William Mercer Green was the first Episcopal bishop of Mississippi, a position he held from 1850 until his death in 1887. He also participated in the founding of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and served as its chancellor from 1866 until 1887.
The Green family arrived in America in 1771 when Dr. Samuel Green of Liverpool, England, settled on the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, North Carolina. His son, William Green, became a wealthy rice planter and the father of William Mercer Green, who was born in Wilmington on 2 May 1798. William Mercer Green graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1818 and married Sally W. Snead of Williamsborough, North Carolina. After studying for the ministry, he became a rector at two North Carolina churches and then a chaplain and professor at the University of North Carolina from the 1820s through the 1840s. He received a doctor of divinity degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1845.
In 1850 Green was unanimously elected bishop of Mississippi. Although the Episcopal Church had been active in the area that became the state since the 1790s, Green became its first bishop. He began his tenure by traveling extensively and estimated that during his first year he logged more than 4,500 miles, preached 124 times, baptized 44 people, confirmed 106 people, and celebrated Holy Communion 25 times. Much of his work was as a missionary, bringing his message to communities that lacked Episcopal congregations. The first decade years of his episcopate saw the church grow steadily, as he completed the diocese’s organization, increased its resources, and undertook extensive pastoral efforts with his fellow clergymen. Green was well liked and highly respected by his contemporaries, and he and many other Episcopal clergymen welcomed instances in which African Americans joined whites in worship.
In 1857 Green and members of ten other dioceses across the Deep South sponsored the formation of a new university at Sewanee, Tennessee. Green suggested the name the University of the South and served for many years as a trustee of the institution. When Mississippi seceded in 1860, he participated in the organization of the Episcopal Church in the Confederacy and continued his ministry throughout the Civil War. After the conflict ended, he helped reorganize the Episcopal Church in the South to reincorporate it into the American Episcopal Church.
Green was named chancellor of the University of the South in December 1866 and moved to Sewanee, where he worked to raise funds to ensure the university’s survival. Green also continued to serve as bishop of Mississippi. In 1880 the Mississippi Diocese was granted an assistant bishop, and Hugh Miller Thompson assumed the post. In 1884 Green turned full charge of diocesan affairs over to Thompson but continued to supervise the diocese and travel in Mississippi. Green died in Sewanee on 13 February 1887 and was buried in Jackson, Mississippi.
- Arthur Benjamin Chitty Jr., Reconstruction at Sewanee: The Founding of the University of the South and Its First Administration, 1857–1872 (1954)
- Mississippi Historical Records Survey Project, Inventory of the Church Archives of Mississippi, Protestant Episcopal Church Diocese of Mississippi (1940)