north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
      John Haymes Mills, the founder of the Baptist Orphanage of North Carolina, was born in Halifax County, Virginia, on July 9, 1831, the son of John and Martha Haymes Mills. The Mills family prided themselves on proper education, and as a young man John Mills was sent to Wake Forest College, where he graduated with honors in 1854 with a bachelor degree. Mills remained at the school, receiving a master’s degree three years later.

      While completing his graduate studies, Mills taught at a private academy in Milton, then at Melrose Academy in Halifax County, Virginia, and finally at Oxford Female Seminary in Oxford, where he became the institute’s president in 1858 upon the retirement of Samuel Wait. Mills remained in charge of the Oxford Seminary through the Civil War, but was forced to sell the property in 1866 due to low enrollment and rising debts.

      In 1867, Mills purchased the Biblical Recorder in Raleigh. As chief editor, he was known for illuminating the sufferings of the rural poor within the state through his paper. Of particular importance to Mills were the orphans who had lost parents during the Civil War. When the Grand Lodge of Masons met in Raleigh in 1873 to decide the fate of several buildings at the then-defunct St. John’s College in Oxford, Mills pleaded with them to establish an orphanage on the site. The Lodge agreed and by 1874 the facility, the first orphanage in North Carolina, opened with Mills as the manager.

      In 1884 Mills resigned due to ill health and moved to a small farm near Thomasville. Later that year Mills, having recovered from his ailments, formed the North Carolina Baptist Orphanage Association and, against the wishes of the Baptist State Convention, began traveling the state in search of funds for a new facility for the state’s orphans. On January 12, 1885, he officially established the Baptist Orphanage of North Carolina near his farm in Thomasville. Within ten years he had opened a church and school at the site, as well as publishing the institute’s newspaper, Charity and Children. Mills died at his farm on December 15, 1898, and is buried in the Rich Fork cemetery near Thomasville.


References:
Bernard Washington Spilman, The Mills Home: A History of the Baptist Orphanage Movement in North Carolina (1932)
John Haymes Mills Folder, Baptist Historical Collection, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem
I. G. Greer, “John Haymes Mills,” Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, II (1958)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, IV, 278—sketch by John R. Woodard
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