Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Methodist bishop, was born in Rockingham County on August 24, 1829, the son of Richard and Martha Fitzgerald. He attended school until the age of thirteen, when he was sent to apprentice at the Lynchburg Republican in Lynchburg, Virginia. After six years as a printer’s devil, Fitzgerald returned home to attend to his mother when his father enlisted for service in the Mexican American War.
Original Date Cast:
Fitzgerald taught in several schools in Rockingham County to support his family. On his father’s return from the war, the young man moved to Richmond, Virginia. Fitzgerald continued to teach in Richmond schools, before moving on as an educator in private academies in Columbia, South Carolina and Macon, Georgia.
In 1853, Fitzgerald entered the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, by way of the Georgia Conference. He was stationed at Andrews Chapel in Savannah. The following year he married Sarah Banks, and soon afterwards the two left for California on a missionary assignment. In California, Fitzgerald became editor of the Pacific Methodist Advocate and the Christian Spectator. From 1867 to 1871 he served as state superintendent of education for California, and was instrumental in the establishment of the institution that became the University of California at Berkeley.
Fitzgerald moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1878 to become editor of the Nashville Christian Advocate. The official organ of the southern church, the paper had 25,000 subscribers. After twelve years at the post, he and Atticus Greene Haygood were elected bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
In addition to being an educator, editor, and Methodist bishop, Fitzgerald wrote twenty books. His first book, California Sketches, a memoir of his time in the state, appeared in 1878. He produced biographies on Thomas O. Summers, John B. McFerrin, and Augustus B. Longstreet.
Fitzgerald’s final years were spent as a professor of divinity at Vanderbilt University. He died on August 5, 1911 at Monteagle, Tennessee, where he is buried. He left a widow and several children. One of his sons later became a professor at Duke University.
Emory S. Bucke, The History of American Methodism (1964)
Elmer T. Clark, Methodism in Western North Carolina (1966)
William S. Powell, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 204-205--sketch by Grady L. E. Carroll
Albea Godbold, Methodist History (1968)