James H. Otey, Christian educator and first Episcopal bishop of Tennessee, established the Anglican church in the state and organized its first parish churches. Born in Bedford County, Virginia, on January 27, 1800, he attended the University of North Carolina. Upon his graduation in 1820, he was appointed tutor in Greek and Latin at the school. Following his marriage to Eliza D. Panhill of Petersburg, Virginia, in 1821, he moved to Maury County and took charge of a boys’ school in nearby Franklin.
On returning to North Carolina to head the academy at Warrenton, he was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church and chose a career with the church. He became a deacon in 1825 and priest in 1827. He then returned to Franklin and organized the state’s first Episcopal Church in the Masonic Lodge there. He established several other churches and on July 1, 1829, organized the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee at Nashville. He was elected the first bishop in June 1833 and was consecrated at Christ Church, Philadelphia, the following January. Following his election, Otey also took charge of the Diocese of Mississippi and was missionary bishop for Arkansas and the Indian Territory. He traveled for months at a time across the extensive region, establishing new churches and preaching the Gospel.
Otey was fervently interested in Christian education and helped organize schools at Ashwood, Columbia, and Jackson. His dreams for a “Literary and Theological Seminary” for the region were realized by the establishment of the University of the South at Sewanee in 1857.
Otey lived at “Mercer Hall” in Columbia from 1835 to 1852, when he relocated to Memphis. He died there on April 23, 1863. After the Civil War, he was buried at St. John’s Church at Ashwood in Maury County.