McKim, James Miller

Pennsylvania farmer's son James Miller McKim was a giant of the anti-slavery movement. He worked to end slavery, help fugitives escape it, and, when it was ended, aid those who had been freed. The second of eight children born on a farm near Carlisle, McKim entered Dickinson College at age thirteen in 1824 and graduated in 1828. He became a Presbyterian minister and began to work across Pennsylvania to form local anti-slavery groups. By 1838 the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society had been founded and soon after McKim moved to Philadelphia to edit the organization's journal. About the same time, he married Sarah Speakman, a Quaker, with whom he had two children, including a daughter, Lucy, who married the son of William Lloyd Garrison. In Philadelphia, McKim also met William Still and joined his Philadelphia Vigilance Committee and its work to aid the Underground Railroad passing through the city. McKim was cautious and careful in personality but his actions were always, in the end, those of a radical abolitionist. He departed Presbyterianism in disgust at its ambivalence over slavery, supported the family of John Brown after Harpers Ferry, and recruited African-American regiments during the Civil War. In 1865, he moved to New York City as the first secretary of the American Freedman’s Union Commission, founding The Nation to help publicize the needs of the newly emancipated. After a lifetime of almost constant effort, he died in Orange, New Jersey in 1874. (By John Osborne)
Life Span
Dickinson Connection
Class of 1828
    Full name
    James Miller McKim
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Free State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    James McKim (father), Catherine Miller (mother), John Linn McKim (brother), Sarah Allibone Speakman (wife), Charles Follen McKim (son), Lucy McKim Garrison (daughter)
    Dickinson (Carlisle College)

    James Miller McKim (American National Biography)

    James Miller McKim was neither a gifted speaker nor an especially talented writer, but for twenty years he was the man who got things done for the antislavery cause in Pennsylvania. One antislavery colleague termed him a "prudent rash man," and he has been well described as an administrator who "applied a fundamentally conservative temperament to the prosecution of a radical cause" (Brown, p. 72). Once the Civil War began, McKim played a more independent and influential role in shaping events. He took the lead in urging his abolitionist colleagues to stop attacking the government from the outside and to instead become insiders with a say in shaping Reconstruction. He worked tirelessly to aid the freedmen, and he was the person most responsible for coordinating the postwar assistance efforts of the secular freedmen's aid societies.
    William Cohen, "McKim, James Miller,"American National Biography Online, February 2000,

    James Miller McKim (Dickinson Chronicles)

    James Miller McKim was born November 10, 1810 on a farm near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the second of eight children. Known as Miller McKim, he entered the local Dickinson College at the age of 13 in September 1824. While at Dickinson College, he was active in the Belles Lettres Literary Society and graduated in 1828. George Duffield, a local “new light” Presbyterian minister, influenced him greatly, and McKim became a Presbyterian minister himself in 1831.

    His ministry gave way to his involvement in the abolition movement in 1833, when he attended the Philadelphia Conference which formed the American Anti-Slavery Society. A year later, in a town not supportive of the movement, McKim delivered Carlisle’s first anti-slavery speech at his church and started the Carlisle Anti-Slavery Society. In 1836, McKim, recruited by Theodore Weld, began his career as a full-time abolitionist and as an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society. He attended the first Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society meeting in Harrisburg in 1838. In 1840 he moved to Philadelphia to become the corresponding secretary of the Society and the editor and manager of its publication, the Pennsylvania Freeman. As such, he became an influential supporter of the underground railroad organizations centered in Philadelphia assisting in the many court cases that emerged after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law.

    In 1859, he and his wife attended the execution of John Brown at Harpers Ferry and assisted Mrs. Brown in bringing her husband's body home. During the Civil War, McKim founded the Philadelphia Port Royal Relief Committee to help provide for the liberated slaves of Port Royal. The organization became statewide in 1863 as the Pennsylvania Freedman’s Relief Association. He also became actively involved in the authorizing and the recruiting of African-American units to the Union Army. Two years later, McKim moved to New York City to become the first secretary of the new American Freedman’s Union Commission, which operated until 1869. McKim also helped to found The Nation, a New York newspaper produced to support the interests of the newly freed men and provided Wendell Garrison the position of editor.

    McKim married Sarah Allibone Speakman on October 1, 1840 and had two natural children, Charles Follen and Lucy; the couple also adopted McKim’s niece. Lucy McKim later married Wendell Phillips Garrison, son of William Lloyd Garrison, while the adopted niece became William Garrison’s second wife. James Miller McKim died on June 13, 1874 in Orange, New Jersey. He was sixty-three years old.
    John Osborne and James W. Gerencser, eds., "James Miller McKim," Dickinson Chronicles,

    James Miller McKim (New York Evangelist)

    Rev. James Miller McKim, whose name is prominently identified with the anti-slavery movement, died on Saturday morning, at his residence, Llewellyn Park, Orange, New Jersey. Mr. McKim was a native of Carlisle county, Penn., and having graduated at Dickinson College, entered the Presbyterian ministry, in which he was a zealous pastor for several years. His warm interest in the advancement of the anti-slavery movement caused him to resign his position in the Presbyterian Church, that he might devote all his time to this work. His labors commenced as lecturer, and afterward he occupied the position of Corresponding Secretary of the Pennsylvania  Anti-Slavery Society. After emancipation he still continued his efforts in behalf of the negro, and took a prominent part in the organization of the American Freedmen’s Aid Society. At the time of his death he had attained his sixty-fourth year.
    "Untitled," New York Evangelist, June 18, 1874, p. 5: 2.

