Tolbert Fanning

The Life of Tolbert Fanning

        Tolbert Fanning was born in Cannon County, Tennessee on May 10, 1810. He was the son of William and Nancy Bromley Fanning. Not much is known of his early years, but in about 1818 the family moved to Lauderdale County, in Alabama’s most northwest section. There, he attended a school on Cypress Creek, operated by Ross Houston, the brother of Alabama Governor George S. Houston (1808-1879). By 1824, the Christian movement was established on the creek, with James E. Matthews and Ephraim D. Moore leading the group.
         In the fall of 1826, a young preacher by the name of B.F. Hall came into the region teaching a doctrine of salvation, different to what they had been preaching. He taught that the gospel must be obeyed, and that when they were baptized, they would be relieved of the guilt of their sins. While preaching one night, the sixteen-year-old, Tolbert Fanning, responded to the invitation. The following morning, October 1st, James Matthews baptized him for the forgiveness of his sins in Cypress Creek.
         Within three years, Tolbert Fanning was preaching occasionally in different locations. He was passionate about his beliefs, and was greatly desirous of opportunities to share the gospel. On one occasion early in his ministry, he was in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where he witnessed a brother selling one of his black slaves, who was also a Christian. Fanning had, early in life, been convinced that the institution of slavery was ungodly. The following day, he preached at the East Main St. church of Christ on the ungodly practice of slavery in America. His preaching was met with great anger by most of the church. It was agreed that Tolbert Fanning would never preach for that church again. The year was 1830; thirty-one years before the country would be embroiled in civil war over the issue.
         The following year, he had his first debate in Nashville, Tennessee with the local Presbyterian minister, Obadiah Jennings. Jennings had debated Alexander Campbell a couple of years earlier. The subject was on baptism.
         Fanning moved to Nashville in January of 1832, where he entered the University of Nashville, in search of a law degree. The following summer, he went to Kentucky, and traveled with Alexander Campbell through the state, preaching and evangelizing. He graduated at the end of the school year, 1835. During the summer, he traveled through Kentucky again with Alexander Campbell. In the fall, he married Sarah Shreve of Nicholasville, Kentucky. They were married, but three days before she was overcome with a fatal illness. Twelve days later, she went to be with the Lord. Though in grief, he continued to preach throughout the region. The following year, he married English born, Charlotte Fall. As a side note, she was the sister of Philip S. Fall, a gospel preacher who, preaching for the Baptist Church in Nashville a few years previous, converted the whole congregation to New Testament Christianity, and thus founding the church of Christ in that city. Tolbert was twenty-six and Charlotte was twenty-seven.
         With the marriage of Tolbert and Charlotte Fanning, education of young people quickly became their life’s greatest passions. Between 1837 and 1839, they conducted a female academy in Franklin, Tennessee. Later, in 1840, they moved to Elm Crag, in southeast Nashville, (the property is now the location of the international airport). Immediately, they opened another female academy that continued for another two years. In 1843, they expanded their operations to include a boys agricultural school that continued for two years. The school was unique, in that the students earned their education through daily working a farm.
         Perhaps, the Fannings are best known for establishing Franklin College. Beginning in January 1845, this college was where men like William and David Lipscomb, Elisha G. Sewell, and T.B. Larimore received their training. The school continued until the beginning of the Civil War, when all the students left to join the Confederate Army. The school resumed in the fall of 1865, only to have the main building burn to the ground a few weeks into the term. Providentially, a girl’s college that existed just a few hundred yards from Franklin College was purchased. The school became known as Hope Institute. Franklin College began conducting classes at Hope Institute and continued several years.
         In addition to being an educator, Tolbert Fanning was a writer. He enjoyed a wide range of research, and it translated into writing in a number of different fields of interest. His interest in farming and raising cattle led him to edit a paper called the Agriculturalist from 1840-1845. It served as the official journal of the Tennessee state agricultural association. He also edited a religious paper called the Christian Review from 1844-1847. However, the magazine he is best known for is a paper he began in 1855 called the Gospel Advocate. Other than a few years during the Civil War, the paper has continued for over 150 years, and perhaps has been the single greatest influence in the churches of Christ in the southern United States. Subsequent editors of the magazine involve a veritable who’s who in restoration history, some of which were David Lipscomb, H. Leo Boles, B.C. Goodpasture, and F. Furman Kearley. Today the magazine continues under the editorship of Neil Anderson, and the paper is still a strong voice for soundness in the Scriptures. Everyone should subscribe to and read the Gospel Advocate.
         In the spring of 1874, Fanning suffered an accident when a prize bull gored the six-foot, six-inch farmer/preacher. He was immediately put to bed. After a week or two, he began to get out of bed and walk around the property again. During one walk, he over-exerted himself, feeling a tear inside. He went back to bed, never to arise. The following Sunday morning, May 3rd, at 11:30 am, he passed away. Today his remains lie in the family plot in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville. Only eternity will reveal the great good that has been done for the cause of Christ by Tolbert and Charlotte Fanning.

