Prisoners Cried When Wayland Died

Dan Graves, MSL
Prisoners Cried When Wayland Died

Francis Wayland lay desperately ill. On Thursday evening, September 28, his oldest son took his hand and asked, "Do you know me, father." Francis opened his eyes which seemed filled with affection and answered, "Yes." But when a younger son arrived from out of state Friday morning, Francis neither opened his eyes nor gave any sign that he heard his boy speak to him. On this day, September 30, 1865, a Saturday evening at twenty minutes to six, the family were gathered at his bedside.

His daughter saw that his body showed signs of change and laid her hand gently on his cheek. Francis' eyes fluttered open. He took in the sight of his loved ones with complete consciousness, closed his eyes and died.

A long and productive life was over. Through the greater part of his seventy years, Francis Wayland was both a notable Baptist preacher and outstanding educator. If you have been given the option of choosing elective classes in college or in high school, remember that he was a pioneer in electives.

Born in New York City, Francis studied at Andover Theological Center and became a Baptist minister. He served for six years at the First Baptist Church, Boston, and became known for effectual sermons which brought his listeners to repentance and conversion.

Leaving the Boston church, Francis became a professor at Union College and then accepted the position as president of Brown College. He would be there eighteen years, sometimes called the school's "golden years."

Although head of this seminary, Francis distrusted seminaries. "The tendency of seminaries is to become schools for theological and philological learning and elegant literature, rather than schools to make preachers of the Gospel," he said. He was determined that his school not drift with that tide. He himself led in worship and delivered sermons to his students, urging those who were not converted to get right with God.

Francis did not see seminary training as the sole ticket to pastoring. "I was said to be opposed to ministerial education because I held that a man with the proper moral qualifications might be called to the ministry by any church and be a useful minister of Christ and that we had no right to exclude such a man because he had not gone through a nine or ten years' course of study. God calls men to the ministry by bestowing upon them suitable endowments, and an earnest desire to use them for His service." These views led him to establish flexible entrance requirements.

He founded the free library of Wayland, Massachussets and won legislation that allowed towns to support public libraries with tax money. After his retirement, he sometimes preached. In his last public sermon, given just days before he died, he urged his listeners to be faithful followers of Jesus. He prayed with them. On his way home, he remarked to the man escorting him that "we do not pray enough; we lack faith in God."

Francis was also involved in prison work and made such a deep impression on the state prisoners that the prison chapel was filled with sobs when the chaplain announced that he had died.


  1. Cathcart, William. Baptist Encyclopedia. Philadelphia : L. H. Everts, 1881, source of the portrait.
  2. Patterson, W. M. "Wayland, Francis." Dictionary of Baptists in America. Editor, Bill J. Leonard. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994.
  3. Wayland, Francis and Wayland, H. L. A memoir of the life and labors of Francis Wayland, late president of Brown university, including selections from his personal reminiscences and correspondence by his sons, Francis Wayland and H. L. Wayland. New York, Sheldon and company, 1867.

Last updated June, 2007

Originally published April 28, 2010.