John Gregg Fee bigraphy, stories - Leaders

John Gregg Fee : biography

September 9, 1816 - January 11, 1901

John Gregg Fee (September 9, 1816 - January 11, 1901) was an abolitionist, minister and educator, the founder of the town of Berea, Kentucky, and Berea College (1855), the first in the U.S. South with interracial and coeducational admissions. During the American Civil War, Fee worked at Camp Nelson to have facilities constructed to support freedmen and their families, and to provide them with education and preaching while the men were being taught to be soldiers.

Marriage and family

He married Matilda Hamilton on 26 September 1844. She was also from Bracken County and they had known each other since they were young. They had several children, some of whom died in childhood.



Fee returned to Kentucky, preaching against slavery, but found it difficult to find a permanent position, as there was widespread pro-slavery sentiment. He started in Lewis County, which had fewer slaveholders, so more people who supported his point of view. In the 1840s he came into conflict with the Presbyterian Synod of Kentucky, which opposed his church's stance to refuse fellowship to slaveholders., Chicago, Ill.: National Christian Association, 1891, digital form in Documenting the South, The University of North Carolina

Fee left the Presbyterian Church over this matter and came to believe that Christianity had to be non-denominational and non-sectarian. He began writing about abolition, and some of his work was published by the American Missionary Association (AMA), established in 1846. By 1848 the AMA commissioned Fee as an itinerant preacher in Bracken and Lewis counties. In Lewis County, he and parishioners built a Free Church of Christ.

With a land donation from Cassius M. Clay, a wealthy landowner who supported the church and gradual abolition, in 1853 Fee founded the town of Berea, Kentucky in the interior of the state in Madison County. Like-minded people began to gather there. He preached in neighboring counties, often running into violent opposition to his anti-slavery views. His autobiography is filled with his accounts the volatility of the decade before the war, when he was often challenged and threatened because of his stand on abolition and equal treatment of blacks.

In 1855 Fee founded Berea College, the first college in the state that was interracial and coeducational. It began as a one-room schoolhouse, which also served as their local church. He modeled the school on Oberlin College of Ohio and hired some teachers from there as his school expanded., Berea College website There was great interest in the college, as small as it was. In Governor Salmon P. Chase of Ohio attended its commencement ceremonies as one of the speakers. Fee, J.A.R. Rogers, who acted as principal, and other supporters drew up a constitution for the school, and pledged their own support with more than of land for the college's campus.

In 1859 Fee took his family to Boston, Massachusetts, where he attended the AMA Convention and did fund-raising for the school. Abolitionists also encouraged him to seek help from Henry Ward Beecher's church in Brooklyn, New York. Abolitionists and supporters of education created a broad national network that sustained such progressive efforts. Word of Fee's seeking help from Beecher made the news in Kentucky, in a distorted fashion, and stirred up pro-slavery sentiment against him., Chicago, Ill.: National Christian Association, 1891, pp.134-135, digital form in Documenting the South, The University of North Carolina

With social tensions increasing in the years leading up to the American Civil War, and especially after John Brown's Raid, in December 1859 a band of armed pro-slavery men came to Berea while Fee was still away in the East. They delivered notice to J.A.R. Rogers and others to leave the state within 10 days, because of the group's opposition to Fee, their church and college. Although the Berea appealed to the governor of the state for protection, he said he was unable to do so. For a time townspeople abandoned the village and school. Abolitionists were expelled from Lewis and Bracken counties as well. After Fee's return to Bracken County, where he and his family were staying with his in-laws, a committee of 62 men of "high standing" told Fee he and his supporters had to leave Bracken County.

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