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Edward B. Sellers

Edward Breathitte Sellers is the first known college graduate of color of Wheaton College and likely the first African American graduate in the state of Illinois. He appears in the 1860 census for DuPage county and is listed as a laborer born in Mississippi. His race is noted as white (whereas two other Sellers in Shawneetown, IL were listed as mulatto). The 1870 census for Suffolk County, Massachusetts (Sellers was a student at Andover Seminary) cites his birthplace as Illinois. When he matriculated to Wheaton College he listed Shawneetown, Illinois as his home. In the 1862 Wheaton College Catalog, he is shown to have entered the Collegiate program and is listed as a Freshman, previously he was enrolled in the preparatory program. That same year he joined the Beltionian Literary Society. Founded in 1856, the crimson-clad Belts championed the cause of “striving for the greater and better.” It was in the literary society that Sellers was able to hone his oral and written communication skills as he debated his fellow students on topics ranging from economics to ethics, such as the lawfulness of slavery. Sellers held leadership positions within the society and gained a reputation as “one of the leading disputants” on campus. 

During his junior year at Wheaton College, Sellers joined several of his classmates and heeded the call of the Union Army for “hundred-days men.” Sellers, along with his friends, enlisted May 18, 1864 in the 132nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. This regiment was organized at Camp Fry, Chicago, Illinois, and mustered in for 100 days service from June 1, 1864. and encamped and trained near Paducah, Kentucky - not far from his Shawneetown home. Sellers didn’t seem to have seen any skirmishes. He was mustered out October 17, 1864.

After his summer soldiering, Sellers returned to school and graduated in 1866, the sole graduate that year. With the help of Wheaton’s president, Jonathan Blanchard, Sellers moved to Boston and enrolled at Andover Theological Seminary. According to the above mentioned 1870 census, while a student he worked as a store clerk, living not far from Boston Commons and the Massachusetts State House. He is race is listed as "white"  born in Illinois in this census. He is listed in the junior class in the 1872 Congregational Quarterly. He earned his bachelor of divinity in 1874 and was ordained that November at the Congregational Church in Selma, Alabama. Afterwards, he was appointed by the American Missionary Association to a pastorate in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

After two years in this pastorate, Sellers’ life takes a twist and begins to become unclear. In 1876, he moved back to Boston for a year. From 1877-1883 he lived in Taunton and Worcester, Massachusetts. The 1880 census lists him as a black patient in the Taunton Lunatic Asylum suffering from "mania." This census lists his birthplace as Mississippi (he may have been born on Andalusia Plantation in that state). One record indicates that he died of “insanity” at 41 years of age on June 4, 1883 in Worcester.

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