Lee Compere (1790–1871)
Baptist missionary Lee Compere did missionary work with the Creek Nation in Georgia and Alabama. He later joined his sons in Arkansas and assisted them with their own religious work.
Lee Compere was born on November 3, 1790, in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, England, to John Compere and Grace Fox Compere. Orphaned at a young age, he was raised by a Baptist family and adopted their faith. On September 23, 1815, he married Susannah Voysey in London. Susannah was a relative of theologian and founder of Methodism John Wesley. She decided to become a missionary and to use her inheritance to fund her missionary work. On October 18, 1815, the Baptist Mission Society of England appointed the couple as missionaries to enslaved Jamaicans, and they sailed for Jamaica near the end of November.
When they found the climate dangerous to their health, the Comperes relocated to South Carolina in 1817. Susannah Compere had spent her inheritance in Jamaica to buy and free a number of slaves. In 1822, they accepted the call of the Baptist Convention of Georgia to establish a school at the Creek town of Tuckabatchee near the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers in the Creek Nation.
In May 1822, Lee and Susannah Compere opened a missionary school, Withington Station, thirty miles south of Montgomery, Alabama. This missionary effort began to encounter difficulty in 1825 when a group of Creek (Muscogee) leaders signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, selling large portions of Creek land to the state of Georgia. Compere denounced the transaction, and the Georgia Baptist Convention withdrew its support for him.
In May 1828, when Creek slaveholders who were angry at the missionaries’ abolitionist sympathies attacked Withington Station, the couple began making plans to move west. In 1829, they made an initial move to Montgomery, where they established another school and founded the city’s first Baptist Church.
In 1833, the Comperes moved to Benton, Mississippi, where Susannah died on September 6, 1834, after she fell ill while nursing the sick during an epidemic. Lee then relocated temporarily with the couple’s eight children to Paris, Tennessee, and in 1836 to Holly Springs, Mississippi, where he married Sarah Jane Beck.
In 1845, Lee and Susannah’s oldest son, Thomas Hechigee Compere, began a preaching career. By 1850, he had settled in Arkansas, where he was engaged in missionary work among the native peoples in western Arkansas and Indian Territory. In 1858–1859, Thomas’s brother Ebenezer Lee Compere visited him and decided to join him in his missionary work. In 1859, Ebenezer accepted a call from the Cherokee Georgia Baptist Convention to minister to the Cherokees and was appointed Superintendent of Missions and Foreign Missions Secretary for the Baptist Association of Western Arkansas and Indian Territory. From 1859 to 1862, he pastored a Missionary Baptist church at Charleston (Franklin County); he also built a Baptist church at Fort Smith (Sebastian County), pastoring it as he continued his missionary work.
Between 1850 and 1860, Lee Compere joined his sons in Arkansas, assisting in their missionary work and living with son Thomas, who moved to Navarro County, Texas, late in 1870. Lee Compere died in Navarro County on June 15, 1871, and is buried in the Hamilton-Beeman Cemetery at Retreat, Texas.
The Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, Tennessee, have a collection of Ebenezer Lee Compere’s papers documenting his pastoral and missionary work in Arkansas, and additional papers are held in the E. L. Compere Collection at the Arkansas State Archives.
For additional information:
Boykin, Samuel. History of the Baptist Denomination in Georgia. Vol. 1. Atlanta: Jas. P. Harrison & Co., 1881.
E. L. Compere Papers. Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas. http://archives.arkansas.gov/research/browse-archival-collections.aspx?id=2139 (accessed January 14, 2019).
Ebenezer Lee Compere Papers. Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee. http://www.sbhla.org/downloads/2.pdf (accessed January 14, 2019).
Flynt, Sean. “Lee and Susannah Compere.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1046 (accessed January 14, 2019).
———. “Lee Compere.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/m-2114 (accessed January 14, 2019).
Herndon, Dallas T. Centennial History of Arkansas. Vol. 3. Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1922.
Leavell, Z. T., and T. J. Bailey. A Complete History of Mississippi Baptists: From the Earliest Times. Vol. 1. Jackson: Mississippi Baptist Publ. Co., 1904.
Rogers, James S. History of Arkansas Baptists. Little Rock: Arkansas Baptist State Convention, 1948.
Wright, J. Leitch, Jr. Creeks & Seminoles: The Destruction and Regeneration of the Muscogulge People. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.
William D. Lindsey
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 01/29/2020