A. H. Lester, the forgotten early professor

In the list of names that we associate with the early faculty of the college, we usually include the likes of William Wightman, Albert Shipp, James Carlisle, Warren DuPre, David Duncan, and Whitefoord Smith. The last four of these served together for much of the 1850s and 1860s, and the first two served portions of that era as the first two presidents. Beginning in 1866, a sixth faculty member joined them, but perhaps because he only stayed seven years, nobody ever remembers his name.

That sixth early faculty member was the Rev. Archibald H. Lester, who served from 1866 to 1873 as professor of history and Biblical Literature. Lester was a Greenville County native, born in 1828. He attended and graduated from Erskine College in 1849, and in 1851, he joined the South Carolina Annual Conference. A series of appointments followed, Pendleton, Union, Cokesbury, Yorkville, Columbia, Cheraw, and in 1860, Spartanburg’s Central Church. Between 1856 and 1865, he married three times, once in November 1856 and once in October 1858, and the final time in 1865.

The five trustees present voted in their July 1866 meeting to establish a sixth faculty position, that of professor of history and Biblical literature, and also to establish a divinity school that President Shipp and the occupant of the new position would run. At the same time, they elected Rev. Lester to that position. When he arrived at Wofford in 1866, he evidently had some personal wealth, and thus, due to the college’s precarious financial position, did not take a salary for teaching.

The divinity school never really materialized beyond the two professors teaching various religious subjects. It’s only speculation, but perhaps the failure of the divinity school to get off the ground led both Lester and Shipp to search for other opportunities. Lester, according to college historian D. D. Wallace, resigned on Dec. 1, 1873 to return to the active ministry. He accepted an appointment that year to serve in Union, which was probably a bigger town then than it is today. Shipp himself left in 1875 to go teach in the new Vanderbilt Divinity School, eventually becoming its dean.

Lester served for over fifteen more years, including four years in Georgetown, before finally leaving the active ministry in 1892. He died in 1897 in Columbia.

By Phillip Stone

I've been the archivist of Wofford College and the South Carolina United Methodist since 1999. I'll be sharing college, Methodist, and local history, documents, photographs, and other interesting stories on this blog, which I've been keeping since December 2007.