Albion Interactive History / People / Elijah Pilcher

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / People / Albion College

 Rev. Elijah Holmes Pilcher, 1810
Founder of Wesleyan Seminary

     Died April 7, 1887

Mr. Pilcher was born 2 June 1810 in Athens, Ohio. He was the son of a couple who had come to Ohio from Virginia. Elijah’s father was Stephen Pilcher whose first Ohio home was a log cabin in Canaan.

Young Elijah was once a student at Ohio University, Athens, but later became a teacher. He left that profession for the ministry when he was 19. He became a Methodistcircuit rider, a kind of domestic missionary who rode horses back through the forests to reach small settlements and to conduct religious services in them

He was sent by the bishop of the Ohio Conference to the Nicholas Circuit, a post which took him on horseback 200 miles into the wilds south of the Ohio River. His son wrote that the young clergyman rode “over narrow mountain trails, through wild gorges with rushing torrents and over beetling heights whose summits pierced the very clouds.”

But he left the southern side of the Ohio in 1830 when he was assigned to the Ann Arbor Circuit. This job took him, still on horseback, from points six miles west of Detroit to other points five miles west of Ann Arbor.

Pilcher first reached Ann Arbor on 2 Oct 1830, and according to his son, reached it “with a few books in his saddlebags and but twelve and a half cents in money, but with an inexhaustible fund of energy, a well-disciplined mind, a vigorous and robust body, and an intense desire to save the souls of men.” Gildart, 11

Five years after reaching Ann Arbor, in 1835, Pilcher got a new circuit. It was called the Calhoun Mission and took him through the western half of Jackson County and all of Calhoun, Branch, and Hillsdale Counties.

This was the year he joined Colclazer and Packard in founding Albion, and it was also the year he married Dr. Packard’s daughter, Caroline Matilda, who was only 17.

After 1835, there was a great deal more to the life of Elijah Holmes Pilcher. Not the least of is accomplishments was the founding of thirteen churches, a number of them before 1835. Pilcher was present, when the cornerstone of the first building on the Albion campus was laid in 1841. Several years later the clergyman advocated broadening the institutions charter toenable it to become a full scale college. It was also he who drew up the charter revisions through which the school became Albion College in 1861. Methodists had adopted his suggestion that the school be enlarged to enable it to become a college. Mr. Pilcher was pleased in 1877 when his brother-in-law, Lewis Ransom Fiske, the brother of his second wife, accepted the presidency of Albion College.

Long before 1877, however, he was busy with many other affairs. He decided that a knowledge of both law and medicine would be of value to him as a minister. On September 10, 1846, he was admitted to practice law in the state circuit court. He embarked on the study of medicine in the spring of 1847 in the office of a Dr. Backus of Jackson. Later he studied medicine for two years at the University of Michigan. The institution awarded him a medical degree in 1859.

Despite the fact that he was unable to complete his studies at Ohio University when younger,studying by himself enabled him to receive an M.A. degree from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1848 and an S.T.D. degree in 1865. In 1866, Cornell College, Iowa, presented him with an LLD degree

Dr. Pilcher’s first wife, Caroline Matilda, died five years after their marriage while still in her twenties. Their son, Jason Henry Pilcher, grew up to be a businessman in Jackson.

His second wife was Phebe Marcia Fiske of Coldwater, the sister of Lewis Ransom Fiske. They had a daughter and three sons, Ellen Maria, who became a matron of Methodist Episcopal Hospital, Brooklyn, New York; Lewis Stephen who became a Brooklyn surgeon and the editor of Annals of Surgery; William Leander, who became president of Peking University, and James Elijah who became another physician and a U.S. Army medical officer with the rank of captain.

Dr. Elijah H. Pilcher’s second wife died in 1866. In October 1871, he married Miss Katharine Ransom of Highland, New York. He moved to Brooklyn, New York, to be near his daughter and sons. He died April 7, 1887, at the home of his son Lewis in Brooklyn, New York, and was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery (Lot 15729, Section 109).

Source: Gildart, Robert. Albion College, 1835-1960, A History. Chicago: Donnelley Lakeside Press, 1961.

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