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FROM DAYS PAST...Religious Leader and Educator of the mid-1800s

April 10, 2011

For Starkville Daily News
Dr. Thomas G. Sellers left an indelible mark on religion and education in Oktibbeha County.  As a youth his young Aunt Caroline Gulledge who prepared him well for college tutored him.  He entered Union University in Murfreesboro, TN in 1851 to study for the ministry and was graduated with honors in 1856.  That year he became the preacher for the Baptist Church in Athens, AL where he remained for about a year.  Then Starkville became his home.  He served as president of the Starkville Female Institute.  A major purpose of the Institute was to promote the education of females; however, males also attended
 Dr. Thomas G. Sellars came to Starkville in 1857 where he was an educator for more than 20 years and served as pastor of the First Baptist Church for 31 years (not consecutive). For a number of years he taught at the Male Academy located in the vicinity of Borden’s on Montgomery Street.  He gave it up with the intent to cease teaching.  However, the citizens of Starkville in 1870 determined to establish a Female Institute, and elected him to the presidency of this new enterprise.  The institute grew in influence and popularity until it became one of the leading female colleges in East Mississippi.
 During his presidency of the Institute, he was all the while preaching for neighboring country and village churches.  About the year 1891, educational work in Starkville assumed such a shape that it did not seem advisable to him to continue longer at the Institute, therefore he sold the Institute property to the city of Starkville and turned his back on the school room forever.  The First Baptist Church pastor resigned and the church decided that none could be found so good as Sellers so he returned to pastor in 1893 to his death in 1899.
 He met his wife Mary Elizabeth Crenshaw in Athens, AL and they moved to Starkville where they had three children who grew to adulthood, two other children who died in accidents and two who died of natural causes.  The second son, James Freeman Sellers, was born in 1862 as his father was marching to the Second Battle of Manassas.
 It may have been the hardships of the War, the deaths of her children, childbirth or delicate health, but whatever, Mary died on November 28, 1870.  She was buried in a small cemetery at Starkville Baptist Church at the age of 34.
 Many years later, the congregation built an addition over the graveyard.  At this time, they wrote Seller’s widow, Sallie Washington Crenshaw who was Mary’s younger sister and asked permission to use the land where Mary and three of her children and two of Sallie’s daughters were buried.  According to another daughter’s remembrances, Sallie considered the building a fitting monument for her family. 
Sallie came to Starkville to attend the girls‚Äô academy and was living with her brother‚Äďin-law, Sellers and his wife Mary.¬† When the Civil War broke out, Sallie had to leave school.¬† Mary died in 1870 and Sallie married Sellers before the New Year.
 Before the War, Dr. Sellers was openly opposed to slavery and succession.  But when Mississippi seceded from the Union, Sellers joined the confederate army as a soldier, not as chaplain.
 At the end of the Civil War, Sellers took the oath of allegiance and worked hard to make Reconstruction as peaceable as possible in Starkville. 
Slaves attended his church with their masters before emancipation.  However, after the War, the Baptist Church in Starkville separated into two churches, divided by race.  Some of his former slave parishioners petitioned Dr. Sellers to pastor in their church on Sunday afternoons.  After Mississippi State Agricultural and Mechanical College was opened, Dr. Sellers took turns with other Starkville ministers at preaching to students. 