-Scott Harp, web editor,, 06.2011

Chronology On The Life Of Tolbert Fanning






Parents of Tolbert, William And Nancy Bromley Fanning marry


April 10

Charlotte Fall is born near London, England to a prominent family. She later becomes Tolbert’s second wife


May 10

Birth in Cannon County, Tennessee



Charlotte moved with family from London, England to Logan County, Ky. Her mother dies shortly after their arrival, and father soon followed, leaving Philip S. Fall, her older brother, to raise she and her siblings (10 in all)



Family moves to Lauderdale County, Alabama



Andrew Jackson (A.J.), brother of Tolbert, born


Oct. 1

Baptized by James Matthews after hearing the preaching of B.F. Hall on Cypress Creek, Lauderdale County, Alabama


Oct. 1

Left home to began preaching. Area of early work: Tenn. and Ala./19 yrs old.



Preached sermon rebuking Christian slaveholder, who had broken up a family by selling slave. Arrested, tried, and acquitted.



Early preaching in Alabama and Tennessee



Has a debate with Obadiah Jennings, the preacher of the Presbyterian church in Nashville. (A. Campbell had debated him in 1829). Hazzard, p.30


Oct. 1

Begins preaching full-time



Entered University of Nashville.



Tolbert travels with A. Campbell on tour thru Ohio & Kentucky



Baptizes 17 in Franklin County, Tenn. Begins church there



Graduated From University of Nashville



Accompanied Alexander Campbell on preaching tour thru Kentucky and other points east. – Spent extensive time with J.T. Johnson – In Perryville, Ky, he conducted his first debate with a Methodist minister named Rice (not N.L. Rice)



Made trip to and preached around Georgetown, KY


November 5

Marries Sarah Shreve daughter of land owner, William Shreve of Nicholasville, Ky.


November 8

Sarah comes down with a fatal illness.


November 20

Sarah Fanning dies.



94 Day trip accompanying Campbell on longer tour through Western Reserve of Ohio, New England states, and into Canada. Fanning delivered address in Boston which was published as tract. Visited Campbell's home at Bethany, Va. (Campbell was 55 yrs, and Fanning was 26)



Wrote that he estimated the church of Christ to have 100,000 members.


Dec. 22

Married English born, Charlotte Fall, sister of P. S. Fall. Friend Philip Lindsley, teacher at University of Nashville presides. (Tolbert is 26 years old, Charlotte is 27) (J.E. Choate reported that it was December 25th, GA 2005, 07.34)



Established "Female Academy" at Franklin, Tenn.



Establishes a church in Jackson, Mississippi



In Nashville, meets with fellow agriculturalists, organizing the Tennessee Agricultural Society. Becomes its first recording secretary. Begins editing a paper of the society called, The Agriculturalist


Jan. 1

Moved to farm, Elm Crag, near Nashville.



