thornton sills

Thornton-Sills House
637 West Main St.

Bet you didn’t know about Hannah and Michael Valentine, house slaves of Governor David Campbell in Abingdon, Virginia, and the governor’s niece, Virginia Campbell, who was raised by the governor and his wife!!  It’s quite a story!!

Virginia, a devoted Christian, believed that these slaves should be able to read the Bible.  She spent her Sunday afternoons teaching Hannah and Michael to read, and it’s all recorded in a diary of her young adulthood published in the early 20th century by her daughter.

In a letter dated February 25, 1860—written in this very house—Virginia Campbell Shelton tells to her brother – William Bowen Campbell,  Tennessee governor, unionist and congressman – that the old servants “Michael and Hannah desire to come to us.” Although she is reluctant to take on this responsibility (her uncle had recently died), she will do so if her brother approves.  Did Michael and Hannah make the journey from Virginia?  It’s not known.

What is known is that this unpretentious little cottage was the President’s Home.  It was built by Rev. William Shelton, second president of the Baptist Female College, and his wife Virginia Campbell Shelton.  In that same letter of 1860, Virginia wrote to her brother that they were “pleasantly situated in our new home.”  Rev. Shelton was a highly regarded Baptist minister and educator.  He came to Brownsville from Union University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 1855.  Rev. Shelton remained in Brownsville, serving both as the pastor of Brownsville Baptist Church and as President of the College, throughout the Civil War.  His career continued in Jackson and Nashville.  He was the first president of the Southern Baptist University (1876) and the president of Ewing College (1878).

This Greek Revival, one-story brick cottage, covered with a hip roof, features a corbelled brick cornice, an entrance portico topped with a railing, segmental lintels, and shouldered architraves around the front door which is enclosed with rectangular head and side lights.

College Hill Historic District