Hurst, John Fletcher

John Fletcher Hurst was the son of a slaveholding Maryland farmer who rose to become a prominent Methodist bishop and founder of American University. He was born near Salem, Maryland on August 17, 1834, the only son of Elijah and Ann Colston Hurst. He was educated locally and then entered Dickinson College with the thirty-six member class of 1854. After graduation, he taught, flirted with the law profession, and travelled in Europe. He returned to be licensed to preach in the Newark Methodist Conference and spent the Civil War years as pastor in Passaic and Elizabeth. He had married Catherine La Monte in 1859 and the couple eventually had three sons and a daughter. In 1866, he was back in Europe at the Methodist Mission Institute in north Germany. He returned to New Jersey and in 1873 was named president of Drew University. From 1880 onwards, after having been appointed a bishop, he was an untiring organizer and inspector of Methodist endeavors all over the United States, Europe and Asia. Now one of the most famous names in American Methodism, in 1888 he became the bishop of Washington D.C. and immediately set to work on what would become American University. He selected the site, raised funds, and served as the first Chancellor of the new Methodist institution. During this time he became a close friend of Congressman and, later, President McKinley. Hearst died at his home in Washington in 1903 after a series of strokes, two years after his retirement from the episcopate. (By John Osborne)
Life Span
Dickinson Connection
Class of 1854
    Full name
    John Fletcher Hurst
    Place of birth
    Salem, MD
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Slave State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    William McKinley
    Elijah Hurst (father), Ann Catherine (mother), Catherine Elizabeth La Monte (wife, 1859)
    Dickinson (Carlisle College)
    Other Education
    University of Halle, Germany
    Writer or Artist
    Relation to Slavery
    White non-slaveholder
    Church or Religious Denomination

    John Fletcher Hurst (Dickinson Chronicles)

    John Fletcher Hurst was born near Salem, Maryland on August 17, 1834, the only son and second child of Elijah and Ann Catherine Colston Hurst.  His father was a relatively prosperous slave holding farmer and local magistrate who was active in the Methodist Church.  His mother died at thirty-four in 1841, when John was seven years old.  He was educated at home, then at the local common school and the nearby Cambridge Academy.  He saw President Jesse Peck of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania preach near his home and was invited to attend the College in the fall.  He did so, entering in September 1850 with the thirty-six member class of 1854.  He became a member of the Union Philosophical Society almost immediately and, though not a great orator, later served in most of its executive offices.  Already a serious and devout young man, "Johnnie Hurst" was already publishing small writings in various religious magazines before the end of his freshman year, and soon gained a reputation for gentle dignity and hard work.  He graduated with twenty others of his class, not with honors but in the "First Section."

    Following graduation, he briefly contemplated the law as a profession, but instead took up a teaching post in Greensboro for a few months before attaining a position at the Hedding Literary Institute at Ashland, New York.  In August 1856, after a summer studying German in Carlisle, he traveled to Germany and enrolled as a theology student at the University of Halle for a year which included extensive travel through much of Europe. Returning to the United States, he preached for a time in the Carlisle Circuit; he was then licensed in the Newark Conference of the Methodist Church, filling pastorates at Irvington, Passaic, and Elizabeth, New Jersey.  In April 1865, he was appointed as pastor of Trinity Church on Staten Island.

    On October 20, 1866, Hurst sailed from New York to take up a position as theological tutor at the Methodist Mission Institute in Bremen, Germany.  He moved with the school in October 1868 to Frankfort-on-Main, which had just been incorporated into Prussia, taking the opportunity to travel throughout southern Europe, Syria, Egypt, and the Holy Land.  He rose to director of the Institute but left in August 1871 to become professor of Historical Theology at the Drew Seminary in Madison, New York.  In May 1873, he was named as that institution's president, remaining as such until May 1880.  Ever the traveller, Hurst was ordained as a bishop of the general conference in Cincinnati, Ohio and later took up residences in Des Moines, Iowa and Buffalo, New York.  However, much of his time in the following two decades was spent attending and organizing Methodist Conferences all over the United States and visiting missions and conferences in Europe, and, most notably, in India.

    In 1888, Hurst took the bishop's residence in Washington, D.C. where his main task was to be the foundation of a post-graduate university under the auspices of the Methodist Church.  He selected the site and made possible the purchase of land in 1890 that was going to become the site of American University.  He was elected as its first chancellor on May 28, 1891 and remained in that post until December 1902.  He had retired from the episcopate the year before, having continued his travels on behalf of the church.  Since 1865, he had been a constantly active author and published several important studies on theology, from his History of Rationalism (1866) to his seven volume History of Methodism (1902-1904), as well of accounts of his travels, notably Indika: The Country and People of Ceylon (1891). He was also a close friend of President McKinley.

    He was married on April 28, 1859 to Catherine Elizabeth La Monte of Charlotteville, New York who he had met when she was a teacher at the Hedding Institute in 1855.  They had three sons and two daughters.  She died in Washington, D.C. in March 1890.  Following his return from his last trip to Europe in 1901, his health declined and he suffered a series of small strokes.  After a more serious attack in April 1903, John Hurst died at his home in Washington on May 4, 1903.  He was sixty-nine years old.
    John Osborne and James W. Gerencser, eds., “John Fletcher Hurst,” Dickinson Chronicles,
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Hurst, John Fletcher. Indika: The Country and the People of India and Ceylon. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1891. view record
    Hurst, John Fletcher. Life and Literature in the Fatherland. New York: Nelson & Phillips, 1875. view record
    Hurst, John Fletcher. Short History of the Christian Church. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Hurst, John Fletcher," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,