Title: Captain, Revolutionary War; clergyman
Birthdate: September 22, 1762
Death Date: May 22, 1824
Plot Location: Section 112, First Baptist Church plot
Born in Virginia, Henry’s parents moved when he was young to South Carolina. As a teenager he witnessed the birth of the new nation and wanted to be a part of it. Tradition says he was a captain but what role he played is uncertain. Writing about himself, he said his family had a Presbyterian background but he aligned himself with Baptists and practiced being a preacher by delivering fiery sermons to the troops.
In 1785 Henry was invited to become pastor of a little Baptist church along Pike Creek on the South Carolina-Georgia border halfway between Augusta and Savannah. He was ordained later in the year, and married Francis Tanner in 1786. As the church grew, so did his reputation, so he was appointed to the South Carolina convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution in 1788.
He then served some churches near the coast before pastoring a church in Beaufort in 1795, where he founded Beaufort College. Today it is the University of South Carolina Beaufort. The Holcombes moved in 1799 to Savannah to lead a small group in establishing the very first Baptist church in that city in 1800.
With unrelenting zeal the pastor grew his vision for the city, starting an academy, an orphanage for girls, a missionary society, and publishing a magazine. In 1810 Henry was recognized for his efforts with an honorary degree from Brown University in Rhode Island, which was then a Baptist college.
His health forced him to make a change, so in 1811 he accepted the pastorate of First Baptist Church of Philadelphia. Of the four children born to Henry and Francis, only a daughter, Sarah, lived to adulthood; she married and remained in Savannah after her parents moved north.
During his tenure in Philadelphia, the concept of a “Sunday School” was implemented at the church in 1815, although it wasn’t original; the first Sunday school in Philadelphia was started by the Presbyterians one month earlier. After a brief illness, Rev. Holcombe died in 1824 and was buried in the church graveyard at 218 Arch Street.
The church relocated to Broad and Arch Streets in 1852, but had to decide what to do with the old burial ground. After several years the trustees purchased Section 112 at Mount Moriah Cemetery so the remains (numbering more than 2000) could be moved there. Unfortunately, they asked the city’s permission in late 1859, and the health department gave them just 90 days to accomplish that task. Doing so was complicated by the time of year, the middle of winter, when the ground was frozen. It was discovered in 2016 that most of the remains were never moved. Forensic anthropologists extracted what they could and have until September 2023 to reinter them here.
This obelisk in the middle of Section 112 was erected in 1884 to pay tribute to all the pastors of First Baptist Church dating back its founding in 1698.
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