Woolsey College – A Bold Venture

Woolsey College was a Free Will Baptist educational institution, probably the first such undertaking in the South.

William Bonaparte Woolsey lived in the mountainous region of Greene County, Tennessee. In 1842, he was both converted and married. He immediately set himself to an intensive and regular study of the Scriptures. Soon he was conducting prayer meetings in the homes of folks in the area, and before long he became pastor of a church. Working together with a handful of fellow ministers he pioneered the establishment of the Tow River Association of Free Will Baptists in 1850. This association included churches in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia, and was probably the “grandfather” of most of the Free Will Baptist work in that area.

Following the Civil War, with many schools having completely disintegrated, a long-standing idea of Woolsey’s began to take form. He began to teach, anywhere children could be gathered. By 1872, he donated land and timber, and a brick structure was completed, with eight classrooms and two larger auditoriums.

Perhaps we should use a designation other than “college” for Woolsey’s school. The institution served grades one through 12, and continued its ministry until the Greene County school board took over the building about 1904.

It was a bold venture in Christian education. The influence of Woolsey College was long-lived. William Bonaparte Woolsey’s light burned brightly, and his example is one we still follow.


About the Writer: Robert E. Picirilli is a member of the Free Will Baptist Historical Commission.