James H. DeVotie was born in Oneida County, New York, September 24, 1813. He was baptized December 4, 1831, at Savannah, Ga. The First Baptist Church of Savannah licensed him to preach the gospel on October 21, 1832. Immediately feeling the call to preach, DeVotie moved to the High Hills of Santee in South Carolina to study at the Furman Theological Institute and supplied the pulpit at nearby Camden. Following what he later described as an “unfortunate misunderstanding” with members of the faculty, DeVotie left the school after eighteen months. Nonetheless, in March 1833, he was ordained at Camden by Jesse Hartwell, D.D. and Joseph B. Cook, D.D. and assumed the pastorate of the church.
By September 1834, DeVotie was in Montgomery, Alabama, initially preaching two Sundays each month at the Baptist church and later every Sabbath. He found himself at odds with his congregation over a number of issues, including his marriage to a non-Baptist, Margaret Christian Noble, who was condemned for being too “devoted to fashion.” This, along with DeVotie’s Yankee brashness and youthful fervor, led to his dismissal in May 1835. Discouraged, he decided to quit the ministry, but the Rev. Alva Woods, president of the University of Alabama, persuaded DeVotie to accept the pulpit at First Baptist, Tuscaloosa, where he remained four years. He then served as the pastor of Siloam Baptist Church in Marion, Alabama from 1840 to 1854. He also served as the minister of Hopewell Baptist Church near Marion from 1854 to 1855. DeVotie was a co-founder of Howard College in Marion, which later became Samford University near Birmingham. He served as the President of its Board of Trustees for two years and as a regular trustee for fifteen years. He also served on the Board of Trustees of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia for twenty-two years. Additionally, he served as the President of the Board of Trustees of the Columbus Public Schools.
DeVotie became pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbus, Georgia, in 1856. During his tenure in Columbus, and later at the Baptist church in Griffin (1870-1877), DeVotie emerged as one of the most important leaders in the Georgia Baptist Convention. He served at the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Georgia from 1856 to 1870.
DeVotie was the founder of the Alabama Baptist Bible Society and served as its President from 1836 to 1856. He was also a co-founder of The Alabama Baptist in 1836. He served as the Secretary of the Domestic and Indian Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1855 to 1856. During the American Civil War of 1861-1865, DeVotie served as a chaplain in the Confederate States Army to the Second Regiment of Georgia Volunteers. After a brief service as chaplain of the Second Regiment of Georgia Volunteers in the Confederate Army, he returned to his pastorate and throughout the war collected and administered relief funds. In 1877, he served on the Home Mission Board and later the Georgia Baptist State Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. In this latter role, he attempted to convert former slaves to the Baptist faith.
DeVotie married first Margaret Christian Noble (1808-1872). In 1873, he married Georgiana Lucia (Pyron) Amoss (1841-1933). DeVotie was the father of fifteen children, only one of whom survived him. He died in Griffin, Georgia on February 16, 1891.