Benjamin Morgan Palmer

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Benjamin Morgan Palmer​​

(New Orleans Presbyterian pastor known for his defense of slavery and southern culture in a fiery Thanksgiving address in 1860)​

Benjamin Palmer of LA.jpg

Born January 25, 1818​​
Charleston, South Carolina, USA​​

Alma mater:​
Amherst College (Massachusetts)
University of Georgia
Columbia Theological Seminary (Georgia)

Died May 25, 1902 (aged 84)
New Orleans, Louisiana​​

Resting place:
Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans

Spouse Mary Augusta McConnell Palmer (married 1841-1888, her death)

Four daughters:
Mary Palmer Caldwell
Augusta P. "Gussie" Colcock
Kate Gordon Palmer
Maria Louisa Palmer

Benjamin Morgan Palmer (January 25, 1818 – May 25, 1902) was a Presbyterian clergyman from New Orleans, Louisiana who defended slavery and called in 1860 for secession from the Union of the southern states.

Biographical sketch

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Palmer in 1841 married the former Mary Augusta McConnell (1822-1888) in the capital city of Columbia, South Carolina. He was educated at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and the University of Georgia at Athens, from which he graduated in 1838. He also graduated in 1841 from the Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He received the honorary Doctor of Divinity in 1852 from Oglethorpe College in Brookhaven, Georgia, and the honorary Doctor of Laws in 1870 from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. He was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, first in Savannah, Georgia, from 1841 to 1842 and then Columbia, South Carolina from 1843 to 1855. He also taught from 1853 to 1856 at his alma mater, the Columbia Theological Seminary. He was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1856 until his death at the age of eighty-four in 1902.[1]

In 1860, Palmer's Thanksgiving sermon was a ringing defense of southern culture and ideals. Widely distributed across the region, the Palmer sermon defended slavery and called for secession. It influenced the decision for Louisiana to join the Confederacy. When Union forces occupied New Orleans in 1862, Palmer sent his wife and four daughters to her father’s plantation in South Carolina while he spent the remainder of the war preaching for the Confederate soldiers. Palmer also influenced history in another way. His address in opposition to the Louisiana Lottery is said to have doomed that institution, which disbanded in 1892. He was involved in the formation in 1901 of the Presbyterian Synod of Louisiana for which he was the first moderator. His writings include volumes of sermons and theological treatises and a biography of Columbia Seminary theologian James Henley Thornwell (1812-1862).[1] He worked to establish The Southern Presbyterian Review and Southwestern Presbyterian.[2]

Palmer established the Southwest Presbyterian Seminary, which was renamed in 1925 as Rhodes College and relocated to Memphis, Tennessee. On April 19, 2019, after more than a century, Palmer's name was removed from "Palmer Hall," and the building was renamed Southwestern Hall. In a bow to political correctness, the trustees ordered the name change based on a review by the Palmer College "Discernment Committee," which declared that … "the principal legacy of Benjamin Palmer … was found to be fundamentally at odds with our college vision."[3]

Palmer died in New Orleans twenty days after being struck by a streetcar and is interred there at Metairie Cemetery. Benjamin and Mary Palmer were the parents of Mary Palmer Caldwell (1847-1925), who was married to John Caldwell, the curator of Tulane University in New Orleans. The younger daughters were Augusta P. "Gussie" Colcock (1849-1875), Kate Gordon Palmer (1852-1871), and Maria Louisa Palmer (1856-1873). The Palmers outlived three of their four children.[2][4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Palmer, Benjamin Morgan. A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography: Louisiana Historical Association. Retrieved on April 18, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rev. Benjamin Morgan Palmer. Retrieved on April 18, 2020.
  3. Palmer Hall Discernment Committee Report. Rhodes College (March 2019). Retrieved on April 18, 2020.
  4. A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography uses sources for the article on pastor Palmer: from E. C. Scott, Ministerial Directory of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, 1861-1941 (reprinted edition, 1975); Thomas Cary Johnson, Benjamin Morgan Palmer (1906); Louis Voss, Presbyterianism in New Orleans (1931); Penrose St. Amant, History of the Presbyterian Church in Louisiana (1961).

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