1785 marked the year that Josiah Penfield was born to Nathaniel Penfield and Rachel Marquand in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Near the age of 14, he was apprenticed to his uncle, Isaac Marquand, in Savannah, Georgia. There he launched a successful career as a jeweler and silversmith. He was also well known for being an American merchant, civic leader, Baptist deacon and ultimately the philanthropist who wanted to contribute to the training of young men for the ministry. Penfield so strongly believed in the furthering of education that he bequeathed $2,500 upon his death in 1828 and challenged the Georgia Baptist Convention to match his gift.
In 1833, the challenge was met by a group of 26 contributors, which included Jesse Mercer, Adiel Sherwood, Billington Sanders, and other Baptist leaders. This led to the establishment of Mercer Institute, which was later renamed Mercer University in 1837. The foundation had now been set for Baptist higher education in Georgia. But Penfield’s visionary contribution did not end there. A portion of the funds made possible the purchase of land in Greene County, Georgia that became the original home of Mercer University. With the purchase, Baptists set in motion the goal of establishing a school to educate students for the ministry and other professions. The land was named in honor of Josiah Penfield, so the community of Penfield, Georgia, grew around the new school and provided needed support to the fledgling enterprise.
In its early years, Mercer incorporated the principle of manual labor into the educational program. Academic studies were combined with labor in the fields that surrounded the school. Each school day found the students spending a portion of their time in class and at work. The mental and physical experience contributed to a balanced education for the student.
Today, Penfield College of Mercer University continues this blending of work and study. Students bring experiences from their life and career encounters to integrate with the advanced knowledge base presented in each course. “Theory and practice” combine in a Penfield College education to prepare students for leadership roles and meaningful personal and professional lives.