(b. Spencer County, Ky., Nov. 11, 1825; d. Atlanta, Ga., Dec. 2, 1902). Pastor, educator, home mission secretary. The son of James and Margaret (Bennett) Tichenor, he was a descendant of Martin Tichenor, said to have been of French extraction, who took the oath of allegiance at New Haven, Conn., in 1644 and was later one of the settlers of Newark, N. J. Martin’s great-grandson Daniel, grandfather of Isaac, moved from New Jersey to Kentucky in 1790. At the age of 15 Isaac entered Taylorsville Academy, where he was under two able teachers, Moses and David Burbank, graduates of Waterville College, a Baptist school in Maine, and there received good training. An attack of measles, however, ended his schooling and left him with infirmities which troubled him for a long time. When he was sufficiently recovered, he engaged in teaching in a neighborhood school and was for three years connected with the Taylorsville Academy, as principal the last year.
In the meantime, at the insistence of local Baptists, he had begun to preach (licensed Dec. 19, 1846, at Taylorsville, Ky.), and his effectiveness soon won for him the title "boy orator of Kentucky." In 1847 he accepted an appointment as agent for the American Indian Mission Association, and while traveling about in its interest he was called as pastor of the Baptist church in Columbus, Miss., where in 1848 he was ordained. He served there until1850, then preached in revivals in Texas, was in charge of the church at Henderson, Ky., for a little over a year, and on Jan. 1, 1852, began a 15-year pastorate at the First Baptist Church, Montgomery, Ala. There he joined in the movement to establish a Southwide seminary in Greenville, S. C., and in 1860 preached its first commencement sermon. For a year during the Civil War he served as chaplain of the 17th Alabama Regiment-not confining himself strictly to his prescribed duties, for he acquired reputation as a sharpshooter and at the Battle of Shiloh went to the front of his regiment and rallied the wavering lines. Briefly in 1862 he was with Bragg’s army as a missionary of the Domestic Board, and the next year took part in creating the Greenville Sunday School Board. In 1863 he became one of the owners of the Montevallo Coal Mining Company in Shelby County, Ala. As its president, in 1867 he began to make geological surveys of what later became the Birmingham mineral region, prophesying the coming greatness of that section of the state. He was one of the first in Alabama to mine coal scientifically with the use of steam machinery. In 1868 he resigned his church in order to devote himself to these material interests, feeling that such a move was in the best interest of the state. The death of his wife, however, caused him to change his plans and return to the active ministry. He accepted a call to the First Baptist Church, Memphis, Tenn., in 1871, but the next year returned to Alabama to be the first president of the State Agricultural and Mechanical College, located at Auburn.
During the 10 years that he served as head of this institution, he laid a broad and firm foundation for its subsequent development. He studied the agricultural, mineral, and manufacturing resources of the state, and in his many addresses awakened its people to a greater appreciation of them. He foresaw the industrial development which has since taken place and labored to prepare the way for it. Throughout this period he continued to maintain a position of leadership among the Baptists of the South, and in June, 1882, he resigned his collegiate position and became secretary of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the headquarters of which had recently been moved to Atlanta, Ga.
For 17 years he carried on the work of that office with a statesmanship that resulted in great constructive achievements. His leadership virtually saved the Southern Baptist Convention; he stemmed the current that was turning Southern Baptists toward the Northern society (the American Baptist Home Mission Society of New York) and turned it back, strong and bold, toward the Convention; inaugurated extensive work west of the Mississippi; spend about $100,000 on Texas and held the state to the Southern Baptist Convention; developed a definite plan of co-operative support of home mission work through regular giving; established a church building department; originated and sustained Sunday school literature until it was ready to go ahead on its own power under the Sunday School Board organized in 1891-in the face of opposition from the more aggressive and better equipped American Baptist Publication Society of Philadelphia; and made the South a base for world missions. He inaugurated work on the island of Cuba, enlarged the program for Negro education, initiated educational projects in the mountain regions, dealt with problems created by growing industrial centers, and encouraged women’s work and Indian missions. In July, 1899, he retired from the chief responsibility of the home mission work and was made secretary emeritus. His health soon began to fail, and, after prolonged suffering, he died at Atlanta.
Dill, Jacob Smiser. Issac Taylor Tichenor, the home mission statesman, 1908.
Williams, Michael Edward. "Issac Taylor Tichenor: the contributions of a nineteenth-century denominationalist to the preservation and extension of the Southern Baptist Convention," 1993.
Archival sources in Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives
Compere, Ebenezer Lee. Papers, 1852-1945. AR. 2.
Tichenor, Issac Taylor. Collection, Southern Baptist Convention. Home Mission Board. Minutes, 1875-1962. MF 5700.