    James Miller McKim (Brown, 1963)

    McKim worked for several years as an agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society, lecturing in many different areas of Pennsylvania and the adjacent counties of New Jersey and Delaware. It was not an easy life. Traveling accommodations were primitive, and public opinion was always unenthusiastic, often downright hostile to his cause. His meetings were sometimes interrupted by rowdies with fife and drum or barking hounds. In some places pickets paraded with signs attacking him as a tool of the British and an advocate of racial amalgamation. Tomatoes, eggs, garbage, and even stones were thrown at him. In some communities he was unable to hold meetings at all. When violence loomed at one of his lectures in Gettysburg, Thaddeus Stevens intervened to calm the crowd and restore order, threatening personally to prosecute the offenders “to the very door of the penitentiary.”
    Despite the hardships involved, the campaign which McKim and other agents waged was crowned with considerable success. About a hundred antislavery societies were started in Pennsylvania within a period of two or three years. The culmination of this crusade was the organization of the Pennsylvania State Anti-Slavery Society on January 31 and February 1-3, 1837. This was the society with which McKim was to labor for over twenty years. In 1838 he paid a memorable visit to Washington, D.C., where he observed conditions in the slave marts and came away with the conviction that “no man can fully appreciate the horrors of American slavery.” Later that year he formally abandoned the Presbyterian ministry, announcing that he could no longer give his assent to “the doctrine of a vicarious atonement.”
    Ira V. Brown, "Miller McKim and Pennsylvania Abolitionism," Pennsylvania History 30, no. 1 (Jan. 1963): 60-61.

    James Miller McKim (National Cyclopaedia)

    McKIM, James Miller, reformer, was born at Carlisle, Pa., Nov. 14, 1810. He was educated at Dickinson and Princeton Colleges, and was present at the convention that met in Philadelphia, Dec. 4, 1833, to organize the National Anti-Slavery Society. In 1835 was ordained pastor of a Presbyterian church at Womelsdorf, Penn., but resigned in the following year to become lecturing agent under the auspices of the American Anti-Slavery Society, having become an abolitionist a few years earlier on reading Garrison's “Thoughts on Colonization.” He lectured in Pennsylvania, though often in danger of personal violence, and in 1840 removed to Philadelphia to become publishing agent of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. He subsequently became corresponding secretary, and served in that capacity for twenty-five years, and as general manager of the affairs of the society. He was frequently brought into contact with “underground railroad” affairs, and was actively connected with many slave cases before the courts, chiefly after the passage of the fugitive slave law of 1850. After the capture of Port Royal in 1862, he called a meeting of Philadelphia citizens, to care for the 10,000 liberated slaves, and the meeting resulted in the organization of the Philadelphia Port Royal relief committee. He advocated the enlistment of the colored troops, was a member of the Union League, aided in establishing Camp William Penn, and in the recruiting of eleven regiments. The Port Royal relief committee was enlarged into the Pennsylvania Freedman's relief association in 1863, and Mr. McKim became corresponding secretary, traveling and establishing schools at the South. From 1865 to 1869 he was connected with the American Freedmen’s Union Commission, and endeavored to promote general education at the South, and in the latter year, thinking the commission had accomplished its work, it was disbanded at Mr. McKim's suggestion. He was one of the founders of the “Nation,” New York, in 1865. He has been called “That prudent, rash man.” In “Garrison and His Times,” Johnson says of McKim: “Fitted by his intellectual gifts as well as by education, for any place of influence and power to which he might have chosen to aspire, he devoted himself unreservedly for a generation to the cause of the slave, rendering it service of the very highest character by his pen and his voice, as well as by his wisdom in counsel.” He died in West Orange, N. J., June 13, 1874.
    “McKim, James Miller,” The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography (New York: James T. White & Company, 1895), 2: 420.
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Still, William. The Underground Rail Road. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872.
    view record
    Brown, Ira V. "Miller McKim and Pennsylvania Abolitionism." Pennsylvania History 30, no. 1 (1963): 56-72. view record
    Cohen, William. James Miller McKim: Pennsylvania Abolitionist. New York: New York University, 1968. view record
    McKim, James Miller. A Sketch of the Slave Trade in the District of Columbia, Contained in Two Letters. Pittsburgh: Pittsburg and Allegheny Anti-Slavery Society, 1838. view record
    McPherson, James M. The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964. view record
    McWilliams, Carey. "One Hundred Years of 'The Nation.'" Journalism Quarterly 48, no. 2 (1965): 189-197. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "McKim, James Miller," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,