Tolbert Fanning

Tolbert Fanning, early leader of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Tennessee and the South, was born in rural Middle Tennessee in an area that later became Cannon County. Converted to the Disciples in Alabama in 1827, Fanning attended and graduated from the University of Nashville in 1835. There he came under the influence of Philip Lindsley and Gerard Troost. While a student at the university, he preached throughout Middle Tennessee. Although baptized by a “Stoneite” preacher, Fanning came much nearer Alexander Campbell's rationalistic approach to religion; he established “Campbellite” churches in Franklin and Murfreesboro, among other places. Besides reading Campbell's Christian Baptist and Millennial Harbinger, Fanning traveled to New England and Canada with Campbell.

Early in his career, Fanning became interested in editing and publishing both religious and secular journals. The Christian Review (1844-48) became his first publishing effort. In 1855 he issued the Gospel Advocate, a paper he continued until the Civil War and reissued with the aid of his former student David Lipscomb after the close of the conflict. With his preaching and writing, Fanning became one of the leading Disciples in Tennessee and the South.

Influenced by Troost, Fanning also became interested in all phases of agriculture and geology. In 1840 he was one of the founders of the State Agricultural Society and a principal editor of its journal, The Agriculturalist, a position he continued for six years. Fanning introduced a number of farm animals into Tennessee, including the Morgan horse. He was among the first in the state to encourage scientific agriculture. Fanning also made numerous teaching trips with his students throughout the South, where they studied the region's flora and fauna along with geological formations. For one year (1847), he published The Naturalist, a scientific journal.

As a result of his interest in agriculture, he established Franklin College on his farm on the grounds of present-day Nashville International Airport. Patterned after Benjamin Franklin's philosophy of practical education, the manual labor school allowed each student to study subjects in the classroom and put the ideas into practice on the farm. Contra Franklin, however, each student also studied the Bible as a part of the curriculum. The school continued until the Civil War. After the conflict, the school was set to reopen, but a fire destroyed the buildings that housed the school.

Suggested Reading

James R. Wilburn, The Hazard of the Die: Tolbert Fanning and the Restoration Movement (1969)

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Tolbert Fanning
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date May 25, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018