Category: Research Journal

Annie Brown to James Miller McKim

Annie Brown, John Brown’s daughter, sent the following letter to McKim on January 10, 1860, even though part of it was written on December 27, 1859.


“North Elba December 27th 1859

Dear friend

we have not heard from you since you left us. Mrs. Redpath(?) has been here to gather facts for his book, we liked her very much. The only fault I could find was she used a great deal too much of that abominable stuff called flattery. We had a letter from Owen he and Tidd(?) were well and safe in Crawford Co Pa, you need not tell of this without you have a mind to.

We are all well, the weather is quite cold, and the snow deep. We have a shower of sympathizing letters every week. We did not get but twenty seven last week. Some have said to me that they envied me my situation, I believe that if they would stop and ask themselves if they were willing to part with their fathers and two Brothers (three Brothers I should have said for one had to be sacrificed on the bloody alter of Kansas) and have one Brother made an outlaw with a price upon his head, and be robbed of the dearest friends they ever (?)assest, they would not make such an idle wish. Trouble will come upon us soon enough without our wishing for it. The letter that was kept back has been sent on and a letter from Capt Avis(?) and one from Mrs. Hunter trying to make some excuse for keeping it

Jan 10th 1860

Although I wrote this letter last year I thought you might be glad to hear from as long ago as that, so I will send it with Mothers. We received your letter last week but we were most all of us gone to donation parties. I will not say anything about your writing as Mother does, for fear that you will tell that “folks that live in glass houses must not throw stones” but really I could not read your letter. If you cannot read my aged script, just send it back and I will get Mother to help me copy it. [illegible] where is thy end!

We are all well

“Give my love to everyone that are good”

Annie Brown”[1]


Annie Brown wrote the following letter on October 19, 1861.


“North Elba Oct. 19th 1861

Mr. J. M. McKim

My dear friend

I now write to you to ask your pardon, and forgiveness, for writing you such an insulting letter as I did some two years ago or merely for my only excuse is that I was not at that time capable of writing a decent letter to any one, and I did not want to write that one, I had at that time just recovered from a short but severe fit of sickness and had not sense enough to [illegible] what was [illegible] and right and, what was not, I have thought with a [illegible] of [illegible], about that letter, a great many times, and thought that I ought to write to you about it, but have put it off, until now. If you will [illegible] to further the letter you will surely confer a great favor to me. I did not intentionally do anything wrong, when I did that, I wrote a great many letters about that time, that I would now gladly recall, at that time my mind and body were completely (or nearly so) over worked, and my [illegible] so that nothing but rest “water and doctoring” and quiet have restored me to my  [illegible] health, but I do not think it is best to try to go to [illegible] ever now, I made a trial last spring in [illegible] to myself and others, whether it were best, or possible, for me to do so, I gave it a try because I thought it [illegible] took then my [illegible] ought to bear, it was written I ought to do. I do not think that I ought to knowingly [illegible] myself, even if I am called a stubborn willful girl by not doing so by those who do not know that that would be the effect. I [illegible] educate myself a great deal, and do a great deal of good to myself and others, if I do not go to school, Sarah is at home, and will stay at home for the winter at last, but will continue to [illegible] of her studies if not all of them, Ellen is well and learning slowly to be a good girl, Bell, and little Freddie (the pretty [illegible]) are well and doing well, we think that Freddie is the smartest and best boy that ever was, all the rest are quite well, in all respects, Mother is getting along quite well with less [illegible], and other matters, I wish that you and your wife would write to her once in a while (as she thinks a great deal of you both) and I think that it would encourage her and make her feel [illegible] better [illegible] if she had someone who would sympathize with her, to write to once in a while. Please give my best love to all friends, and pardon me for writing so long a letter on family matters, but we live back here where there is not much but personal and neighborhood affairs to talk or think about. We should like to hear from you or any of your family any time that you think [illegible] to write. I am ever your sincere and grateful friend

Annie Brown

Fremont and Freedom[2]

[1] Annie Brown to James Miller McKim, January 10, 1860, Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Manuscript Collection, no. 4601, Box 11, Folder 1, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. [PDF]

[2] Annie Brown to James Miller McKim, October 9, 1861, Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Manuscript Collection, no. 4601, Box 11, Folder 1, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. [PDF]



“An Inmate in My House:” the Browns’ Friendship with McKim

On November 25, 1859, James Miller McKim wrote letters to two fellow abolitionists: William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown.

