Mordecai McKinney (Dickinson Chronicles)

John Osborne and James W. Gerencser, eds., “Mordecai McKinney,”  Dickinson Chronicles,
Mordecai McKinney was born in Middletown in central Pennsylvania in 1796.  His parents, Mordecai and Mary (Molly) Chambers McKinney, who owned a store in the town, sent him to Dickinson College in Carlisle where he graduated with the class of 1814.  He then studied law under Stephen Duncan of Carlisle, the father of his classmate Robert Duncan, and was admitted to the Dauphin County bar in Harrisburg in May 1817.

He served as district attorney of Union County between 1821 and 1824; he was then clerk of the Dauphin County commissioners from 1824 until October 23, 1827, when he was appointed an associate judge of the county court.  Seen by most as honest and modest, McKinney did not acquire more than a comfortable income but poured his attentions into the study of the law.  He published profusely on the subject, including the well known McKinney's Digest of the Laws of Pennsylvania as well as The Pennsylvania Justice of the Peace in two volumes in 1839 and The American Magistrate and Civil Officer in 1850, among others.

As the son of slaveholders on both sides of his parentage, and as a man who married a daughter of a slave holding family, McKinney's main legacy may have been his extensive legal and cultural work with both the African-American population of Harrisburg and the escaped families of the underground railroad that came through the city. He had developed strong anti-slavery views and had been active in the Liberty Party in 1847, serving on the central committee of the party's convention held in Harrisburg. Before and after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, he represented many local African-Americans and runaways from the south in the significantly hostile legal atmosphere of the Pennsylvania capital. He also aided in other ways, helping to found the African-American Second Prebyterian Church on Walnut Street.

He married Rachel Graydon who died on April 12, 1856.  Judge McKinney himself died in Harrisburg on December 17, 1867 after having been struck down by a city streetcar three days before.  He was buried in the Harrisburg Cemetery. Mordecai McKinney was seventy-one years old.
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