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Rt. Rev. James Otey, 1st Bishop of Tennessee (Episcopal)

James Hervey Otey (January 27, 1800 – April 23, 1863), Christian educator and the first Episcopal Bishop of Tennessee, established the first Anglican church in the state and its first parish churches.

Born in Bedford County, Virginia, Otey attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Upon his graduation in 1820, he was appointed as a tutor in Greek and Latin at the school. Following his marriage to Elizabeth Davis Pannill, daughter of William Pannill and Martha Mitchell of Petersburg, Virginia.

Their children:

  1. Virginia Maury Otey, b. 5 Aug 1822, Tennessee
  2. Paul Hooker Otey, b. 3 Apr 1825
  3. Henrietta Coleman Otey, b. 15 Jul 1826
  4. Reginald Heber Otey, b. 26 Feb 1829
  5. Sara McGavock Otey, b. 30 Jun 1830
  6. Mary Fogg Otey, b. 27 Oct 1832
  7. Eliza Ripley Otey, b. 7 Aug 1836
  8. Fanny J. Otey, b. 3 Sep 1838
  9. William Mercer Otey, b. 15 Apr 1842


in 1821, he moved to Maury County, Tennessee, and became principal at Harpeth Academy. One of his students was Matthew Fontaine Maury, who became a lifelong friend. Many years later, Otey asked for and got his former pupil, Maury, to give the cornerstone speech for the University of the South. Another of his students was Benjamin Blake Minor who became his son-in-law.

On returning to North Carolina to head the academy at Warrenton, Otey was baptized and confirmed in The Episcopal Church. He studied for the ordained ministry under Bishop John Stark Ravenscroft of North Carolina. He became a deacon in 1825 and priest in 1827. He then returned to Franklin and organized Tennessee's first Episcopal church there in the Masonic Lodge; that congregation is now St. Paul's Church. He established several other churches and on July 1, 1829, established the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee at Nashville.

He was elected the first bishop in June 1833 and was consecrated at Christ Church, Philadelphia, the following January. Following his election, Otey also took charge of the Diocese of Mississippi and was missionary bishop for Arkansas and the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). He traveled for months at a time across the extensive region, establishing new churches and preaching the Gospel.

Otey was fervently interested in Christian education and helped organize schools at Ashwood, Jackson and Columbia, Tennessee. His dreams for a "Literary and Theological Seminary" for the region were realized when the Rt. Rev. Leonidas Polk, bishop of Louisiana, his former co-educator at the Columbia Female Institute, took the lead in establishing the University of the South at Sewanee in 1857.

Otey lived at "Mercer Hall" in Columbia from 1835 to 1852, when he relocated to Memphis, Tennessee. In Memphis, he eventually set up residence at what came to be known as the "Bishop's House," next door to the mission church of St. Mary's (the future St. Mary's Cathedral).

He died in Memphis in 1863. After the Civil War, he was re-buried at St. John's Church at Ashwood in Maury County. His wife is also buried at St. John's Church, Ashwood, Maury Co., Tennessee

One of Otey's sons-in-law, Daniel Chevilette Covan, married Mary Fogg Otey and became a prominent brigadier general in the Confederate army.

The son-in-law who married Virginia Maury Otey was Benjamin Blake Minor writer, educator, legal scholar, and fourth President of the University of Missouri.




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