Baptists and the American Civil War: June 26, 1862

Henry M. Tupper

Henry M. Tupper

As battles rage on the outskirts of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Henry Martin Tupper, born in 1831 in Monson, Massachusetts, today graduates from American (Northern) Baptists’ Newton Theological Institution (otherwise known as Newton Seminary).

The war may have seemed distant to Tupper during his studies at Newton, but within weeks of graduation, on July 14th, he enrolls in the 36th Massachusetts Regiment. In the ensuing years he fights in numerous small battles, as well as the major campaigns of Fredericksbury and Vicksburg. Of his service:

A few days after his enlistment he received ordination and although a private soldier, he was constantly engaged in Christian work, holding meetings among the men, writing letters for the sick and wounded, and often performing the duties of chaplain.

Tupper is discharged from military service on July 14, 1865, precisely three years after enrolling. By the time of his discharge, he holds a commission from the American Baptist Home Mission Society to preach among the freedmen of the South, a task he initially undertakes in October in Raleigh, North Carolina. The following February he organizes and pastors an African Baptist church in Raleigh, and in December begins offering theological instruction to freedmen.

In the years following, Tupper’s theological institute, known as the Raleigh Institute, expands, with more than 500 persons receiving instruction by 1869. In 1870 the school purchases land and assumes permanent status. Two years later, the first building on the land is unveiled, Shaw Hall, named after Elijah Shaw, who provided the single largest gift for the building’s construction. In 1875, the school is chartered and incorporated as Shaw University, the name under which it operates to this day.

At the time of its incoporation, Shaw University is co-educational and offers training for teachers as well as preachers. Under Tupper’s leadership, a medical school is added and thousands graduate from the school that becomes known as the oldest historically black college in the South.

Henry M. Tupper serves as president until his death in 1893. His funeral “was one of the largest ever attended in the city of Raleigh.”

Sources: “Henry Martin Tupper” (link); J. A. Whitted, A History of the Negro Baptists of North Carolina, Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1908, pp. 146-154 (link); Obituary Record of Graduates of Amherst College, Amherst: Henry M. McCloud, 1874, pp. 55-57 (link); historical sketch, and image, of Shaw University from the university archives (link)