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John Fletcher Hurst

John Fletcher Hurst was born near Salem, Maryland on August 17, 1834, the only son and second child of Elijah and Ann Catherine Colston Hurst. His father was a relatively prosperous slave-holding farmer and local magistrate who was active in the Methodist Church. His mother died at the age of 34 in 1841, when John was seven years old. He was educated at home, and then at the local common school and nearby Cambridge Academy. He heard President Jesse Peck of Dickinson College preach near his home and was invited to attend that institution in the fall. He did so, entering in September 1850 with the thirty-six member class of 1854. A serious and devout young man, "Johnnie Hurst" was already publishing small writings in various religious magazines before the end of his freshman year, and he soon gained a reputation for gentle dignity and hard work.

Following his graduation in 1854, Hurst briefly contemplated law as a profession, but instead he took up a teaching post in Greensboro for a few months before joining the Hedding Literary Institute in Ashland, New York. In August 1856, after a summer studying German in Carlisle, he traveled to Germany and enrolled as a theology student at the University of Halle for a year. Returning to the United States, he preached for a time in the Carlisle Circuit. He was then licensed in the Newark Conference of the Methodist Church, filling pastorates at Irvington, Passaic, and Elizabeth, New Jersey. In April 1865, he was appointed as pastor of Trinity Church on Staten Island.

On October 20, 1866, Hurst sailed from New York to take up a position as theological tutor at the Methodist Mission Institute in Bremen, Germany. He moved with the school in October 1868 to Frankfurt-am-Main, which had just been incorporated into Prussia, and took the opportunity to travel throughout southern Europe, Syria, Egypt, and the Holy Land. He rose to the post of director of the Institute but left in August 1871 to become professor of Historical Theology at the Drew Seminary in Madison, New York. In 1873 he was named as that institution's president, remaining in that post until May 1880. Ever the traveler, Hurst was ordained as a bishop of the general conference in Cincinnati, Ohio and later took up residences in Des Moines, Iowa and Buffalo, New York. In the following two decades, much of his time was spent attending and organizing Methodist Conferences all over the United States, as well as visiting missions and conferences in Europe and India.

In 1888, Hurst took the bishop's residence in Washington, D.C. where his main task was to be the establishment of a post-graduate university under the auspices of the Methodist Church. He selected the site and made possible the purchase of land in 1890 that later became American University. He was elected the school's first chancellor on May 28, 1891 and remained in that post until December 1902. He had retired from the episcopate the year before, having continued his travels on behalf of the church.

Throughout his life, Hurst was an active author. He published several important studies on theology, including his History of Rationalism (1866) and his seven volume History of Methodism (1902-1904), as well as accounts of his travels, notably Indika: The Country and People of India and Ceylon (1891).

Hurst was married on April 28, 1859 to Catherine Elizabeth La Monte of Charlotteville, New York; he had first met her in 1855 when she was a teacher at the Hedding Institute. The couple had three sons and two daughters. Hurst's wife Catherine died in Washington, D.C. in March 1890. Following his return from a trip to Europe in 1901, Hurst's health declined and he suffered a series of small strokes. After a more serious attack in April 1903, John Hurst died at his home in Washington on May 4, 1903. He was sixty-nine years old.

Please visit the following link for materials authored by John Fletcher Hurst maintained in the Their Own Words database:

Hurst, John Fletcher, 1834-1903.

Researched, authored, and edited by John Osborne, Ph. D., and James Gerencser.

Page created: July 9, 2003                                            close window