Erastus Milo Cravath

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Erastus Milo Cravath (1833–1900) was a field secretary with the American Missionary Association (AMA) after the American Civil War, who helped found Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and numerous other historically black colleges in Georgia and Tennessee for the education of freedmen. In addition, he served as president of Fisk University for more than 20 years.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Erastus Milo Cravath was born July 1, 1833 in Homer, New York to Orin Cravath, of French Huguenot ancestry. The senior Cravath was one of three men to form an abolition party in Homer, and he also used his house as a station on the Underground Railroad. As a boy, Erastus grew up in a household devoted to the abolitionist cause and aiding refugee slaves.[2][3] It was a time and place of progressive causes.

Cravath first studied at the local common school, then Homer Academy. He went on to study at Oberlin College, graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1857, and earning a master's in divinity in 1860. After devoting much of his adult life to religion and education, in 1886 Cravath earned a Doctor in Divinity degree at Grinnell College.[3]

In September 1860 Cravath married Ruth Anna Jackson, who was from a family of Quakers from Pennsylvania and England.


Cravath became a pastor in the Congregational Church of Berlin Heights, Ohio, in what later became part of the United Church of Christ. He was an abolitionist. He entered the Union Army in December 1863, serving until the end of the war, including campaigns in Franklin and Nashville, Tennessee.[2]

By October 1865, Cravath had returned to Nashville. He became a Field Agent of the American Missionary Association (AMA), and worked to establish schools in the South for freedmen. He purchased land for the Fisk School, which he cofounded in 1866 with John Ogden, superintendent of education for the Freedmen's Bureau in Tennessee; and the Reverend Edward Parmelee Smith, also of the AMA. It accepted children and adults both for classes in various subjects, including reading, writing, and math. Within the first six months, the number of students climbed from 200 to 900.[4] Using Fisk as his base, Cravath also started freedmen's schools at Macon, Milledgeville and Atlanta, Georgia; and at various points in Tennessee.[2]

In September 1866, Cravath became District Secretary of the AMA in Cincinnati, Ohio. By 1870, he had been promoted to Field Secretary at the AMA office in New York City.[2]

In 1875 Cravath returned to Fisk University as its president. He spent the next three years abroad touring with the Fisk Jubilee Singers to raise funds for the college. For more than 20 years, he led Fisk University, helping it through its growth and building campaign of the 1880s, and the steady expansion of education initiatives.[2]

Cravath lived in St. Charles, Minnesota in his last years, where he died in 1900.[3]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Richardson, Joe (1980). A History of Fisk University, 1865-1946. University, Alabama: University of Alabama Press. pp. 2–4. ISBN 0817300155.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Personal Sketches: Rev. Erastus Milo Cravath", The American Missionary, Vol. 48 (2), Feb 1894, Making of America, Cornell University Library, accessed 3 Mar 2009
  3. ^ a b c Richard D. Sears, Camp Nelson, Kentucky, Lexington, Ky: University Press of Kentucky, 2002, p. 347.
  4. ^ Reavis L. Mitchell, Jr.,"Clinton Bowen Fisk", The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2002, accessed 3 March 2009.