Samuel Lander, Jr. was born in Lincolnton, North Carolina, of Irish parents who had immigrated to America in 1818. He devoted his life to education and the ministry. He graduated as valedictorian from Randolph-Macon College (then in Boydton, VA) in 1852. For a short time he practiced civil engineering and studied law. In December of 1853 he married Laura Ann McPherson.