Saturday, September 9, 2017
Birth Dates of Notable Kentuckians: September 9, 1816 – John Fee
Image from docsouth.unc.edu
From The Kentucky Encyclopedia –
The Rev. John Gregg Fee, evangelical abolitionist, was born September 9, 1816, in Bracken County, Kentucky, the son of John and Sarah (Gregg) Fee, who were slaveholders. Fee received his B.A. from Augusta College near his home in Augusta, Kentucky, and in 1842 enrolled at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, scene of a rebellion in 1834 by abolitionist students who walked out to protest pro-slavery policies. There Fee formulated the religious principles of his lifelong fight against slavery and for social equality. As a worker for the American Missionary Association, he founded antislavery churches in Lewis and Bracken counties with the help of his wife, Matilda Hamilton, whom he had married on September 16, 1844.
Fee's attacks on slavery, from the pulpit and in print, attracted the attention of emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay , who regarded Fee as a useful political ally. Clay invited the minister to southern Madison County, where Fee was to be pastor of several new free churches. In 1854 Fee settled in Berea on ten acres of land that Clay gave him. Fee attracted many followers in his new ministry. But in 1856 his alliance with Clay was shattered when the two men, speaking at a Fourth of July Republican rally, disagreed publicly on the Fugitive Slave Law. Without Clay's protection, Fee was threatened by local mobs but continued to preach his "incendiary" views. By 1859 Fee proposed an abolitionist colony in Berea with a coeducational, integrated college.
John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry frightened slaveholders all over the South, not least in Madison County, Kentucky, where, in December 1859, sixty planters banded together to drive Fee and his workers from the state. Although the Bereans appealed to Gov. Beriah Magoffin (1859-62), they were banished. Fee and his family settled near Cincinnati, but throughout the war he repeatedly tried to return to his native state. On several occasions he was mobbed by irate citizens -- even in his hometown -- and threatened with death if he continued his work. Suffering from ill health and despondent at the loss of his youngest child, who had died as a result of exposure during their exit from Kentucky, Fee persevered, holding immediate emancipation meetings and raising funds to purchase land for the college in Berea, even though his return to Kentucky was uncertain.
In 1864 Fee found a new missionary field at Camp Nelson , Kentucky's foremost military camp for black soldiers. Camp Nelson also attracted thousands of black women and children fleeing from slavery. Fee set up schools, founded a church, and administered a refugee camp for the dependents of black soldiers. Torn between his work at Camp Nelson and his mission at Berea, Fee finally opted for the latter, but he invited many people from Camp Nelson to settle in Berea, promising they could purchase land there. Again he proposed a school where men and women, black and white, could study together as equals. This plan was realized in Berea by 1866; by 1869 the new school became Berea College , and the town of Berea, colonized as part of Fee's total plan for integrated education in an interracial society, burgeoned. Throughout the 1860s, Fee labored for recognition of black equality, speaking in favor of black suffrage and advocating civil rights legislation. In Berea, Fee initiated a program of "interspersion," in which blacks and whites bought farm land and town lots in the same neighborhoods.
In his old age Fee's influence waned. Some of his followers repudiated his strict views on baptism by immersion and many more opposed his radical position on social equality, an anathema in America's Jim Crow era. Although Berea College flourished, the policies Fee had implemented were gradually phased out: During his presidency, beginning in 1892, William G. Frost completely revised the mission of Berea College . Nevertheless, Fee fought for social equality in Berea and across the nation until his death on January 11, 1901. He was buried in the Berea Cemetery.
RICHARD SEARS, Entry Author
Selected Sources from UK Libraries:
English, Philip Wesley. John G. Fee : Kentucky Spokesman for Abolition and Educational Reform. 1997. Print.
F455.F44 E654 1973a, Special Collections Research Center
Howard, Victor B. The Evangelical War against Slavery and Caste : The Life and times of John G. Fee. Selinsgrove [Pa.] : London: Susquehanna UP ; Associated UPes, 1996. Print.
E445.K5 F444 1996, Young Library - 4th Floor
Sears, Richard D. "A Practical Recognition of the Brotherhood of Man" : John G. Fee and the Camp Nelson Experience. 1st ed. Berea, Ky.: Berea College, 1986. Print.
F456 .S440 1986, Special Collections Research Center