Southern Seminary acquires historic Broadus papers off eBay

Communications Staff — February 7, 2008

Several folders of original material authored by John A. Broadus more than 100 years ago were recently added to the archives of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Broadus (1827-1895) served as Southern’s first professor of New Testament interpretation and homiletics and was the institution’s second president. Southern already housed a substantial collection of Broadus’ papers, including the original manuscript of his classic book, “On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons.” But according to Jason Fowler, Southern’s archives and special collections librarian, the new papers will help researchers understand Broadus more fully.

“We already have a substantial collection of Broadus material,” Fowler said. “Having these items in the archives makes it easier for researchers to access various
collections of Broadus materials in one place.”

Southern acquired the new materials when Don Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at Southern, saw them for sale on eBay, an Internet site where people buy and sell various items. Whitney notified Gregory A. Wills, professor of church history and director of the Center for the Study of the Southern Baptist Convention at Southern, of his find.

“When I looked at the photo of the letters, I saw that it was indeed Broadus’ handwriting, and I grew excited about the possibility of acquiring these for the seminary that Broadus gave his life to establish,” Wills said.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southern Seminary president, said the addition to the papers serves as a reminder of the depth of the Broadus legacy.

“This really is an historical achievement for us,” Mohler said. “It is restoring a part of Dr. Broadus’ legacy through the institution he served and helped to found. It means a great deal to us to have these materials. Just looking at them, touching them, reviewing them, reminds us of the greatness of this man and the length of his legacy.”

The seller stumbled across the papers by accident when she bought some glassware at an auction and discovered letters and manuscripts in the bottom of one of the boxes.

The collection, which probably will be called the Broadus-Mitchell Family Papers, includes material created by Broadus as well as materials written by his daughter, Alice Broadus Mitchell, and her husband. The portion authored by Broadus consists of letters, sermons, clippings and pamphlets.

The bulk of the letters were written to Broadus’ wife, Charlotte, or to Alice.

“Most of the letters written to Charlotte appear to be unpublished,” Fowler said. “They span from 1866 to 1874.”

Two of the most interesting manuscripts in the collection are a sermon composed by Broadus but not written in his hand and the manuscript of what Broadus thought would be his first public address. The speech was scheduled to be delivered to the Berryville (Virginia) Total Abstinence Society, but rain caused the address to be cancelled. The sermon is significant because most of Broadus’ sermons include only notes without full illustrations.

Wills and Fowler agreed that the new papers mark an important addition to the seminary’s Broadus collection.

“They are part of the heritage of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,” Fowler said. “These are papers that were created by Southern’s second president, one of the founders of this institution. They shed further light on Broadus’s life and thought.”

The papers, Wills said, “add to our understanding of Broadus’s life and work, and afford more depth and texture to our knowledge. They include some fine examples of his character and labors.”

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