Virginia Union University was first put into operation shortly after April 3, 1865, the date when Richmond, Virginia was liberated by troops of the United States Army of the James. It was then that representatives from our founding organization, the American Baptist Home Mission Society, came to the former Confederate capital as teachers and missionaries. In that same month, eleven teachers were holding classes for former slaves at two missions in the city. By November 1865 the Mission Society had established, and was officially holding classes for, Richmond Theological School for Freedmen, one of the four institutions forming the “Union” that gives our University its name.
Dr. J G. Binney was the first teacher to some 25 freedmen from November 1865-July 1866 before giving up and leaving for Burma due to the challenges faced with Richmond, VA being the former capital of the Confederate States. However, on May 13, 1867, Dr. Nathaniel Colver an elderly, hard-bitten abolitionist who could not be intimidated by anyone, arrived to resume the task. Due to health issues, Dr.. Colver turned over his leadership to Dr. Charles Henry Corey in 1868. Dr. Corey served as a dynamic leader for 31 years.
In 1876, the school was incorporated by the Virginia General Assembly under the name Richmond Institute.The Institute was the first in the South to employ African-American teaching assistants and faculty and in 1876 was offering curricula which were preparatory (elementary); academic (pre-college) and theological. Enrollment grew steadily and among its earliest students Richmond Institute numbered it first foreign graduate, Samuel M. Harden of Lagos, Nigeria (1879) and its first female graduate, Maria E. Anderson (1882).
Richmond Institute turned strictly to theological studies and re- established itself as Richmond Theological Seminary in 1886, offering its first Bachelor’s degree, the Bachelor of Divinity. During the 1890’s plans were pushed forward to merge historically-black institutions into one University, and by 1899 it was agreed that Wayland Seminary and Richmond Theological Seminary would come together to form Virginia Union University.