The Southern Literary Messenger, 1834-1864/Appendix B
BRIEF SKETCH OF THE AUTHOR
Benjamin Blake Minor, fourth President of the State University of Missouri, was born in Tappahannock, Essex county, Va., October 21, 1818, son of Dr. Hubbard Taylor and Jane (Blake) Minor. He was named for his maternal grandfather, who was a successful merchant, and owned vessels which traded with the West Indies and along the Atlantic coast, and was also a Virginia planter. His paternal grandfather, Thomas Minor, of Spottsylvania county, was a planter, but had served his country through the whole of the Revolutionary War, as lieutenant, adjutant, captain, and aide-de-camp. His great-grandfather, James Taylor, of Caroline county, was a prominent patriot and public servant, a personal friend of Washington, and a kinsman of Presidents Madison and Taylor. He was a member of the House of Burgesses, of the conventions of 1775-'6, and of 1788, and of the State Senate. He was also chairman of the Committee of Safety of Caroline and lieutenant of that county. Benjamin Minor was educated in private schools in Essex, until he was twelve years of age, when he was sent to the classical academy of Mr. Thomas Hanson, in famous Fredericksburg. There, with some additional aid in mathematics and French, he was prepared for college. In the fall of 1833, he was admitted to the junior class of Bristol College, on the Delaware, above Philadelphia, and at the end of the session gained one of the honors and was advanced to the senior class. Bristol College was a manual labor institution, under Episcopalian auspices, and Mr. Minor found the experience gained in its carpentry department useful in after life.
His father was now willing to trust him at the University of Virginia, which both preferred, and he matriculated the next session of 1834-'5, and continued there three years. During these he obtained distinctions and diplomas in a number of the schools, including his favorite, moral philosophy and political economy, and commenced the study of law. In 1836, Professor Charles Bonnycastle offered him the position of principal of an academy in Baton Rouge, La., but he declined it. When, however, that professor proposed to him to live in his family and teach his children a few hours each day, this was readily accepted, for it did not take him away from the University. Moreover, he was fond of teaching, and was already engaged in Sunday School work. He also took an active part in the Washington and Jefferson Societies and represented one of them at a public celebration in Charlottesville, on the 22nd of February. In 1837 the Society of Alumni was formed, and he became a member of it. His collegiate course of five years was finished at venerable William and Mary, in 1837-'8. There he obtained another diploma in moral and political science under its distinguished president, Thomas R. Dew, and the degree of LL. B., under Judge N. Beverly Tucker, and also a license to practice law. But not being of "lawful age," he spent the next year in writing in the office of the clerk of the circuit court of Fredericksburg and attending sessions of the legislature and other things in Richmond.
In October, 1840, he settled in Petersburg and commenced the practice of his profession, also taking some part in the exciting presidential campaign. In the spring of 1841, he removed to Richmond. May 26, 1842, was married to Virginia Maury Otey, eldest child of the Right Rev. James Hervey Otey, Episcopal Bishop of Tennessee.
His literary tastes were very decided, and in July, 1843, he purchased The Southern Literary Messenger, and owned and edited it for more than four years. In 1845, he purchased from Dr. William Gilmore Simms his Southern and Western Magazine, of Charleston, S. C., and merged it in the Messenger. In 1845, he was a delegate to the Memphis Convention, over which Mr. Calhoun presided, and was one of its vice-presidents, and introduced the Maury Warehousing System. In the summer of 1847, he disposed of his periodical, and removed to Staunton, Va., to take charge of "The Virginia Female Institute," to which he had been urgently called, without any solicitation. But the trustees had made such flattering offers to induce his acceptance that they had not the means of fulfilling them. So he voluntarily resigned, returned to Richmond, and resumed the practice of law, which literature and education had destroyed. To help the law, he founded and fathered "The Home School for Young Ladies," but did not teach in it.
While engaged in practice, he wrote for some law journals and edited a new and complete edition of the Reports of Chancellor George Wythe, with a memoir of him, and a new edition of Hening and Munford's Reports of the decisions of the Supreme Court of Virginia.
In Richmond, Mr. Minor was called to various positions in which he endeavored to be useful. He was warden and register of St. James church and its delegate to the Diocesan Council; the corresponding secretary of the Virginia Bible Society; the secretary of the Virginia African Colonization Society, of which the Governor was president; one of the founders of the Richmond Library Company, and of the Male Orphan Asylum; the chief revivor of the Virginia Historical Society, and a life member of it; the originator, through that society, of the movement which led to the erection of the Washington Monument; one of the directors of the Richmond Anthenæum, and lieutenant-colonel of the Nineteenth Regiment of Virginia Militia, one of the city regiments.
In the summer of 1860, he was elected president of the University of the State of Missouri, which made him also professor of moral and political science, and was installed October 2d of that year. He completed the session of 1860-'1, and began that of 1861-'2 continuing even while the University buildings and grounds were occupied by Federal soldiers. It was the unanimous decision of the faculty that such continuance was their duty, that "the seed corn might not be destroyed." But the curators who had elected President Minor were removed by the provisional State authority, then in power, and new ones of the "loyal" stripe appointed, who, in March, 1862, closed the institution, "discontinued" the faculty, and stopped their salaries. President Minor was allowed to occupy for a short time his residence on the University campus, and was then turned out by military authority.
The only ground of complaint against him was his political opinions. These were well known at the time of his election, and he could not change them, and never attempted to conceal them. He remained near Columbia with most of his family, now a large one (two of his sons being in the Confederate army) until the end of the four years for which he had been elected, teaching a boys' school and delivering illustrated lectures on astronomy in Columbia and other towns, with great success. His illustrative apparatus was purchased for him by that noble gentleman, Elder J. K. Rogers, president of Christian College.
In September, 1865, leading citizens of St. Louis invited President Minor to open in that city a boarding and day seminary for girls, which he did. They liberally aided him in his outfit and sent him their daughters. Four years later he suspended this school by an arrangement with one of his chief competitors, and for a time was engaged in the business of life-insurance, but finally devoted himself to lecturing on astronomy and the Bible. In this work he was seconded by every prominent educational institution in Missouri, and many in other States. His tours were made in seven or eight States besides Missouri, and included a part of Virginia, In Leadville, Colorado, he achieved one of his most brilliant successes, a splendid comet being visible at the time; and stars are so bright in Colorado. These lectures were enlarged and improved successors to some which were given free in Staunton. They were entitled, "Evenings with the Stars and the Bible," and were fully and finely illustrated by means of a sciopticon. From two to six were offered at one place. The same places were frequently revisited. On one occasion eight of these entertainments were given in the same town in Missouri.
In 1889, Professor Minor was constrained by personal and family considerations to return to Richmond, where he at present resides, engaged in literary work and as secretary of the Virginia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, and sometimes its delegate to the National Congress, Sons of the American Revolution. In 1891, the State University of Missouri conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL. D., which was especially gratifying, as it afforded a complete vindication of his past career there and elsewhere. As above stated, he was already an LL. B. of William and Mary.—The Nat. Cyclop. of Amer. Biog., Vol. VIII., p. 184. New York: J. T. White & Co., 1898.— Virginia School Journal, June, 1904.