Otey, James Hervey


Otey, James Hervey
One-line bio
James Hervey Otey (1800-1863) was one of the three founding Episcopal bishops of the University of the South, served as its first Chancellor, and owned enslaved persons.
Born on a plantation in Bedford County, Virginia, Otey was a product of the established slave society of the early nineteenth-century coastal South. According to census records, his father and mother enslaved 30 or more people on their Virginia farm. Their son graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1820, staying afterward to serve as a tutor of classical languages. During this period and afterward, he came under the influence of the Episcopal Church, especially the patronage of the college chaplain, William Mercer Green, and the Bishop John Stark Ravenscroft. Otey was ordained into the priesthood in 1827. Serving as a missionary priest, he moved to establish churches in Tennessee. When that state’s diocese was organized, he was elected bishop in 1833. Otey organized new churches and, a lifelong defender of slavery and purchaser of enslaved people, he urged his slave-owning parishioners to evangelize the people they held in bondage.

Otey died in 1863, five years before the University officially opened its doors to students. However, Otey was an influential and inspirational "founding bishop." He exemplified the Christian master whom the founders of the university aimed to produce and spoke out against the influences of “infidel” abolitionists. Otey named John Armfield, the slave trader, as a trustee from the Diocese of Tennessee to ally Armfield's "practical knowledge" in "worldly pursuits" to the cause of the University. The bishop enslaved six persons in 1860 ranging in age from three to 50.

Often described as a unionist, Otey vehemently spoke against secession and venerated the founding of the American republic. Secession and war, he wrote to a friend, will “plunge this nation into a gulf of horrors and sufferings to which the past history of the world furnishes no parallel.”

Along with his strong unionist positions, Otey was an unapologetic supporter and practitioner of slavery. Even as Southern states other than Tennessee voted for secession, Otey maintained that disunion and formation of a southern nation would weaken, rather than protect, slavery, sending it “to speedy inevitable extinction, as certainly as the sun’s rays fall upon the Earth when he rises to usher in the day. It will deprive the institution of that moral support which it now derives from its being upheld by a government of over 30 millions of people.” After President Lincoln mobilized to preserve the Union, Otey changed his mind about secession and war and openly supported the Confederacy. “Our duty is clearly and unequivocally to repel force by force, and to make every sacrifice rather than to submit to an administration that trampels down every barrier raised by our Forefathers, for the protection of personal, social and public rights.” Otey died in April 1863.

Date of Birth
27 January 1800
Date of Death
23 April 1863

Position: 75 (10 views)

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