Ripon's Booth War: Aftermath of the Fugitive Slave Act in Wisconsin





(from correspondence with Douglas and Madeleine Hickling, McKee's great-great-great grandaughter)


Rev. Hiram McKee was born in Utica NY in 1806 and grew up along the shore of Lake Ontario in Sacketts Harbor, N. Y. Nothing is known of his education, but as a young man in the late 1820s he was an active member of a religious discussion group in Oswego, N.Y., of which Brigham Young was also a member. The two became lifelong friends.

By the 1830s, McKee was an ordained Methodist Episcopal minister serving a series of churches in northern New York. In the 1840s, he was active in the founding of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection (now the Wesleyan Church), which separated from the Methodist Episcopal Church on grounds of slavery and church organization. The ME church, under the influence of its southern congregations, refused to attack slavery, and the dissidents also objected to the Episcopal hierarchy in the ME church under which the bishops exercised dictatorial control over local pastors. McKee was the pastor of the ME church in West Chazy, N.Y., when in 1843 its congregation reorganized as part of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection.

In 1845, McKee, who was then the WMC pastor in Peru, N. Y., served as president of the Champlain Conference covering parts of New York and Vermont, and was sent by the WMC as a paid missionary to Wisconsin. An account published at the time said:

The Rev. Hiram McKee is President of the Conference. He expects to bid adieu to its green hills and delightful valleys for the Far West. Brother McKee is just the man, physically and mentally, for extensive labors and sufferings, either in the east or west, and though the loss will be felt here, I rejoice that he is going to the Prairie-land. All we need to raise up a mighty army in the West, is laborers of the right stamp.

Following his arrival in Wisconsin, he and his large family of mostly daughters lived in Milwaukee. In the mid-1850s, they lived in Lake Mills (Jefferson County) and by 1858 they were in New Lisbon (Juneau Co.). In that year the family moved to a farm about one mile east of Brandon (Fond du Lac Co.) where they stayed into the early 1860s.

McKee served as president at the WMC Second General Conference in New York City in 1848, and in 1849, while a resident of Milwaukee, he was named president of the Wisconsin Conference of the WMC at its annual session held at Waupun.

McKee received only a small stipend from his church. Wherever he lived, he bought and sold property, and probably farmed on the side. With a large family and only one son, he had to rely on hired help or arranged for others to work his land on shares.

A memoir written by his granddaughter says that he preached for the Indians and in Ripon, Milwaukee, Waupun, and Brandon. He was on that circuit for a great number of years before churches were established. He had to preach in log cabins, stores, and schools. One night while preaching abolition in Waupun, a dead cat was thrown at him through a window followed by rotten eggs, but he kept on preaching.

In 1862, McKee was sent by the WMC to Minnesota and then moved on to Iowa. In 1865, McKee and his wife settled in Cass County, Missouri. He continued to speculate in real estate and was apparently not very successful at it. By the 1870s, they were in Wilton (Waseca Co.), Minnesota, where she died in 1874. McKee then went to live with his daughter's family in Glen Rock (Nehama Co.), Nebraska, where he died in 1878. He is buried there in the Highland Baptist cemetery. His very informative gravestone includes the following quotation from the Bible ( Zechariah 3:2), "A brand plucked out of the fire."

In 1860, McKee, then living in Brandon WI, sent a lengthy letter to Brigham Young, the general effect of which was that, since they were both getting old, it was about time that Young repented for his sins and the wrongs of his church. Young sent a long reply about a month later in which he stoutly defended himself and his church. He talked about their days together in old Oswego and invited McKee to come to Salt Lake City and to preach at the Mormon Tabernacle. This exchange of letters, a copy of which survives, appears to be the only record of Young's brief stay in Oswego. Virtually all of the biographies of Young refer to these letters. It was not until 1871 that McKee, then living in Missouri, accepted Young's invitation. He took the train to Salt Lake City, visited Young, preached at the tabernacle on June 11, 1871, and then visited San Francisco before returning to Missouri.

McKee was not a mere opportunist, but rather was a very hard working pastor who deeply believed in abolition and preached it until slavery was no longer an issue. He was highly regarded in his church. It is not at all surprising that he would have been in Ripon at the time of the Booth War in 1860, as Ripon was part of his circuit and he lived in nearby Brandon.

January 18, 2000
Douglas and Madeleine Hickling

LAST UPDATED 1/27/2000 If you have information to share, please contact Bob Schuster by email at or at 6020 Kristi Circle, Monona, Wisconsin 53716 (608) 221-1421.