce served as a pastor and a presiding elder. After eight years he was elected President of the Georgia Female College in Macon (now Wesleyan College), the first four-year college in the world chartered to offer undergraduate education exclusively to women. In 1848 he became the President of Emory College (later, University), its first President to have been educated in Georgia. Pierce served in this capacity until his election as a Bishop in 1854.

He was a delegate to the historic General Conference of 1844 which met in New York City. He tried in vain to be a moderating influence in the debate that erupted over slavery. In the end, the next year in Louisville he reluctantly helped to organize the M.E. Church, South which resulted from the schism of 1844. He was likewise resistant to Georgia's secession prior to the Civil War. Indeed, he was courageous enough (or more aptly, realistic) to advocate the repeal of Georgia's slave laws in 1863. It has long been maintained among members of the Oxford, GA community that Pierce, like many Southern slaveholders, fathered mixed-race children.

However, scholarly works such as "The Southern Methodist Church and the Proslavery Argument," published in The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 32, No. 3. (Aug., 1966), pp.325-341. note that Pierce's reforms were mild. In 1863 Pierce delivered a speech before the Georgia Legislature in which he argued for slavery and supported the succession of states and the Confederate cause stating "The triumph of our arms is the triumph of right and truth and justice. The defeat of our enemies us the defeat of wrong and malice and outrage. Our Confederacy has committed herself to no iniquitous policy, no unholy alliances, no unwarrantable plans..." (qtd. in Purifoy 340).

Pierce was widely popular throughout the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, owing no doubt in a large degree to his irenic spirit, his skill with people, and his achievements in education. After resigning Emory's Presidency to become Bishop, he nevertheless maintained a close affiliation with the College, serving in later years as a trustee and helping to raise capital funds for the school.

Pierce died on 3 September 1884 near Sparta, Georgia, where he was also buried.

Selected Writings

  • Oration on Anniversary of the American Bible Society, 1844. This General Conference address exists today in part only in Sermons and Addresses.
  • Sermon in The Southern Methodist Pulpit, C.F. Deems, Editor, 1849-1852.
  • Incidents of Western Travel, 1854.
  • Sermon: "Devotedness to Christ," preached in memory of Bishop Capers, 1857; also in Smithson, W.T., Methodist Pulpit, South, 1859.
  • Wesley As An Itinerant, Wesley Memorial Volume, J.O.A. Clark, Editor, 1880.
  • Sermon: "The World in the Church," Sermons by Southern Methodist Preachers, T.O. Summers, Editor, 1881.
  • Sermons and Addresses A.G. Haygood, Editor, 1886.
  • Sketch of Lovick Pierce, in Life and Times of George F. Pierce, G.G. Smith, 1888.

Biographies

  • Smith, G.G., Life and Times of George F. Pierce, 1888.
  • Fitzgerald, O.P., Eminent Methodists, 1897.
  • Family Reminiscences, Julia Pierce, granddaughter (hand-written), 1947, in the Methodist Bishops' Collection, Library of Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

Sources

  • Leete, Frederick DeLand, Methodist Bishops. Nashville, The Methodist Publishing House, 1948.
  • Purifoy, Lewis. The Southern Methodist Church and the Proslavery Argument", published in The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 32, No. 3. (Aug., 1966), pp.325-341.
  • This article incorporates text from the public domain Appletons' Cyclop√¶dia of American Biography.

See also

External links

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