Morgan Edwards (1722-1795), prime mover in the founding of Brown University, was born in Wales on May 9, 1722, of Episcopalian parents. Early in life he chose the Baptist religion and was educated at Bristol Academy under the Reverend Bernard Foskett. He then preached for seven years to a small congregation in Boston, Lincolnshire, while continuing his theological studies with celebrated Baptist scholars Samuel Stennett, Thomas Llewelyn, and John Gill. On June 1, 1757 he was ordained pastor of a Baptist church in Cork, Ireland. He arrived in Philadelphia on May 23, 1761, having been entreated to take the place of Reverend Jenkin Jones, recently deceased, as pastor of the First Church of Philadelphia, which was composed mostly of Welsh people. Edwards was an educated man. He read the Old and New Testaments (which he called the “two eyes of a minister") in Hebrew and Greek. It was Morgan Edwards, who, as Moderator of the annual meeting of the Philadelphia Association on October 12, 1762, made the motion for the establishment of a Baptist college, for which cooperation was pledged by some of his colleagues, but not by all – in his own words from his Materials for a History of the Baptists of Rhode Island, “The first mover for it in 1762 was laughed at as the projector of a thing impossible. Nay, many of the Baptists themselves discouraged the design, prophesying evil to the churches in case it should take place, from an unhappy prejudice against learning.”
In February 1767 Edwards left for England and Ireland to solicit funds for the college. His efforts were hampered by news from America of opposition to the Stamp Act and of American manufactures of cloth. He wrote to President Manning on April 26, 1768, “My patience, my feet and my assurance are much impaired. I took a cold in November, which stuck to me all winter, owing to my trampoosing the streets in all weathers.” Nevertheless, his accounts show that he raised 888 pounds, 10 shillings, and 2 pence sterling. Among the contributors were Thomas Penn, Thomas Llewelyn, Samuel Roffey, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin West (the painter), Thomas and Timothy Hollis, and Hugh and Caleb Evans of Bristol.
His wife, formerly Mary Nunn of Cork, Ireland, died in 1769. She had somehow foreseen the time of her death. Edwards now recalled a dream he had fifteen years earlier and became convinced that he would die the next year – so convinced, in fact, that he preached and printed a sermon entitled “A New Year’s Gift; a sermon preached in this house, January 1, 1770, from these words, This year thou shalt die.” The year expired, but Morgan did not, thereby diminishing his credibility. A Quaker minister named Pemberton had an explanation for this, namely, that the year was not to be that of Edwards’s death but of the death of his ministry. That was what happened – he resigned his pastoral office and did not preach again, although he lectured or read sermons. He moved to Newark, Delaware, in 1772. At the start of the Revolutionary War he was loyal to the king, but on August 7, 1775 signed a recantation of his statements. His son, William Edwards 1776, who as a pupil in Manning’s Latin School had been allowed to pronounce a piece from Homer at the 1770 Commencement, became a colonel in the English army and later drowned on his way to Cork from Bristol, England. Another son, Joshua, at the age of eighteen served in the American Navy in 1782 as surgeon’s mate on the Duc de Lauzon. In 1780 Morgan Edwards moved to the property of his third wife, the widow of a wealthy proprietor in Delaware. He died at Pencader, Newcastle County, Delaware, on January 28, 1795.