Institutional Figures

Phase One covers the lives and influence of 19th-century leaders Jeremiah Bell Jeter, Robert Ryland, and James Thomas, Jr., reflecting recent research that provides a fuller understanding of their roles at the institution and in the Baptist church, their professional roles and accomplishments, and their roles in enslavement.

The Institutional Figures section will expand as the site extends to later eras of our history. Other institutional leaders, as well as faculty, students, staff, and individuals who have strengthened the institution, helped it achieve important milestones, or represent key part of the University’s history, will be added in future phases.

more Information
Jeremiah Bell Jeter

Jeremiah Bell Jeter (1802-1880) was a Baptist minister and a founding trustee of the Virginia Baptist Seminary and Richmond College, where he was later president of the Board of Trustees. A prominent Baptist leader, he served as pastor of First Baptist Church and Grace Street Baptist Church in Richmond and as senior editor of the influential Religious Herald. An enslaver himself, in his role as editor, Jeter publicly advocated for enslavement and promoted views of white racial superiority.

Robert Ryland

Robert Ryland (1805-1899), a Baptist minister, was the principal, steward, and an instructor at Virginia Baptist Seminary, the first president of Richmond College and its Board of Trustees, and a professor of moral philosophy and other subjects at Richmond College. He also served as pastor of First African Baptist Church in Richmond and as a visiting minister to numerous congregations. An enslaver, he “hired out” some that he enslaved to the seminary and Richmond College, oversaw institutional use of enslaved labor, and offered theological and economic defenses of enslavement.

James Thomas, Jr.

James Thomas, Jr. (1806-1886) was a tobacco magnate and Baptist lay leader. He was a founding member and later president of the Richmond College Board of Trustees and a benefactor of Richmond College and the Richmond Female Institute. His generosity allowed Richmond College to reopen following its financial devastation in the Civil War. In his extensive tobacco enterprise, Thomas was a large-scale enslaver and exploiter of leased enslaved men, women, and children.