Dr. Sellers’ Address to the Graduating Class of 1888

Young ladies of the Class of 1888, your schoolwork is done and you appear before us for the last time in that character.  This is a busy age.  Everybody is in a hurry too busy for reflection.  The present is the all-absorbing theme.  No one cares to look into the future much less to take time for retrospection.  Tis sometimes wise to talk with our past thought and ask them what report they have borne to heaven and how they might have borne more welcome news.  There is an old story.  That a beggar met a most beautiful and angelic being with her hands filled with rich treasures.  He stood and looked on with stupid wonder and surprise as she passed slowly by and with beseeching eyes seemed to urge him to partake of the blessings.  At length she passed away out of sight.  The beggar eagerly pursued her but to no purpose.  Meeting a traveler he asked him if he had seen a beautiful being pass that way with hands filled with what I need.  Yes, replied the traveler.  Her name is opportunity and being once rejected she never returns.  Human life is made up precious moments, opportunities golden in proportion as we reach forth our hands and gather the sparkling treasures.  The years of school life may be compared to a sick vintage of opportunities.  If you have acted wisely and gathered the most luscious and choicest clusters they will add freshness and vigor to your life when youth and vigor shall have passed away.  You have passed through a harvest of opportunities for mental culture, wealth far transcending the gold of Ophim or the gems of Golconda.  What reception have you given the fair goddess?  Have you accepted, the treasures and are you rejoicing in these possessions.  As the sowing so shall the harvest be.  The mind like its divine author is capable of endless expansion.  You have only tasted of the refreshing waters.  If you desire it this stream like that from the smitten rock will fall on you wheresoever you go whether upon the rugged mountains of affliction or on the valley of peace or prosperity.  As healthful food is essential to physical growth so is proper literary nourishment to intellectual culture.  Read but be careful as to the character of your reading.  No one can estimate the value in dollars and cents of good books.  Study nature in all her wondrous forms.  Listen to her sublime teachings.  Gather information from every source; but test it in the crucible of a sound judgment and enlightened reason.
 Education means something more than intellectual training.  It means self-culture, restraint over our appetites and passions.  He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.  God has created us for nobler purposes than mere selfishness.  “No man liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself whether we live unto the Lord and whether we die we die unto the Lord.  You have had opportunities for making others happy.  How many a teacher’s heart has been made to rejoice through the faithfulness and consecration of the duty of his students.  Have you striven to make your teachers happy; can they as they retrospect your relations with them recognize your faithfulness and consecration to duty as oases in the dessert of life.  Can your classmates and their testimony to your uniform show acts of kindness and gentleness.  I think I hear the affirmative response as I look into their faces tonight as they listen to your earnest words.  Woman’s opportunities for doing good are peculiar to her sex and in these spheres of life for which infinite wisdom has designed her.  Not upon the hosting in the crowded forum nor in the legislative halls nor in the bustling jostling activities of life to which he has assigned the other.
 Silent influences are the most powerful.  In the great sphere of domestic life woman renders to society her noblest most blessed service.  A service whose worth cannot be estimated in terms of current money.  Her position of queenly power in that sphere must ever be carefully guarded.  I would have you young ladies lose no opportunities for becoming bright stars in the galaxy of science, art, painting and music and above, I would have you to seek for opportunities to become angels of mercy assimilated to the likeness of the Master, a blessing to the race.  At the same time I would have you with all the powers you possess turn away from a class of your sex who are seeking to gain preeminence at this time.  Strong-minded women.  Advocates of Woman’s Rights so called.  You go forth tonight to join another band who through the past years have stood where you stand tonight.  They are scattered throughout our sunny land filling positions of trust and usefulness and in their varied spheres of life are starting trains of influence for the results of which eternity alone will reveal.  Starkville Female Institute is justly proud of her alumna.  Copy the example of the good who have gone before you.  Be true and godly women ever pressing forward in the path of duty.  May the richest blessings rest upon you. 
Members of class of 1898 were Beulah Anding, Summit, MS; Florence Anderson, Blue Mountain, MS;Louise Askew, Sardis; Constance Bowles, Belzona; Mary Wyatt Gregory, Silver Creek; Mollie Hamblett, Coffeeville; Ellie Hayme, Olive Branch; Mittie Horton, Pittsboro; Ruth Jones, Sardis; Willie Lynch, Collierville TN; Maggie Merritt, DeWitt, AR; Nora Seab, Hamburg; Rsa Stokes, Canton; Ada Sellers, Starkville; Bert Thompson, Blue Mountain; Laura Thompson, Blue Mountain; Nan Turley Arkabutla 
Joyce S. Hammett, maternal grandmother Anna Eliza Hale Gottseelig was 1st cousin to Dr. Thomas G. Sellers, Remembers.

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