Patrick Hues Mell was one of the most influential educators and ministers in nineteenth-century Georgia.
For almost fifty years he served as professor of ancient languages and chief administrator at Mercer University and the University of Georgia, and he also held leadership roles in the Southern Baptist and Georgia Baptist conventions. His greatest influence as a moderator of numerous religious and educational assemblies earned him the designation “prince of parliamentarians.”
Born in Liberty County on July 19, 1814, Mell received his education from local academies until his entrance into Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1833. He left Amherst two years later and served as teacher and administrator in various schools in the North before arriving at Emory College (later Emory University), in Oxford, Georgia. In 1841 Mell joined the faculty at Mercer University in Penfield as professor of ancient languages. In 1856 he took a similar position at the University of Georgia in Athens, becoming that school’s vice chancellor in 1860. From 1878 to 1888 he was the chancellor of the university.
A lay leader of Georgia Baptists, Mell dominated all aspects of his denomination. As a parliamentarian he was the moderator of the Georgia Baptist Association (1855-87), president of the Georgia Baptist Convention (1857-87), and president of the Southern Baptist Convention (1863-71, 1880-87). As pastor he served the Baptist church at Greensboro for ten years and led the congregations at Bairdstown (in Greene County) and Antioch (in Oglethorpe County) for thirty and twenty-six years respectively. As an author Mell published the following books: Baptism in Its Mode and Subjects (1853), Corrective Church Discipline (1860), A Manual of Parliamentary Practice (1867), and The Doctrine of Prayer (1876). He also wrote articles and tracts on the subjects of slavery, Calvinism, and predestination.
Mell provided brave leadership for the University of Georgia during the Civil War (1861-65) and Sherman’s March to the Sea. In 1861 a group of volunteers organized a company known as the Mell Riflemen or Mell Volunteers, and Governor Joseph E. Brown appointed Mell as the unit’s captain. The death of his wife that same year, however, left Mell with eight young children, and he was unable to leave Athens. In 1863 he became colonel of a command to defend northern Georgia, frequently visiting camps in Savannah and Rome.
Because of the size of his family and his dedication to his country churches, Mell declined several opportunities to leave the university. He and his first wife, Lurene Howard Cooper of Montgomery County, had five sons and three daughters. He and his second wife, Eliza Elizabeth Cooper of Screven County, had four sons and two daughters. Mell resigned from the Antioch and Bairdstown churches in 1878, when he became chancellor of the university, but his influence continued. For years the Baptists from Greene and surrounding counties labeled their district “Mell’s Kingdom.”
Mell died on January 26, 1888, after months of failing health.