Richard Fuller (1804-1876), known as the “Prince of Preachers,” delivered the first annual convention sermon of the Southern Baptist Convention; baptized Annie Armstrong, and preached at the height of the War Between the States where half of his church fellowship wore blue and half wore gray. He was Harvard-educated, a lawyer, and a slave-owning preacher who wanted to look at slavery “with a calm and impartial judgment” from a border state.
He was born in April, 1804, in Beaufort, South Carolina. His father, Thomas Fuller was converted the year before Richard was born and developed a Godly heritage into his family. Richard enrolled at Harvard in 1920 at the age of 16, and became one of the best students in his class. He developed tuberculosis and was forced to leave school, staying in Northampton, Massachusetts, the town made famous by Jonathan Edwards. Although he only attended Harvard for two and a half years, his academic standing with the faculty was so high that they voted to give him a degree with the class of 1824.
He was converted, ordained and called as pastor of the Beaufort Baptist Church where he served for 15 years. He excelled in debates and is most remembered for his debate published in the book Domestic Slavery Considered as a Scriptural Institution. It is said he cares for his slaves kindly and offered to free them to any reader who could give him “bond and security” that their condition would be improved. It is noted that he was “baptized in the river with several Negroes” and he lost some old friends because of this.
In 1847 Fuller accepted the pastorate of the Seventh Baptist Church in Baltimore. In 1871 the membership completed a new building to house a mission of which Fuller, himself, became pastor. He preached his last sermon at the Eutaw Place Baptist Church in 1876.
Fuller’s influence on Baptists nationally was enormous. He chaired the committee that established the constitution of the new denomination. He preached the first convention sermon in 1846 and was elected SBC president in 1859-60. In Baltimore he baptized such leaders as Joshua Levering and Annie Armstrong. During the Civil War, he and William Crane bridged the gap and held the ropes for foreign missionaries separated from the SBC Foreign Mission Board in Richmond by the fighting.
Fuller’s great gift was preaching. His voice is as “soft and gentle as the strains of an Aeolian harp,” according to his successor, W. T. Brantly, Jr, yet it was capable of ringing out “with trumpet power.” Descriptions of his force behind the pulpit still convey a sense of the awe and pathos he stirred in his hearers.
Material used in this biography was taken from:
You Are A Great People, by W. Loyd Allen
Historical files of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware
Archives of Baptist Life