Elliott, Stephen


Elliott, Stephen
One-line bio
Stephen Elliott (1806-1866), the first Episcopal Bishop of Georgia, one of the three founding bishops of the University, the University's third chancellor, and ardent supporter of secession and exponent of Christian religious defense of slavery.
Stephen Elliott (1806-1866), one of the three founding bishops of the University, came from a powerful and influential slave-owning family in the Sea Island region of South Carolina and Georgia. Elliott studied briefly at Harvard, received his degree from the South Carolina College, practiced law, then entered the priesthood after a revival experience. Ordained in 1836, he became the first Bishop of Georgia in 1840. At that time Elliott owned substantial land and enslaved labor. The Georgia slave census for 1840 lists 125 enslaved persons under his agent, Robert Habersham in Chatham County (Savannah), Georgia.

Throughout his career as priest and bishop, Elliott devoted himself to the evangelization of the enslaved in his diocese and to a religious defense of slavery as an instrument for Christianizing the heathens of Africa and their enslaved descendants. Elliott was likewise concerned to establish institutions in the South that provided a distinctly southern education to the sons of its master class. As bishop he founded a school for boys and girls supported by its own enslaved labor force, Montpelier Institute near Macon, Georgia, which would generate revenue and provide training for boys to be Christian slave masters. The school ultimately failed and bankrupted Elliott, who had to liquidate the people he owned to pay its creditors.

In 1856 Elliott joined with fellow Episcopal bishops Leonidas Polk and James Hervey Otey in launching the campaign to found a “southern university” as both an educational bulwark against the forces of anti-slavery and a cutting-edge institution to expand the economic, social, and cultural reach of the slave-holding region. Elliott regarded slavery as the foundation of Christian civilization and an instrument for spreading Christianity throughout the world. He advocated and defended secession, the formation of the Confederacy, and the war to preserve slavery. In 1861 he helped form the separate Confederate branch of the American Episcopal church and served as its presiding bishop. He regarded the Civil War’s outcome as God’s will, but insisted on the justness of the Confederate cause and the benevolence of slavery.

Elliott died in 1866 while serving as the third chancellor of the University. According to his daughter, Sarah Barnwell Elliott, he died “broken-hearted for the ‘Lost Cause.’”
Date of Birth
31 August 1806
Date of Death
21 December 1866
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