A bishop in the Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church, Elias Cottrell cofounded Mississippi Industrial College in Holly Springs in 1906 and later served as the school’s trustee, general manager, and treasurer. Cottrell was born a slave on 31 January 1853 and grew up in Old Hudsonville, a few miles outside of Holly Springs. His parents were Daniel Cottrell and Ann Mull Cottrell. At the age of four, Cottrell was sold and separated from his mother and siblings. After the Civil War Daniel Cottrell educated his son, who went on to take theological courses at Central Tennessee College (later Walden University) in Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1880 Cottrell married Catherine Davis of Nashville, and they had one child. After his wife’s death in 1912 he named a campus building, Catherine Hall, after her. In 1917 he remarried, and his second wife, Alice, who was more than forty years his junior, bore him four more children. He was licensed to preach in the CME Church in 1875, ordained as a deacon in 1877, and named an elder in 1878. In 1894 he was elected as the denomination’s bishop. While in Tennessee, he served as a pastor of Mother Liberty in Jackson, Caper Chapel in Nashville, and Collins Chapel in Memphis. In 1895 he received an honorary degree from Rust College.
Before his election as bishop, Cottrell served as the denomination’s educating agent, book agent, and fraternal messenger to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Before establishing Mississippi Industrial College, he worked with several of the denomination’s educational endeavors, including Haygood Industrial School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Texas College in Tyler; and Miles College in Birmingham, Alabama. Cottrell also served as treasurer of the Mississippi chapter of the Negro Business League, and he was a well-known Republican. Cottrell died of a heart ailment on 6 December 1937.
- John Cade, Holsey the Incomparable (1969)
- G. P. Hamilton, Beacon Lights of the Race (1912)
- Alicia Jackson, “The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church and Their Struggle for Autonomy and Reform in the New South” (PhD dissertation, University of Mississippi, 2004)
- Othal H. Lakey, The History of the CME Church, Revised (1996)
- Frank Lincoln Mather, ed., Who’s Who of the Colored Race, vol. 1 (1915)
- C. H. Phillips, The History of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America (3rd ed. 1925)
- Olga Pruitt, It Happened Here: True Stories of Holly Springs (1950); US Census (1920, 1930)