In his letter to Garrison, McKim informed him “of Wendell Phillips with whom I have been in correspondence on the subject of Mrs. Brown. Captain Brown &c.” He confirmed that Mary Brown stayed with him and continued by discussing her, saying, “Mrs. Brown has been at my house all this week. The more we see of her the more we like her. And the more we learn from her, of Mr. Brown and his family, the more are we impressed with the greatness of the man…What I want…to say here is that Mrs. Brown has expressed to my wife and she did with hesitancy & with delicacy, a fear…There are members of their family whose position ought not to be put at once to them…This she regards as too delicate a matter to speak of…too important a one to be overlooked. She fears the money intended for food, and greatly needed, may not accomplish all this benefit…for want of the requisite knowledge on part of those who may be its dependence.” [1]

After describing Mary Brown, McKim described the controversy surrounding the burial of John Brown. He claims that Brown “wrote a beautiful letter…asking for Mr. B’s mortal remains in the Earth of his personal wishes &c. I have written…to the same effect. The hope to have the body is in burial here and our purpose is it not…to send it in charge of a respectable” person in “Boston for internment there. Is there any reason why this should not be the course?” [2]

On the same day, McKim wrote to John Brown, confirming Brown’s wife was staying with him and reassuring him that she was doing well. McKim opened the letter with “dear friend,” but then crossed it out to the point that it is almost illegible and instead wrote “dear John Brown.” Based on letters stored at the Cornell University Library and at the New York Public Library that McKim wrote, he rarely addressed his letters “dear friend,” even though that was a common way to address letters between the abolitionists. Therefore, his original intro of “dear friend” is already out of the ordinary. However, crossing it out and writing “dear John Brown” instead is even more bizarre. [3]

He begins the letter by saying that “It will comfort you to know that your wife bears…this trial with…fortitude. Her behavior is the admiration of all who have opportunities of observing her. She is calm without insensibility, tender without weakness, sorrowful but not as one without hope. Her hope however is not that you will be…reprieved…but that the brief remnant of your life on Earth will be to…precipitate the triumph of the Great Cause which you have so long had at heart.” [4]

He continues, stating that “She is still an inmate at my house, though is intending as I before wrote you to spend a day or two with Mrs. Mott. Yesterday she accompanied me (it was Thanksgiving Day) to this church of the Rev. Dr….and was greatly reprieved and comforted. The Prayers, the hymns, the sermon, were all just what she could have most desired. As we were coming out it was discerned accidentally that she was present, and large numbers came around her with their eyes overflowing with sympathy to thank her by the hand and say ‘God bless you’…She reads of course…everything…concerning you. She laughed and cried with your comrades in the sermon…Your letter…gave her the greatest pleasure, but your allusion in it to your “two noble boys” quite broke her down…She said…she had always been desirous to hear your last-words. She was sure they would be words of strength.” [5]

Together, these two letters prove that Mary Brown did indeed stay with McKim and that she and McKim and his family became close during this time.

[1] James Miller McKim to William Lloyd Garrison, November 25, 1859, Maloney Collection, Box 2, Special Collections, New York Public Library. [PDF]


[2] James Miller McKim to William Lloyd Garrison, November 25, 1859, Maloney Collection, Box 2, Special Collections, New York Public Library.

[3] James Miller McKim to John Brown, November 25, 1859, Maloney Collection, Box 2, Special Collections, New York Public Library. [PDF]


[4] James Miller McKim to John Brown, November 25, 1859, Maloney Collection, Box 2, Special Collections, New York Public Library.

[5] James Miller McKim to John Brown, November 25, 1859, Maloney Collection, Box 2, Special Collections, New York Public Library.

Cornell Research

I went to the archives at Cornell University on January 10th and 11th. While I was there, I searched through the May Anti-Slavery Manuscript Collection, the American Freedman’s Union Commission letter books 1865-1868, the American Freedman’s Union Commission minute book 1866-1869, and the American Freedmen’s Aid Commission Board of Managers minutes 1865-1866.

For how much McKim’s name appears in the letters, Cornell has very few letters actually written by McKim. Even though there are 10 folders devoted to just his writings, there were only about fifteen letters total. However, the resources at Cornell prove McKim’s prominence in the abolition and freedmen’s relief causes despite the lack of materials penned by McKim. In the 1860s, especially 1866 and 1867, all the noted abolitionists, several republicans, and many peripheral figures in the movements were writing to McKim. In fact, the majority of the letters in the collection in the 1860s were addressed to McKim.

