Adiel Sherwood, a minister and educator, initiated several changes in Georgia Baptist life, causing the missionary Baptists of Georgia to become a powerful religious denomination in the state. As a minister Sherwood helped introduce to Georgia and Georgia Baptists such early movements as temperance, Sunday school, and protracted (revival) meetings. As an educator he advocated the manual-labor system that teachers in the state later utilized in various denominational and early public schools.
Born in Fort Edward, New York, on October 3, 1791, Sherwood attended Middlebury College in Vermont and Union College in New York. After completing a yearlong course in 1818 at Andover Seminary in Massachusetts, Sherwood moved to Savannah to improve his weak lungs in a warmer climate and to serve as a missionary. Sherwood was first married in 1821 to Ann Adams Smith Early, the recent widow of Georgia governor Peter Early. In 1824, two years after the death of his wife and infant daughter, Sherwood wed Emma Heriot of Charleston, South Carolina. Five children were born from this union.
In 1820 he submitted a resolution calling for a general convention of all Georgia Baptists and was present when the Georgia Baptist Convention was formed at Powelton in 1822. From 1827 to 1836 Sherwood became the primary force in temperance, revivalism, denominational growth, and education in Georgia Baptist life, while also serving pastorates in Macon, Milledgeville, Monticello, and Penfield. In 1827 he established the first local temperance society in Eatonton. Beginning at a revival meeting in Morgan County, Sherwood utilized the frontier practice of “altar calls,” spurring the beginning of the Great Georgia Revival of 1827. For the next two years he and other Georgia Baptist leaders brought 16,000 new members to the faith, and the Baptist denomination became the largest in the state.
Another of Sherwood’s contributions was his Gazetteer of the State of Georgia, a statistical work of the state’s counties and place names that appeared in several editions between 1827 and 1860. Prolific as a religious writer as well, Sherwood wrote for Baptist newspaper weeklies for fifty years. His largest published book was Notes on the New Testament (1856).
In 1831 Sherwood established a manual-labor school for ministerial studies, which required each student to work three hours a day in the field to pay for his school expenses. This educational strategy helped convince Georgia Baptists to establish Mercer Institute (later Mercer University) in 1833 at Penfield. From 1836 to 1838 Sherwood lived in Washington, D.C., where he served as an agent of Columbia College. In 1839 he returned to Georgia to establish a theological department at Mercer but left the university in 1841 to become president of Shurtleff College in Illinois.
In 1857 Sherwood returned to Georgia as president of Marshall College in Griffin. During the Civil War (1861-65) he was coeditor of the Christian Index and pastor of several country churches. When Sherman’s troops burned his farm in Butts County, Sherwood moved to Missouri, where he lived out his remaining years. He died in St. Louis, Missouri, on August 19, 1879, having far outlived his generation of associates, who included Jesse Mercer, Luther Rice, and John Mason Peck.