Thornwell and Wilson Papers Released by Seminary Archives

Thornwell and Wilson Papers Released by Seminary Archives

October 1, 2019—The C. Benton Kline, Jr. Special Collections and Archives is pleased to announce the public release of two recently digitized 19th century collections: the James Henley Thornwell papers, 1836-1861, and the Joseph Ruggles Wilson papers, late 1800’s. The significance of this material is that for several decades, these individuals reflected as much as inflected the religious and social imagination of Presbyterians throughout the southern United States. By making them available online through our Digital Collections, the CBKSCA hopes to enrich the study of Southern history, Presbyterian history, and beyond.

James Henley Thornwell was one of the most influential Southern Presbyterian ministers in the 19th century. He was president of South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina), longtime board member at Columbia Theological Seminary (CTS), and professor of theology at CTS from 1856-1862. He also delivered a prominent address in December 1861 in Augusta, GA establishing the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America.

The James Henley Thornwell papers, 1836-1861, were digitized by the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, PA. The collection, totaling over 1,500 pages of manuscript documents, consists of unpublished essays, sermons, letters from over seventy individuals, lecture notes, and numerous other notes and fragments. Topics range from Aristotle’s Metaphysics, General Assembly proceedings, Presbyterian polity, slavery, lectures on theology, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, New School Presbyterianism, among several others. Correspondents include George Frederick Holmes (1820-1897), Thomas Smyth (1808-1873), John Bailey Adger (1810-1899), John Leighton Wilson (1809-1886), Benjamin Morgan Palmer (1818-1902), George Sharswood (1810-1883), and John Auchincloss Inglis (1813-1878).

Like Thornwell, Joseph Ruggles Wilson, played a significant role in the development of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America, later renamed the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). At Wilson’s summon, the first General Assembly convened at the First Presbyterian Church (Augusta, GA) where Wilson was pastor. Wilson was the Stated Clerk of the denomination from 1861-65 and served as Permanent Clerk from 1865-1898. For multiple years he served on the CTS Board of Trustees before joining the faculty to serve as Professor of Pastoral and Evangelistic Theology from 1870-1874. He was also the brother-in-law of longtime CTS faculty member, James Woodrow, and father of a prominent American citizen, Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States of America.

The Joseph Ruggles Wilson papers, late 1800’s, were digitized through the Digital Library of Georgia. The collection consists of fourteen sermons and sermon fragments, composed and delivered from 1870’s-1890’s in Wilmington, N.C. and Richmond, VA, including one delivered while serving as moderator of the 1879 General Assembly of the PCUS.

The C. Benton Kline, Jr. Special Collections and archives is grateful for the effort the Presbyterian Historical Society has taken to digitize the papers of James Henley Thornwell, and for the generous grant provided on behalf of the Digital Library of Georgia in digitizing the papers of Joseph Ruggles Wilson.

For further questions regarding these collections, please email

The C. Benton Kline, Jr. Special Collections and Archives are located in the John Bulow Campbell Library of Columbia Theological Seminary. Columbia Theological Seminary “exists to educate and nurture faithful, imaginative, and effective leaders for the sake of the Church and the world.” As an educational institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Columbia Seminary is a community of theological inquiry, leadership development, and formation for ministry in the service of the Church of Jesus Christ. Columbia Seminary offers six graduate degree programs and dozens of courses and events as a resource for church professionals and lay people through The Center for Lifelong Learning. For more information, please visit

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