McKim as Mediator

Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz’s The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism explains the contentious debates between abolitionists and McKim’s role as a mediator. In her book, Laughlin-Schultz addresses Mary Brown’s South-bound trip to see her husband John Brown leading up to his execution. McKim and a party of other abolitionists accompanied Brown as they traveled by train, wagon, sleigh, and ferry to Virginia. Around the time of the execution, Mary Brown and James McKim were close: she stayed with him and later Lucretia Mott in Philadelphia. While McKim did not witness Mary and her husband’s reunion, he published an account of his time traveling with her and spoke at John Brown’s funeral. While I have yet to find the account he wrote, once I have access to the full book with the citations, I will be able to track down where I can find this document.[1]

Beyond briefly touching on McKim’s and Mary Brown’s friendship, Laughlin-Schultz addresses the factions of abolitionists that attempted to exert their control over the funeral arrangements. Some abolitionists, believing John Brown to be one of the greatest abolitionists, fought to have his body buried in a huge funeral at a national cemetery. They wanted to turn his funeral into a rallying cry for abolitionism, complete with various speeches made in support of the abolitionist cause. However, the Brown family wanted the funeral to be personal, so other abolitionists respected this desire as well as Brown’s dying wishes that the funeral not be grand and argued for it to occur in a private setting, unencumbered by abolitionist tides. Ever the mediator, McKim, according to Laughlin-Schultz, talked to both parties until everyone was in agreement. McKim acknowledged both the desire of the family for a personal burial for Brown and the desire of “‘the friends of the slave'” to have the opportunity to convey their “‘public manifestations of respect for the remains of the martyr.'”[2] The compromise was a fairly private funeral in which McKim and another abolitionist spoke about Brown’s role in their cause.  Concluding that McKim  “sought a sense of continued relevance, an affirmation that their decades long work for the movement still mattered,” Laughlin-Schultz reveals McKim’s “continued relevance” was not as the leading figure of the abolitionists nor their main writer, but rather the mediator who, behind the scenes, struck bargains without compromising on the abolitionist cause.[3]

[1] Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 68-76. [JSTOR]

[2] Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical, 75-76.

[3] Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us, 80.

Initial Ideas and Structure

My honors project focuses on James Miller McKim’s role in abolitionism leading up to, during, and following the Civil War. I am creating these blog posts in order to keep myself organized, to explain my research process, and to reveal my progress. The finished thesis will be around 60-75 pages, complete with three major chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion. Each of the chapters will be approximately 20-25 pages. As of now, I plan to lay out the chapters chronologically as opposed to thematically. If organized thematically, each of the chapters would have a parallel structure in the basic arc, beginning with the same moment, which would most likely be McKim’s travels to Port Royal, and then diverging into emphases on McKim’s involvement with the enlistment of black soldiers, the re-election campaign for President Abraham Lincoln, and the reconstruction of the nation. However, I am worried that if I write thematically, the chapters will be too discontinuous even with the parallel structure. The paper might end up reading like three separate articles as opposed to connected chapters. Writing chronologically, I will be able to maintain parallel structure by creating symmetrical points within chapters, while also allowing my research to flow continuously throughout the three chapters.

The thesis will focus on 1859 to 1869 because little research has been completed regarding the abolitionists during the Civil War and even less has been conducted on McKim’s role later in his life. Chapters will be broken down between 1859 and 1862, 1862 and 1864, and 1864 and 1869. The first will begin in 1859 with McKim’s support of John Brown’s wife following Brown’s insurrection and execution. That chapter will look at McKim’s pre-Civil War involvement with abolitionists, his shift from being an absolute pacifist to supporting secession to rid the nation of slavery, and his resignation from the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. It will end with him traveling to Port Royal in 1862. The next chapter will begin with McKim’s time at Port Royal, his involvement in the Port Royal experiment, his rallying for black enlistment and troops, and his support of Lincoln’s re-election. The final chapter will begin with Lincoln’s re-election and discuss McKim’s emphasis on freedmen relief societies, his first publication of the Nation, and his focus on the desegregation of Philadelphia street cars. In setting up the chapters with these years, I will be able to break down this important decade and articulate McKim’s major shifts in focus throughout it.