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Research on Robert Ryland

Robert Ryland (1805–1899), whose name adorns the oldest building on campus, dedicated his life to education and ministry. He essentially built what became the University of Richmond as the superintendent of the Virginia Baptist Seminary and then as the first President of Richmond College. A promiment leader in Virginia and pastor of the large First African Baptist Church, Ryland believed all people deserved equal access to bibilical teaching while at the same time he enslaved people and hired them out to Richmond College and others in the region. He was in many ways a paradox, embracing spirtual equality while rejecting racial equality.

The historical research team, led by Dr. Lauranett Lee, was charged with providing: 1.) a comprehensive biography of Robert Ryland, with particular attention paid to the ways that his academic and ministerial work intersected with enslavement; 2.) a determination of the degree to which he used the labor of those he enslaved, or the enslaved labor of others, in the running of the institution; and 3.) an overview of his contributions to a.) the formation of the University of Richmond, b.) Virginia Baptists, and c.) religious freedom in Virginia. The resulting report by Shelby M. Driskill, submitted with Dr. Lee, “A Season of Discipline”: Enslavement, Faith & Education in the Life of Robert Ryland, details Ryland’s role in building and sustaining what became the University of Richmond; his work as a minister at First African Baptist Church; his enslavement of men, women, and children; the profit he derived from hiring them to others, including the seminary/college that became the University; and the frequent use of the labor of enslaved people hired from enslavers or agents by the seminary/college that became the University.