Opened a school for girls, similar to one in Franklin – continued for two years


Aug. 18

Formed with other agriculturalists and mayor of Nashville a Silk Society.



He teaches a Female Seminary (Ecclectic Institute for Young Ladies) at Elm Crag.



Editor of Agriculturalist, official journal of state agricultural society, which Fanning had helped found.  Franklin, p.22



Debate with Edward McMillon, Presbyterian.


Oct. 14,15

At the state fair, he took first place cups for his heifer calf and bull calf, as well as his stallion—Cleveland Bay



Planted church in Russellville, Alabama – Over 100 baptisms. During 6 month tour that took them into Columbus, Miss. and other places, over 200 were baptized all together.



Participated in first "cooperation meeting" held in Tenn. Continued to support such meetings through the 1840's



Started an agricultural school for boys at Elm Crag with 12 students (continues thru 1844)



He estimated the church of Christ to have 300,000 members



2nd Debate with Edward McMillon, in Moulton, Alabama



Debated N. L. Rice, Presbyterian, in Nashville, (He regretted debating him, as he felt Rice was doing it just to ready himself for the Campbell debate later in the year in Lexington, Ky.



Began publishing monthly religious journal, Christian Review.



Made a tour to eastern states. All the way to Boston, Mass. then back through to Cincinnati, OH., thru Kentucky and home



Established Franklin College at Elm Crag. College continued in operation until outbreak of Civil War. Average attendance: 100-130.



A.J. Fanning, Tolbert’s brother was first graduate of Franklin College with B.A. Later would come back to teach at college



D.S. Burnett starts the Bible Society, and Fanning gives support to it


January 1

New paper started, The Naturalist, in Nashville. It was a science mag. Tolbert was the editor of the Agriculture section.



National Committee for evangelism appointed



Last Issue of Christian Review



Christian Review superseded by Christian Magazine, edited by Jesse Ferguson (co-editors were B.F. Hall & T. Fanning) Yet in the life-time of the paper he only contributed 6 articles.



Endorsed Cincinnati meeting which organized American Christian Missionary Society (October 23). Did not attend Cincinnati meeting.



Debated Mr. Chapman, Methodist, in Lebanon, Tennessee – 5 day discussion



Helped organize Tennessee Evangelizing Association (a state missionary society). Served as its first Corresponding Secretary.



New Nashville church building completed



After April issue of Christian Magazine, Jesse Ferguson became involved in bitter controversy with Campbell. Results: (1) Ferguson left church and went into Spiritualism and Universalism,(2) church in Nashville was nearly destroyed.



Began publication of Gospel Advocate, with William Lipscomb as co-editor. Opposed missionary societies. Gradually brought majority of Tennessee churches to this point of view.



Enters controversy with Robert Richardson



Nashville church building burns – Ferguson parties blamed



Delivered address at 10th annual American Christian Missionary Society convention in Cincinnati. Declared that Tenn. churches opposed Society, but added, "We are one people."



Outbreak of Civil War. Fanning opposed Christians' participation.



American Christian Missionary Society adopted resolution favoring the North. Fanning was embittered, and it appeared in writing in the November issue of GA



Last Issue of Gospel Advocate until after Civil War



Gospel Advocate & Franklin College Interrupted



Drafted appeal to President of Confederacy requesting that members of churches of Christ be exempt from military service.



Home of Tolbert Fanning burns to the ground


Oct. 2

Franklin College Re-opens – within a few weeks the main building burns destroying everything, including W.D. Carnes’ library ($30-$40 thousand worth in flames (not insured)



Gospel Advocate resumed publication. David Lipscomb: co-editor. Fanning led in calling a "consultation meeting" of southern Christians to survey condition of church following Civil War. Refused to invite northern Christians. Wanted no "hasty religious reconstruction."



Hope Institute Chartered after school burns.



Charter obtained for Peace College


July 3

Last tour to Alabama and Mississippi



Attended a debate in Gallatin, Tn between David Lipscomb and Baptist G.W. Griffin



Attended a debate in Franklin. Tn between T.W. Brents and Methodist, Jacob Ditzler



Published Religious Historian.


