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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Alester G. Furman Jr., January 6, 1976. Interview B-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Family ancestry, religion, and higher education

Furman discusses his family ancestry in South Carolina. In particular, he focuses on his great-great-grandfather, Richard Furman. After moving to South Carolina from New York in the mid-eighteenth century, Richard Furman became a Baptist minister after the family realized that their church (the Dutch Reformed Church) was not well-established in South Carolina. Furman describes his perception of the Baptist faith and explains that education was extremely important for his great-great-grandfather and other religious leaders during that time, hence the connection between many early institutions of higher education and religious denominations. Shortly after this excerpt, Furman explains how his ancestors established Furman University in 1826 as part of this wave of religiously affiliated colleges.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Alester G. Furman Jr., January 6, 1976. Interview B-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

But this man, Richard Furman, who was my great-great grandfather, at the age of eighteen under the preaching of a Presbyterian minister, decided that while the family had joined the Church of England when they came to South Carolina . . . there being no Dutch Reformed Church down here, he and his mother decided that they were going to join the Baptist organization, which had hardly started in South Carolina. And because he said that he could find no evidence of infant baptism in the New Testament. He said that it all said, "Repent and be baptized," and no infant could repent because they hadn't had that opportunity to sin. That was his basis for it and he became a very, very prominent Baptist minister in the United States and briefly, he had a little church in Sumter County, in the high hills of the Santee, called the High Hills Baptist Church. He left there in 1787 and went to Charleston and became the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charleston. He was so imbued with the spirit of being independent, because frankly, that's what most people don't realize, they listen to what a few nuts in the Baptist Church say who get up in these conventions and proclaim all kinds of things that they think are wrong, that they ought to pass resolutions against. Why, he just quietly went around tending to his own business and being very, very free. I'll give you one illustration of it. He was a great friend of Charles Coatsworth Pinkney . . . I don't know whether you know anything about Charles Coatsworth Pinkney . . .
A diplomat . . . ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: Well, he signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and his brother, Charles Pinkney, was also a very prominent man in Charles town. But he was a great friend of his, but he was not a member of his church. I have gathered many hundreds of letters from the family, some written to Dr. Richard Furman and some written by him and some of his manuscripts. He has a manuscript there of his sermon before Congress in 1814 and he has a manuscript of 1808 of his nominating Charles Coatsworth Pinkney to be President of the United States. Of course, that was very small groups in those days and if you've read about it, you'll understand. One of the things that always interested me was a letter to him from Charles Coatsworth Pinkney that said, "Dear Dr. Furman, I enjoyed your sermon very much today. I find that the bile is very bad in Charleston this summer and the best specific for it is Madeira wine and I am sending you over two cases. One case of old wine and one case of new wine. I hope that it does you as much good as it has done me. Your obedient servant, Charles Coatsworth Pinkney." Well, I read that one day in the First Baptist Church in Charleston and I said that I couldn't find where he sent it back. (laughter) So many of these people now believe in prohibition, but those people believed in temperance, which is an entirely different situation.
Right. ALESTER G. FURMAN, Jr.: Total abstinence was not part of Christianity in any place, even from the first miracle. So, getting back, Dr. Richard Furman lived until 1825. He was really the leader in the field of education in this state. He sent his children to the College of Rhode Island, which is now Brown University. He sent some to England. His oldest son by his first wife, he was married twice, was Wood Furman and he was at one time the Chairman of the Faculty at the College of Charleston, which was one of the original city colleges. It was not denominational, it was a city college. Most of the great colleges in New England were all started by ministers of various denominations and the reason was because they were the educated people and they saw the need of education. That's why you find so many colleges, Yale and Harvard, Trinty, Haverford and all those colleges were colleges who were started by ministers who saw the need of education.