Civil War Wiki
Henry Martin Tupper
File:Henry Martin Tupper.jpg
Henry Martin Tupper, founder of Shaw University
Born April 11, 1831(1831-04-11)
Monson, Massachusetts
Died November 12, 1893 (aged 62)
Raleigh, North Carolina
Nationality American
Occupation Baptist minister
Known for Founder and first president of Shaw University

Henry Martin Tupper D.D. (April 11, 1831 – November 12, 1893) was a Baptist minister who founded Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, the first university established for African Americans following the end of the civil war, and the oldest historically black college and university (HBCU) in the Southern United States,[1][2] as well as one of the oldest co-educational universities in the country. He would serve as the University's first president from its founding until his death in 1893.

Early life and military career[]

Henry Martin Tupper was born on April 11, 1831 to Earl and Permellia Norris Tupper and raised on a farm in Monson, Massachusetts. He was the eldest of nine children. His grandfather, Ezra Tupper, and great-grandfather, William Tupper had both fought for the colonies in the American Revolutionary War. His ancestry has been connected to a family of prominent Lutheran dissenters who left Germany and settled in England during the reign of Henry VIII. He was a distant relative of Martin Farquhar Tupper, an English poet who also lived during the 19th century. A clergyman named Thomas Tupper, who was an ancestor of Henry Martin Tupper, emigrated from England to Barbados in the early 17th century, and would later go on to help found the town of Sandwich, Massachusetts.[3][4][5]

Neither of his parents were practicing Christians nor did Martin attend church as a child. He received little formal education until he turned eighteen, when he enrolled in Monson Academy. He converted to Christianity while at the Academy. In order to fund his continuing education, he took a job as a school teacher in New Jersey, where he was baptised in a nearby Baptist church and later became a member of a congregation in Wales, Massachusetts, near his hometown of Monson.[3]

He attended Amherst College and graduated in 1859. He received his divinity degree from Newton Theological Institute in 1862. While at school, he organized bible studies for African-American youth. He also worked as a missionary among recent immigrants in Boston as part of his theological training. He had planned to serve as a missionary to Africa, however the Civil War intervened. Shortly after being ordained as a minister he enlisted in the Union Army. Though his education would have qualified him for a military commission there were no openings in the officer corps, so he enlisted as a soldier.[3]

Tupper was assigned to the Army of the Potomac, Ninth Corps, under the command of Ambrose Burnside. He arrived with his unit in time to participate in the Battle of Fredericksburg. He was transferred to General Sherman's Fifteenth Corps in time for the Vicksburg Campaign. He was injured at the Battle of Jackson.[3]

Though he was not an officer, he frequently performed the duties of a chaplain, ministering to sick and injured soldiers and organizing prayer meetings and bible studies among his fellow soldiers. While in the army he became acquainted with the plight of African-American slaves. It was his involvement with African Americans during the war that would inspire his later work.[3]

On January 25, 1864 he married Sarah Baker Leonard of Stafford, Connecticut. She would later join him in his work, helping teach freed women slaves as he taught the men. They would have two children, Elizabeth Caroline Tupper and Edward Leonard Tupper. Sarah's older brother Judson Wade Leonard, a successful businessman in woolen textiles, would be a major source of financial support for Shaw University, and would later have the medical school there named after him.[4]

Founder and president of Shaw University[]

After the Civil War, he was commissioned by the Home Mission Society to act as a missionary to freed slaves in the American South. Discharged from the Union Army on July 14, 1865, he and his wife Sarah departed for Raleigh, North Carolina on October 1 to begin his work. Traveling via train through Portsmouth, Virginia, his trip was delayed due to extensive damage to the rail network caused by the Civil War; they arrived in Raleigh on October 10. The Tuppers immediately began working among the freed slaves. He worked throughout the fall procuring food and clothing from the Freedman's Bureau for the support of the many homeless black men throughout the Raleigh.[3][6]

On December 1, 1865 Tupper began teaching bible study classes to freed slaves in the Guion Hotel (located where the North Carolina Museum of History is now located). This first bible class marks the traditional foundation date of Shaw University. He used the class as an opportunity not just for religious education, but also to teach the freed slaves to read and write, in the hopes that the slaves would themselves become Baptist ministers, to start their own congregations of freed slaves. In March of the next year, his wife Sarah began teaching similar classes for black women.[3][6][7]

File:Leonard Medical School graduating class of 1889.JPG

Shaw University medical students, 1889

Having outgrown his temporary location at the Guion Hotel, Tupper purchased a plot of land using $500 saved from his time in the Army. On the plot, located at the corner of Blount and Cabarrus Streets in Raleigh, he constructed a two-story timber building that would serve as both a school and church. He would name his operation the Raleigh Institute, and the building would be the first permanent home what would later become Shaw University. Ongoing expenses of the Institute were funded jointly by the Home Mission Society and the Freedman's Bureau.[6][7]

As the school grew, larger grounds were sought. South of its location at the corner of Blount and Cabarrus Streets was the estate of the Paul Barringer, the patriarch of a prominent North Carolina political dynasty. When the land came up for sale, Martin Tupper raised $13,000 for its purchase, mostly of money gathered from private donors solicited in person by Tupper himself. The largest single donor was Elijah Shaw, a resident of Wales, Massachusetts, who donated $5,000. In his honor, the first building on the new campus was named Shaw Hall, and the school was renamed the Shaw Collegiate Institute. Tupper and his students and faculty moved into their new location in 1871. Expansion proceeded quickly, as the first men's dormitory opened in 1872, and the first women's dormitory, Estey Hall (named for another Northern benefactor, Jacob Estey of Brattleboro, Vermont), opened in 1874. Under Tupper's leadership, the school became chartered as a university in 1875, added a medical and pharmacy program (Leonard Medical School) in 1881, and a law program in 1888. Each of these programs were the first of their kind for African-American students.[3][6][8]

Tupper's role as the founder of the first university dedicated to educating freed slaves was not without its controversy. His home was burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan, forcing he and his wife to go into hiding in a nearby cornfield.[3] The trustees of a local church, the Second Baptist Church of Raleigh, sued Tupper in 1870 for defrauding its members in connection with his fundraising efforts related to the founding of Shaw University; the suit was settled in his favor in 1875.[6]


Tupper died on November 12, 1893 following a prolonged illness. His funeral was reportedly one of the most attended in the history of Raleigh to that time. Tupper was buried on the campus of the school he founded, in front of Shaw Hall.[3][6]


  1. "Historically Black Colleges & Universities in North Carolina". Encyclopedia of the State Library of North Carolina. 2009-06-22. Retrieved 2010-02-05. 
  2. "Shaw University: The First Historically Black University in the South". Documenting the American South. The University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 2004. Retrieved 2010-02-05. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Whitted, J.A. (1908). "Chapter IX: Shaw University". A History of the Negro Baptists of North Carolina. Raleigh, North Carolina: Edwards and Broughton Printing Co.. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Converse, Charles Allen (1905). Some of the Ancestors and Descendants of Samuel Converse Jr.. Vol I. Boston, Massachusetts: Eben Putnam. pp. 248–249. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  5. Cyclopedia of Eminent and Representative Men of the Carolinas of the Nineteenth Century. Vol 2. Madison, Wisconsin: Brant & Fuller. 1892. pp. 430-433. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 "December 1865 - Henry Martin Tupper and the Founding of Shaw University". This Month in North Carolina History. University of North Carolina Libraries. 2009-12-01. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "History of Shaw University". Shaw University Archives. Shaw University Archives & Special Collections. 2005. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  8. "Historical Perspective". Shaw University. 2003. Retrieved 2010-02-05. 

External links[]