Sunday, 16 January 2011

Meharry Medical College and its Scotch-Irish benefactors

Meharry Medical College in Nashville was established in 1876 as the first medical school in the South for African-Americans and its first benefactors were a family of Scotch-Irish Methodists.

Central Tennessee College was chartered in 1867 by northern missionaries of the Methodist Episcopal Church as a college for freedmen.  It provided education for African-Americans at a time when segregation made that necessary.  The college was renamed Walden University in 1900, in honour of a Methodist bishop, but it closed in 1925 and later the site was leased to Trevecca Nazarene University.

The medical department of Central Tennessee College was founded in 1876 and received generous support from Samuel Meharry and his four brothers, Alexander, Hugh, Jesse and David.  It received a separate charter in 1915, becoming Meharry Medical College, and today it is a graduate and profesisonal institution affiliated to the United Methodist Church.  Its mission is to educate healthcare professionals and scientists.

Alexander Meharry (1763-1813) and his wife Jane, the parents of the five Meharry brothers, were born at Ballyjamesduff in county Cavan of Scottish ancestry.  An earlier Alexander Meharry had fled from the district of Ayr to Ulster in the reign of Mary Queen of Scots.

Alexander and Jane was married in 1794 and then emigrated from Ulster to Pennsylvania.  They settled for a time at Connellsville, where their first son was born, but in 1798 they moved west to Manchester in Adams County, Ohio, and they had six more sons and a daughter. 

Samuel Meharry was born there on 7 December 1810 but tragedy hit the home on 20 June 1813 when his father, Alexander Meharry, died as a result of an accident.  He was hit by a falling tree when he was returning from a camp-meeting.  At that time his wife was expecting another child and when that child was born on 17 October 1813 he was named Alexander after his father.

The three oldest brothers, Hugh, Thomas and James, moved to Indiana in 1827 and the following year they settled on land in Montgomery County.

Samuel Meharry was raised in Adams County, Ohio, and as a young man he became a salt trader.  This business took him far and wide and on one occasion he was travelling through the rough terrain of Tennessee when his wagon slipped off the road and fell into a swamp.  He was helped by a family of freedmen, whose names are unknown, and they gave him food and shelter for the night.  The next morning they helped him recover his wagon and he is reported to have told the former slave family, 'I have no money but when I can I shall do something for your race.'  Samuel had a keen interest in the condition of African-Americans and he was a staunch abolitionist.

His younger brother Alexander Meharry joined the Ohio Methodist Conference in September1841 as an itinerant preacher and served in various places in Ohio and Kentucky.  Alexander informed Dr John Braden, president of the Central Tennessee College, that Samuel had an interest in the welfare of African-Americans and when Braden approached Samuel Meharry he gave a donation of $100 towards the building of a medical college in Nashville.  After that he gave further donations and his brothers gave even more.  Their total support was around $15,000.

It was therefore appropriate that the college in Nashville was named after the Scotch-Irish family who were such generous benefactors.

Biographical Record and Portrait Album of Tippecanoe County, Indiana:  Chicago, 1888
Meharry History Committee, History of the Meharry family in America: descendants of Alexander Meharry I, who fled during the reign of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, on account of religious persecution, from near Ayr, Scotland, to Ballyjamesduff, Cavan County, Ireland; and whose descendant Alexander Meharry III emigrated to America in 1794: Lafayette 1925
Charles V Roman, Meharry Medical College, A History: 1934