Polk, Leonidas


Polk, Leonidas
One-line bio
An Episcopal bishop and Confederate general who helped found the University of the South.
Leonidas Polk, first Bishop of Louisiana, was the most influential founder of the University of the South. Born to a wealthy planter family in North Carolina, Polk first attended West Point, but turned his attention toward the Episcopal Church. In the 1840s and 1850s the Episcopal church spread south and west, following what historian Ira Berlin calls the "Second Middle Passage," a term used to describe the migration of planters to the new territories of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas and the forced migration of the enslaved. The bishop, for example, moved to Bayou Lafourche, La., with a wedding gift from his North Carolina father-in-law of 250 enslaved persons. On this plantation, Polk brought together the newest developments in technology and religion. The planter Polk used a train on his property to quickly transport sugar cane to a processing plant, and the Bishop Polk hired a priest to preach to the enslaved. Eventually, Polk succumbed to indebtedness and sold his real estate and human property to satisfy his creditors. A few short years later, in 1856, Polk wrote a letter to the bishops of the southern Episcopal dioceses urging support for a great southern university to serve the purposes of a slave society. Due to Polk's fundraising and organizational efforts- for which he earned a $10,000 salary- the southern university garnered unparalleled support and laid its cornerstone on Oct. 10, 1860. Polk joined the Confederacy as a major general, but still served as his diocese's bishop. This arrangement drew criticism from northerners—a man of the cloth should not engage in political and military conflict—but elevated Polk in the minds of many southerners. The bishop-general sanctioned their struggle. In 1864, Polk was killed in battle.
Date of Birth
10 April 1806
Date of Death
14 June 1864
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