George Foster Pierce, a Methodist bishop, preacher, and educator, was renowned for his preaching skills and his efforts to maintain early Methodist practices. At the General Conference of 1844 Pierce, an enslaver himself, defended the ownership of enslaved people by Bishop James Osgood Andrew, which was an issue that divided the church. He also helped to organize the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and was elected a bishop in 1854.
Pierce was born on February 3, 1811, in Greene County to Ann Foster and Lovick Pierce, a Methodist minister. He was educated in Greensboro and at the University of Georgia, where he earned an A.B. degree in 1829. In 1827, while a student in Athens, he was converted and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was ordained a deacon in 1831 in the newly formed Georgia Conference and became an elder two years later. In 1834 he married Ann Maria Waldron of Savannah, with whom he had seven children.
Pierce’s reputation as an orator contributed to his election as president (1838-40) of Georgia Female College (later Wesleyan College). The trustees of Emory College selected him as president in 1848, and he remained in this post for six years, until the General Conference of 1854 elected him bishop and assigned him to the Arkansas-Missouri area. Published in 1859, Pierce’s Incidents of Western Travel was his appeal for the western expansion of the church. During the Civil War (1861-65) he was a firm supporter of the Confederacy, and by 1870 he was the most influential bishop of the denomination.
An aggressive but conservative bishop, Pierce championed retention of”class meetings” for religious instruction, probationary membership, and two-year ministerial appointments. He opposed admitting laymen to conferences, establishing a theological seminary, and reuniting with Northern Methodists. Pierce returned to Georgia in late 1883 and died at Sunshine Plantation, his home near Sparta, on September 3, 1884.