Early Years and the Civil War
Corey was born on December 12, 1834, in New Canaan, New Brunswick, the son of Gardner Corey, a farmer, and Elizabeth Humphreys Corey. Raised in the Baptist faith, he attended a seminary in Fredericton. In 1854 Corey matriculated at Acadia College (later Acadia University) in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. There he learned about the English abolitionist movement, a revelation, he stated later, that prepared him for his life’s work as an educator of freedpeople. He graduated with a BA in 1858 and then enrolled at Newton Theological Institute (later Andover Newton Theological School), near Boston. In 1861 Corey received both a divinity certificate from Newton and an AM from Acadia. He was ordained on September 18 of that year and became pastor of First Baptist Church in Seabrook, New Hampshire.
Early MinistriesIn January 1864 Corey joined the United States Christian Commission, founded in 1861 by the Young Men’s Christian Association to minister to soldiers and sailors during the Civil War. As a delegate in Indianola and Brownsville, Texas, and in Port Hudson and Alexandria, Louisiana, he distributed supplies and reading materials and preached in Union camps. Corey returned to New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada during the summer of 1864 to recover his health. That autumn the commission sent him to Morris Island, South Carolina, where he continued his ministry among the soldiers and also took charge of Wentworth Street Baptist Church, in Charleston, until May 1865. Corey described his experiences in a series of letters that were published in Saint John, New Brunswick, in the Christian Visitor under the pseudonym Viator. He returned to Seabrook, where he married Fannie Sanborn on August 26, 1865. They had two sons.
After the war Corey became affiliated with the American Baptist Home Mission Society, which had committed itself to educating and ministering to the new freedpeople in the South. The society sent Corey back to Charleston in September 1865. There he spent two years organizing churches for African Americans, raising money for new buildings, and ordaining ministers throughout South Carolina. In November 1867 Corey moved to Augusta, Georgia, where he took charge of the recently established Augusta Institute (later Morehouse College), which operated under the aegis of the National Theological Institute and University, an organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., and also devoted to providing a Christian education for former slaves. Corey remained at Augusta until July 1868, when he was transferred to Richmond, Virginia, to manage the new seminary there.
Richmond Theological Seminary
In 1867 the National Theological Institute and University had opened a school for black ministerial students in Richmond. Corey’s predecessor, Nathaniel Colver, held classes inCorey and his wife taught classes at the school, which in 1876 was incorporated as the Richmond Institute. His duties as president also included developing the curriculum, raising funds, and preaching. Although intended primarily to train young men for the ministry, the institute also offered a general education for students, including women until 1883, at a variety of levels. The rapid growth of Baptist churches organized by African Americans, coupled with the desire to train missionaries for service in Africa, increased the need for a school devoted solely to ministerial education. In 1882, recognizing the institute as a leading center for black Baptists, the American Baptist Home Mission Society determined that Richmond would be the best location for such training, and on February 5, 1886, the Richmond Institute became the Richmond Theological Seminary. Corey continued as president. During a leave of absence in 1890 he visited Egypt, Palestine, and several European countries in an effort to recover from poor health. , a former holding cell of a . Corey arrived in Richmond in September 1868 and the following month began teaching day and evening classes for more than 120 students. In May 1869 the American Baptist Home Mission Society took responsibility for the developing theological school, popularly called the Colver Institute in honor of its first superintendent. Corey arranged for the purchase of a former hotel in January 1870, and he and the students spent several months repairing the building for use as their permanent facility.
In 1896 Richmond Theological Seminary joined with Hartshorn Memorial College, a nearby school for women, to incorporate as Virginia Union University. Still usually known by its former name, the school soon began negotiating to absorb Wayland Seminary, a Baptist institution in the District of Columbia. Corey pursued the merger, which the institutions had accepted by May 1897. The arrangement was formalized in February 1900 with the school’s reincorporation as Virginia Union University.
Continued ill health forced Corey to resign late in 1898. He was named president emeritus. During his thirty-year presidency about 1,200 students received their education at the seminary, including more than 530 who prepared for the ministry. Corey attracted donors who provided money for endowed professorships, a scholarship fund, and expansion of the library. He wrote two histories of the seminary, Historical Sketch of the Richmond Institute (1876) and A History of the Richmond Theological Seminary, with Reminiscences of Thirty Years’ Work among the Colored People of the South (1895). In recognition of his work, Corey received honorary doctorates in divinity from Richmond College (later the University of Richmond) and Baylor University in 1881 and from Acadia University in 1892. Toronto Baptist College (later McMaster University) honored him with a courtesy recognition in 1884.
While staying at his summer house in Seabrook, New Hampshire, Corey died of Bright’s disease on September 5, 1899. He was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in that town.
Historical Sketch of the Richmond Institute (1876)
A History of the Richmond Theological Seminary, with Reminiscences of Thirty Years’ Work among the Colored People of the South (1895)