Baptists and the American Civil War: September 7, 1865

Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress)

In Galveston, Texas, this month the Baptist-supported American Missionary Association and the Freedmen’s Bureau conduct “Sunday schools and church services in addition to regular school.” One Sunday school among Freedmen, touted as the largest in town, boasts some fifty students who are reading the Bible, an impressive achievement in the context that only a few months previously state laws prohibited the teaching of slaves to read.

Meanwhile, former Confederate General Robert E. Lee is recipient of many accolades pertaining to his recent acceptance of the presidency of Washington College.

Venerated by many white Southerners, Lee remains a hero despite the Confederacy’s loss in the war.

Today’s New York Times reprints a letter from the Rector of Washington College announcing the general’s presidential appointment and evidencing the high regard in which Lee is held.

The gratifying duty of announcing to the country the acceptance by Gen. ROBERT E. LEE of the Presidency of Washington College has been devolved upon the undersigned by the Board of Trustees of that institution. The accession of this distinguished gentleman to the faculty of this venerable college, and as its honored chief, is destined, we trust, to mark the commencement of a new era in its history, and most cordially do we congratulate its numerous friends on this most auspicious event. The high, noble and patriotic motives which impelled our beloved chief, in accepting the honorable, but comparatively humble, position tendered to him by the authorities of the college, must win for him a new title to the admiration and love of his countrymen. The college, under the administration and supervision of Gen. LEE, will resume its exercises on the 14th inst.

At a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the college, convened at Lexington, on Thursday, the 31st ult., the following resolution was unanimously passed, the publication of which is demanded as an act of justice alike to Gen. LEE and themselves:

Resolved, That the board heartily concurs in, and fully endorses, the sentiments so well expressed by Gen. LEE in his letter of acceptance of the Presidency of Washington College, that “it is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony, and in no way to oppose the policy of the State or General Government directed to that object;” and that “it is particularly incumbent on those charged with the instruction of the young to set an example of submission to authority;” sentiments that cannot fail to commend themselves to the approval of the President of the United States, and to the unqualified assent of all sensible and virtuous citizens.

In dedicating his future life to the holy work of educating the youth of his country, Gen. LEE presents a new and interesting phase of his grand and heroic character — a character than which no more perfect model exists among living men. “‘Tis a solid fabric, and will well support the laurels that adorn it.” Let the young men of the country, North as well as South, be wise, and profit not less by his precepts than by his great example.


Rector of Washington College.

LEXINGTON, Va., Sept. 1, 1865.

Sources: James Smallwood, “The Black Community in Reconstruction Texas: Readjustments in Religion and the Evolution of the Negro Church,” East Texas Historical Journal, Vol. 16 No. 2 (link); “Gen. Lee Accepts the Presidency of Washington College,” New York Times, September 7, 1865 (link)