May 3

Died after attacked by bull a few weeks earlier. His brother-in-law Philip S. Fall, preached his funeral the next day. Buried under the protective trees of Hope Institute

Franklin = Franklin College and its Influences, ed. James E. Scobey, c.1954, Gospel Advocate Company
Hazzard = Hazzard of the Dye, James R. Wilburn, c.1969, R.B. Sweet, Co., Inc.

Tolbert Fanning Historical Marker

In the summer of 2003 a historical marker was set up on the property where Franklin College once stood, where the Fannings were originally buried. It is now land used for the airport in Nashville. However the beautiful marker located on the southeast corner of Vultee Blvd. & Briley Pkwy. is a tribute to the work of Tolbert and Charlotte Fanning. I visited this site with David Decker August 7, 2003 while returning to Atlanta from Henderson where we paid respect to the family of the late Dowell Flatt.

GPS Coordinates Of Historical Marker
Accuracy To Within 17'

View Larger Map

Tolbert Fanning

In 1844, noted educator, evangelist,
and agriculturist Tolbert Fanning
started Franklin College, a liberal
arts school near this site where boys
farmed to cover tuition. In 1855 he
co-founded the Gospel Advocate, a
religious journal. Fanning's wife,
Charlotte Fall, began Fanning Orphan
School for girls in 1884. Their aim
was to put education within
the "reach of every youth."

This Was Erected By The Historical Commission Of Metropolitan Nashville And Davidson County
No. 113; Erected 2003

Located At The SE Cnr. of Vultee Blvd. & Briley Pkwy, Nashville, Tennessee

Three Burial Locations

Initially, the final resting place of Tolbert Fanning was on the back of the old Elm Crag property where the home and Franklin College existed, at the southwest corner of Briley Parkway and Vultee Pike. See Historical Marker. Twenty-two years later Charlotte died, and his body was exhumed and buried with his wife at the front of the property. In 1940, the Airport Authority in Nashville purchased the property. Today one of the airport runways of the International Airport lays on top of the old farm and campus. 

Tolbert and Charlotte Fall Fanning are now buried in the Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Nashville Tennessee. The cemetery is located at 1101 Lebanon Pike, Southeast of downtown Nashville. Click over to Mt. Olivet for map and location of the grave in the cemetery. This is the third location for the remains of Tolbert Fanning and the second for Charlotte. They are buried in Section 25 - Lot #56. Be sure to see map for directions in the cemetery. MAP

GPS Coordinates
Accuracy To Within 16'

View Larger Map


Charlotte Fall Fanning


The sister of Philip S. Fall, Charlotte was the second wife of Tolbert Fanning. She was a very intelligent Christian woman, who believed in education. She and her husband, Tolbert were one of the greatest known husband/wife teams of the Restoration Movement. One prized book in my collection is The Life Of Charlotte Fall Fanning, written by Emma Page, who was the wife of T.B. Larimore. It was a brief biography on her life, but also recorded articles that Charlotte had written. Both Charlotte and Tolbert are buried in the same grave.


See This Sketch On The Life Of Charlotte Fall Fanning


Borne April 10.1809           Died August 15, 1896
"She  Spent  Her  Life  In Training Girls For  Usefulness  And  In Doing
Good  She  Founded A  School  In  Which  Girls  Would  Be Taught The
Bible Daily, And Trained In The Domestic And Useful Callings Of Life.
'I Was Sick And You Visited Me.'     By Her Neighbors


Born May 10, 1810                       Died May 3, 1874

Two  Objects Were  Near  His  Heart - First, To Restore The Service

Of God To The Order God Gave In The New Testament. Second, To

Place  A  Good,   Industrial  And  Literary  Education  Within  Reach

Of  Every Youth.    He Labored To These Ends During His Life, And

Desired His Property Devoted To Them After His Death.  

See Four Biographical Sketches On Tolbert Fanning

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