Eminent Eighteenth Century Educator
Patrick Hues Mell was born in Walthourville, Liberty County, Georgia on July 19, 1814. By the age of fourteen, Patrick became an orphan after the death of his father followed shortly by the death of his mother. With only the clothes on his back and a satchel of purely personal belongings, Mell began his teaching career in a one- room log schoolhouse, complete with a dirt floor. He spent two years at Amherst College in Massachusetts before leaving early to teach school in West Springfield, Massachusetts. He later served as Assistant Principal of East Hartford High School in Connecticut. In October 1838, Mell accepted a position as teacher at Ryals in lower Montgomery County, which was located below present day Uvalda. Just four months later, Mell received an offer to become the principal of a Female Seminary at Emory College at Oxford. His employment came at the urgent request of Gov. George M. Troup of Laurens County. Troup, who met the young teacher at Dr.
Perry’s house in Montgomery County, became a ardent advocate of the young man. When plans to establish the seminary failed to materialize, Mell was offered an alternate position as Principal of the Classical and English School at Oxford, one which he accepted.
It was during his term at Emory that Mell was called to preach the Gospel. He obtained a license to preach in 1840. With his career goals firmly established, Mell returned to Montgomery County to marry Lurene Howard Cooper, whom he taught as a student at Ryals. Mrs. Mell was a guiding force in Mell’s advancement in the educational and religious fields before her untimely death just more than twenty years into their marriage.
In 1841, again up the influential request of Gov. Troup, Rev. Mell was offered the chair of the Department of Ancient Languages at Mercer University, then located at Penfield, Georgia. A year later, Rev. Mell was ordained as a minister and served Greensboro Baptist Church and other churches in the area until 1852. In 1845, Rev. Mell was one of the Georgia delegates to the organizing of the Southern Baptist Convention in Augusta. He served as Clerk of the Georgia Baptist Convention from
1845 until 1855. In 1855, when Rev. Mell resigned his position as professor at Mercer when he was not offered the presidency of that institution. Mell turned down innumerable offers for positions at colleges and universities throughout the South, including the presidency of Wake Forest.
In 1856, Rev. Mell was offered a more prestigious position as Chair of the Department of Ancient Languages at the University of Georgia. After a one year respite from the leadership of the Georgia Baptist Association, Rev. Mell was elected as President of the Association, a position which he held longer than anyone else in the organization’s history until his death more than three decades later. In 1860, Rev. Mell was selected to become Vice-Chancellor of the University. As a Ph. D, Dr. Mell remained as Vice Chancellor until 1872.
On Christmas Eve of 1861, Dr. Mell married Eliza Cooper, who bore him six of his fourteen children. In the fateful year of 1863, Dr. Mell was elected as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. When it became readily apparent in the summer of 1863 that the Union Army would be invading Georgia, Dr. Mell accepted a position as Colonel of the local militia units in Athens. Joining the Chancellor of the University, the faculty and nearly all of the students, Col. Mell accompanied his troops to Rome, Georgia in effort to stop the upcoming invasion of his beloved Georgia. He remained with the company until “The March to the Sea” ended at Christmastime in 1864. After the war, Mell returned home to Athens, broke and unsure of his future with a house full of children.
During the war, classes at the college were suspended. The Southern Baptist Convention did not meet in 1864 and 1865. In 1866, Mell returned to his position as President and served until 1886, making him the longest or one of the longest serving presidents of the 160-year-old organization, which is the largest of its kind. During the same period, Mell also served as President of the Georgia Baptist Church, except for a four-year period when he was too sick to attend the annual conference.
Rev. Mell was known to have preached for 90 minutes to a congregation who swore that he never spoke too long. His son Patrick Mell, Jr. described his father’s sermons as distinct and plain.
The Rev. Patrick Mell died at his home on January 26, 1888. Three days before his death he said, “I have been a wonderful child of Providence, if not a child of Grace.” The Southern Baptist Convention in its 1888 session memorialized Rev. Mell for his “ erect figure, angular features, keen eye, concise speech, his incisive thoughts, cogent logic, unyielding orthodoxy, and command address.”