108 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI epicenter for the newly formed state of Mississippi. When the U.S. Congress created the Mississippi Territory on April 7, 1798, out of the land ceded by Spain in the Pinckney Treaty of 1795, the Natchez District was chosen as the center of government and Natchez was its capital. In July 1817, the first Mississippi State Constitutional Convention was held in the small town of Washington in Adams County. Of the forty- eight delegates, the overwhelming majority represented the seven Lower River counties. At that conclave, Natchez was chosen as the first state capital. Religion During this formative period, the region saw the establishment and growth of various Christian denominations. By 1817, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian gatherings had been established. In the years following statehood, these congregations began to organize beyond the level of local churches. In 1816, the Methodists, meeting at the home of William Foster in Adams County, organized themselves into the Mississippi Conference, which at that time covered the whole of the Mississippi Territory. When the territory was split into the separate states of Mississippi and Alabama the next year, a separate conference was established for Alabama. The Episcopal Church in Mississippi is unique in that its first official congregation was not established until after statehood. This was Christ Church, which was organized in 1820 in Church Hill in Jefferson County. In May 1826, after additional Episcopal congregations were established in Natchez, Port Gibson, and Woodville, they held a convention in Natchez and organized an Episcopal Diocese for Mississippi. In November, approval of the application for recognition of the new diocese was granted by the General Convention. The Baptist congregations took longer to organize on the statewide level, unsurprisingly for a denomination whose theology elevated the independence of the individual conscience above obedience to the dictates of a central authority. The first Mississippi Baptist Convention was founded in Pike County in 1824 and was dissolved in 1830, fatally weakened by doctrinal disputes and the fears of the loss of congregational independence. The idea of a statewide convention was soon revived by the Reverend Ashley Vaughn, the dynamic pastor of the Clear Creek Baptist Church in Washington. He agitated for the formation of a new Mississippi Baptist Convention. In 1836, he even founded a magazine, the Southwestern Religious Luminary, to promote the idea. That same year, he got his wish. In December, representatives from the Baptist congregations of Mississippi, including Vaughn, met in Washington to form a new statewide convention. On Christmas Eve, they passed a resolution establishing the modern Mississippi Baptist Convention. The Catholics were the last to organize statewide for two reasons. First, the church in Mississippi had been disorganized since the local priests left with the Spanish in 1798 when the Natchez District came under American control. Second, Catholics, unlike Protestants, could not simply choose pastors for individual congregations or create a state governing body from below. A diocese for the state and the appointment of a bishop and parish priests all had to come from the Holy See in Rome, a slow process in those days. It was not until 1837 that the creation of the Diocese of Natchez encompassing the state of Mississippi was approved by Pope Gregory XVI, and the first bishop, Father John Chance from Maryland, was not appointed until 1840. Education Jefferson College was the first institution of higher learning in Mississippi. It was founded in Washington, just outside of Natchez, primarily as a college preparatory school. It received a charter from the General Assembly of the Mississippi Territory in 1802 as an all-male college and would soon become a military boarding school. Classes opened with fifteen students in a one-room wood-frame structure. The first permanent brick building was completed in 1820. John James Audubon was a teacher there from 1822 to 1823. The Elizabeth Female Academy was founded in 1818 in Washington as a Methodist school. Manners and deportment and various academic subjects were taught to young ladies of prosperous families. The school closed in 1847. In 1830, Oakland College was founded near Rodney by the Mississippi legislature as a school under the care of the Mississippi Presbytery. It was sold to the state in 1871 for use as a school for higher education of African American students. The name was changed by the legislature in 1878 to Alcorn Agriculture and Mechanical College. In 1846, J.B.S. Thacher of Natchez drafted the first state law in Mississippi to establish a statewide system of tax- supported county public schools. This law was the product of consultation with Horace Mann, pioneer education reformer and the father of the American public school system. It followed the establishment in 1845 of the Natchez Institute, a Jefferson College was the first institution of higher learning in Mississippi.