March 27, 1830, St. George (near Burlington), Vermont.
December 13, 1889.
Emmitsburg Memorial Cemetery, Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Elnathan was the son of state legislator Lewis Higbee and Sarah Baker Higbee, and husband of Lucinda Motter.
He was educated at the University of Vermont, graduating in 1849. By the time of his graduation, he had already begun teaching school in Burlington at age 16; his first permanent position was as an assistant teacher at an academy in Woodstock, Vermont. He stayed there only a short time before moving to another teaching position in Emmitsburg, Maryland, becoming head of the mathematical and classical departments at a school organized by his brother-in-law, George W. Aughinbaugh. In 1850, he accepted a position s a private tutor in the family of Joshua Motter of Emmitsburg, among whose daughters he found his future wife.
Around late 1851 or early 1852, Higbee entered the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church at Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, where Philip Schaff was among his teachers.
He went on to become a preacher, poet, and educator, and for nine years, Superintendent of Public Instruction of Pennsylvania. After seminary, he taught mathematics at the high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for a year. Later in his life, when he was state superintendent for education, he would discover one of his old pupils had become principal of the Lancaster high school.
In 1845, Higbee was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Maryland Classis of the Reformed Church. His first pastorate was at the Congregational Church in Bethel, Vermont. In 1858, he returned to Emmitsburg, and 1859 to the First Reformed Church of Tiffin, Ohio, where he also filled the chair of Latin and Greek at Heidelberg College. In 1862, he moved to Pittsburgh to become pastor of Grace Church. In 1864, he became professor of Church History and New Testament Exegesis at the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. While there, he was of the prime movers in the foundation of Mercersburg College in 1865. In 1881, Governor Hoyt appointed him State Superintendent of Public Instruction of Pennsylvania.