Thomas Meredith, the son of John and Charlotte Meredith, was born in the township of Warwick, near Doylestown, Bucks County, Pa., on the 7th of July, 1795. He was the eldest of eight children. His father was a member of the Baptist Church, and was distinguished for a great thirst for knowledge, an uncommonly amiable temper, and earnest piety. His mother was educated in the Society of Friends, and was remarkable for her ambition and energy,—traits to which he is said to have been indebted for his collegiate education.
He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied the liberal arts and law. Meredith was a gifted student with a promising legal future, though the direction of his life changed when he was converted in the middle of his university years at age nineteen. Subsequent study of Scripture led him to Baptist convictions. Meredith was baptized by William Staughton, pastor of the Sansom Street Church in Philadelphia and later founding president of Columbian College. Staughton, a native of England, was present when a group of pastors that included Andrew Fuller and William Carey established the Particular Baptist Missionary Society in 1792. Staughton privately tutored Meredith in theological studies, which was common practice in the early nineteenth century.
The Sansom Street Church licensed Meredith to preach in late 1816 and about a year later he was employed by a missionary society based in Edenton, North Carolina. Meredith united with the newly formed Baptist church in Edenton, which ordained him to the gospel ministry in 1818. Meredith spent about two years preaching all over eastern North Carolina as a home missionary. During this period, Meredith was befriended by an older pastor named Martin Ross, who was one of the earliest leaders among North Carolina Baptists. Meredith married Georgia Sears of New Bern in 1820. The Merediths were blessed with eleven children during the course of their marriage, though three did not survive infancy and a son named John died at the age of seventeen.
Meredith's first pastorate was the New Bern Church, which he founded in 1819 after preaching in the area for about six months. Meredith served the church for two years. In 1822 Meredith became pastor of the Baptist church in Savannah, Georgia, where one of his predecessors was William B. Johnson, a leader in the Triennial Convention and the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Meredith returned to Edenton to pastor the Baptist church in that city in 1825, remaining in North Carolina for the final quarter century of his life. Meredith served the Edenton Church until 1835, when he accepted a call to return to the New Bern Church, where he served until 1838. The New Bern Church was in the unique position of being both the first congregation Meredith pastored and the last church he served as pastor.
Meredith was one of the fourteen men who founded the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in 1830. When the organizational meeting was held in Greenville in 1830, it was Meredith who provided the delegates with the initial draft of what became the convention's constitution. He was also commissioned by the convention to write a circular letter to explain the rationale for a state convention to all interested North Carolina Baptists. At various times, Meredith served the state convention as president, vice-president, and secretary. He also frequently preached at the convention's annual meeting.
In 1834 a group of North Carolina Baptists formed the Wake Forest Institute just North of Raleigh. Meredith, who was likely the only Baptist minister in the state with a classical education when he first moved to North Carolina, was one of the loudest voices calling for a state Baptist college. He declined an invitation to become a professor of mathematics and moral philosophy at the school, though he served Wake Forest as a trustee for many years, including a term as board president. Meredith recommended Samuel Wait, his successor as pastor of the New Bern Church, as the first president of the Wake Forest Institute. Meredith's educational concerns extended beyond Wake Forest. For several years in the mid-1830s Meredith served on a state convention committee advocating the education of women, though no action was taken at the time. A Baptist college for women was finally established in 1891; the school was renamed Meredith College in 1909, in honor of Thomas Meredith.
In 1833 Meredith established the Baptist Interpreter, which was a monthly periodical published for North Carolina Baptists. It was the first Baptist paper published in the state. In 1835 Meredith began editing a weekly journal called the Biblical Recorder, which within a few months had completely replaced the Baptist Interpreter. The Biblical Recorder became the unofficial denominational organ for Baptists in both North and South Carolina and was read widely all over the Baptist South. In 1838 Meredith relocated to Raleigh, where he continued to edit the Biblical Recorder until his death.
Meredith was plagued by perennially ill health, spending the final twenty years of his life as a virtual invalid. His health had so declined by 1838 that he did not take another pastoral charge after relocating to Raleigh. Meredith joined the Raleigh Baptist Church, preaching the dedication sermon for the church's new sanctuary, which was completed in 1840. With no pastoral responsibilities, Meredith was able to focus his full attention on editing the Biblical Recorder during the final decade of his life.
Meredith died of an diagnosed stomach condition in 1850. He was fifty-six. North Carolina Baptists grieved the passing of such an influential denominational leader. Meredith's funeral service was held at the Raleigh Baptist Church. The pastor of the Raleigh Church, Thomas W. Tobey, preached the memorial sermon from Hebrews 4:9, "There remaineth, therefore, a rest for the people of God" (KJV). Tobey later served as a missionary to China, where he worked alongside the famed missionaries J. Lewis Shuck and Matthew Yates. Other Christians also honored Meredith upon his death; a choir from the Presbyterian Church in Raleigh performed a hymn at Meredith's funeral and the church's pastor, a Rev. Lacy, offered a prayer. Georgia Meredith outlived her husband by over two decades, living until 1872.
Meredith was buried in the Raleigh City Cemetery, where North Carolina Baptists erected a monument in his honor. Some of the leading Baptists in North Carolina and other parts of the South wrote letters to the Biblical Recorder, testifying to Meredith's Christian character and his influence upon Baptist work in the state. But those in ministry know that there is perhaps no greater testimony to the character and usefulness of a minister than the sincere gratitude of the churches he has served. Upon learning of Meredith's passing in 1850, the New Bern Church passed a resolution that was subsequently published in the December 7 issue of the Biblical Recorder.
Resolved, That while we bow with humble submission to the will of our Heavenly Father in this afflictive dispensation of his providence, we cannot but feel that we mourn the loss of one, who by his distinguished abilities, by his zealous and long-continued labors as a minister of Christ and an earnest defender of the faith, by his many private virtues, and by his sincere christian [sic] piety, has occupied a position of great usefulness in the Church, so much so as to make his departure from us a loss which must be deeply felt both by the denomination with which he was connected, and by the State and Christian public generally.
Surely contemporary North Carolina Baptists will agree that this is a fitting tribute to "the ablest man who has yet appeared among us."
Elder Thomas Meredith married Georgia Sears of New Bern, NC, daughter of Captain George Sears (deceased) and Mary Polly James, and stepdaughter of William Henry Hancock. Georgia was reported to be one of the most beautiful women in North Carolina, and Rev. Meredith called her "the only perfectly beautiful woman I ever saw". (Meredith himself seems to have been a remarkably handsome man.). They were parents of 11 known children, 3 of whom died in infancy. Georgia Sears Meredith and 7 of his children survived him at his death.
Claudia Meredith Tolson