Minister, educator. Boyce was born in Charleston on January 11, 1827, to Ker Boyce, a cotton merchant, and Amanda Jane Caroline Johnston. James Petigru Boyce was intellectually gifted and graduated from Brown University in 1847. Soon after his graduation, he experienced a religious conversion and worked as an editor of the Southern Baptist in Charleston. He attended Princeton Theological Seminary for two years and then returned to South Carolina in 1851 to become a pastor at the Baptist Church in Columbia.
Boyce soon returned to the academy, accepting a position at Furman University as professor of theology in 1855. On December 20, 1858, he married Lizzie Llewellyn Ficklen of Washington, Georgia. While at Furman, Boyce became interested in the idea of establishing an independent seminary. Southern Baptists had been considering a separate theological institution after their split from northern Baptists in 1845. Boyce gave a speech before the state convention of South Carolina Baptists in 1856, arguing for the necessity of a separate Baptist seminary. In response, the convention proposed to put forth $100,000 toward the endowment of a seminary located in Greenville if the same sum was raised by others.
At the Southern Baptists’ Educational Convention held in Louisville in May 1857, the proposal from the South Carolina Baptists was accepted, and Boyce went about the task of securing the money. The institution opened in 1859 as the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Boyce served as its first president.
Like his father and his namesake, James L. Petigru, Boyce opposed secession. He ran for election to what became the Secession Convention of December 1860 as an antisecession candidate, along with Benjamin F. Perry. Boyce was defeated, and in the fall of 1861 he joined a regiment being raised by his friend Charles J. Elford, in which he served as chaplain. The following year Boyce left the seminary and went to the coast with his regiment, but he resigned that May. In October he was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives to represent Greenville District. He lost an election to the Confederate Congress in 1863 but was reelected to the state legislature in 1864 and served until the end of the Civil War. He also served as aide-de-camp to Governor Andrew Magrath, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Just before the burning of Columbia, Boyce accompanied Magrath to Charlotte, North Carolina.
After the Civil War, Boyce returned to the seminary and attempted to place it on sound financial footing. In 1872 the decision was made to move the seminary to Louisville, Kentucky. That same year Boyce was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a position he held until 1879 and then again in 1888. He continued to teach at the seminary, but his declining health led him to travel in Europe. He died in Pau, France, on December 28, 1888, and was buried at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.
In 1974 the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary named Boyce Bible School, which offered associate of arts degrees, in Boyce’s honor. In 1998 the school was renamed Boyce College and began offering bachelor’s degrees.
Broadus, John Albert. Memoir of James Petigru Boyce, D.D., LL.D.: Late President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1893.