This section includes resources related to Bishop John Fletcher Hurst and his family, the founding of American University .
Bishop John Fletcher Hurst was the founder of American University. He was born on August 17, 1834 to Elijah and Ann Catherine Colston Hurst in Dorchester County, Maryland. His family historically owned enslaved people to work on their farms. When Hurst was 15 years old, his father passed away. Since Elijah Hurst’s will was likely destroyed in a fire, the full details of his inheritance are unknown. However, John Fletcher Hurst’s biography and Maryland land records indicate that he inherited two enslaved individuals and Weir Neck farm from his father. In 1858, Hurst authorized the manumission of Tom King, who was one of the enslaved individuals he had inherited from his father. According to the records, Tom would be freed from slavery when he turned 21 years old in 1862.
Hurst attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1850. After graduating in 1854, he began teaching in Greensboro, Maryland. Hurst spent the summer of 1856 studying German in Carlisle, and then traveled to Germany where he enrolled as a theology student at the University of Halle and Heidelberg. Hurst returned to America in 1857 and entered the Methodist ministry. He was appointed to a pastorate in Irving, New Jersey in 1858.
In 1859, he married Catherine Elizabeth La Monte of Charlottesville, New York with whom he eventually had five children. In 1863, Hurst sold Weir Neck farm. In 1866, he accepted an invitation to become a theological tutor at the Methodist Mission Institute in Bremen, Germany and received his Doctorate of Divinity from Dickinson College. Hurst returned to the United States in 1871 to serve as the chair of Historical Theology at Drew Seminary in Madison, New Jersey.
In 1880, Hurst was ordained Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1888, Hurst became resident bishop for Washington, D.C. When he began his assignment in Washington, D.C., Hurst began searching for a site to establish a graduate Methodist University. In 1890, he secured land owned by the Davis family, and historically owned by the Addison and Murdock families, to serve as the site of American University. 1891, Hurst became Chancellor and the University was incorporated in Washington, D.C. In 1893, American University was established by act of Congress. Hurst died in his home in Bethesda, Maryland on May 4, 1903.
The American University Archives and Special Collections holds Bishop John Fletcher Hurst's journals and scrapbooks.
A limited number of scanned materials from the Bishop John Fletcher Hurst Papers are accessible in the AU Digital Research Archive (AUDRA).
Most census data and cemetery records were gathered through Ancestry.com's database. American University students can access the Ancestry database through their AU Library account.
The Dorchester County Court Records and held by the Maryland State Archives. Listed below are records of bills of sale related to Elijah Hurst and Emily Hurst from the Dorchester County Court Chattel Records. One of the records found in the Dorchester County Court Manumissions includes John Fletcher Hurst's manumission of Thomas King.
The AUDRA holds scanned copies of documents related to purchasing property for American University. The archive also includes images of land the Murdock-Davis house, which was located on land purchased for the university.
The AUDRA holds scanned copies of documents related to American University's founding and early history. These resources address securing funding for American University, groundbreaking of the College of History, ceremonies.
Listed below are links to American University's Act of Incorporation and early publications of the University Courier. Links for the University Courier are located on the Internet Archive.