The Theological Seminary: 1825-1829

This week the Georgia Historical Society highlights the newest Georgia Historical Marker, The Birthplace of Columbia Theological Seminary, located in Lexington, Georgia. In consideration of social distancing precautions, the marker’s sponsors, Columbia Theological Seminary, Historic Oglethorpe County, Inc., and City of Lexington, are participating in a virtual rollout of the historical marker in lieu of an in-person marker dedication. This week we will share blog posts examining the history of Columbia Theological Seminary. In today’s guest post by Lexington Seminary Committee member, Carolyn Bryant Faz, we look at the founder of Columbia Theological Seminary, Reverend Thomas Goulding.

Image courtesy of George Arthur Harwood

In 1824, the small post-revolutionary village of Lexington thrived as the county seat of Oglethorpe County in northeast central Georgia with a Presbyterian church and an outstanding academy. Lexington’s academy had an advantage over other academies set up under the Georgia state academy fund. The academy was endowed by the will of teacher/merchant Francis Meson in 1806 and named for him. A two-story brick building was completed by 1808 for the students.

The Lexington Presbyterian Church was the product of Beth Salem Presbyterian Church located just southwest of current Lexington. It was founded in c.1785/1786 by a group of pioneer Presbyterians, many from Pennsylvania, under the leadership of Rev. John Newton. In 1822, the church moved into Lexington near Meson Academy.

Thomas Goulding was born in Liberty County in southeast Georgia among coastal rice plantations on March 14, 1786, into a Congregationalist family, son of Margaret Stacy Goulding and Thomas Goulding; he graduated from Sunbury Academy under the guidance of Principal Rev. William McWhir.

Thomas was an ambitious and determined man who began to see his life’s work lying more in the direction of the church than in the field of education alone. Near the end of 1811, Thomas became a candidate for the gospel ministry in the Harmony Presbytery; he was licensed in Augusta on October 31, 1813, at the 8th Session of the Harmony Presbytery. After holding several jobs on the Georgia coast, Rev. Goulding moved his family to Oglethorpe County, where he preached his first sermon at Lexington on April 21, 1822, and began teaching at the Meson Female Institute in 1825.

The home that the Gouldings lived in while in Lexington has traditionally been known as the Goulding-Maxwell House (1820s), which stood across the street from the second Meson Academy (1897) on Church Street and was catty-cornered from the Victorian Meson Female Institute located in the house later called the Weaver House (bf. 1803).

According to Rev. John Wilson, the Theological Seminary opened in 1828 in  Lexington, Georgia. Wilson names the five students that Goulding was instructing in the building across the street from the current Presbyterian Church from the years 1826 to 1829: Hampden C. Carter, Isaac Waddel, Farwell Jones, James Beattie, and William Moultrie Reid, possibly not all at the same time.

The Rev. Thomas Goulding, pastor of the church at Lexington, was elected Professor of Theology on December 15, 1828. The Milledgeville Southern Recorder of March 17, 1830, noted the ceremony inaugurating the Reverend Dr. Goulding as Professor.

In November 1833, the first graduating class of the Seminary at Columbia included the following eight students:  James M. Adams, James Beatie, Francis R. Goulding, John C. Keeney, James L. Merrick, William M. Reid, J. Leighton Wilson, and William B. Yeats.

Rev. Thomas Goulding remained at the Theological Seminary at Columbia until near the end of 1834.