Location: Bowdoin / Library / Special Collections & Archives / Manuscript Collections / Joseph McKeen Collection

Joseph McKeen Collection 1781-1966, n.d.

0.75 linear feet.

Catalog Number: M117

Series List:


Agency History / Biographical Note:
Joseph McKeen, the first president of Bowdoin College, served from 1802 until his death in 1807. He was born in 1757 in Londonderry, New Hampshire, the town his father and grandfather had helped to settle. McKeen, who received his A.B., A.M. and D.D. from Dartmouth in 1774, 1777, and 1804 respectively, taught school in Londonderry for eight years, had a short period of voluntary service in the Revolutionary War, and studied mathematics and astronomy in Cambridge, Massachusetts. McKeen spent a few terms assisting Dr. Pearson at Phillips (Andover) Academy before he moved to Beverly, Massachusetts, to preach from 1785 to 1802.

McKeen viewed Bowdoin College as a classical seminary that produced virtuous and pious Republicans. He presented the first six graduates of Bowdoin College with their Bachelor's degrees before dying in office.

McKeen married Alice Anderson in 1785; they had three sons and two daughters. The eldest son, Joseph (1787-1865), was an Overseer at Bowdoin(1813-29) and Secretary of the Board (1816-23). He was also Treasurer of the College and a Trustee (both 1829-65).

McKeen's second son, John (1789-1861), received his A.B. and A.M. from Bowdoin in 1811 and 1814 respectively. He served as an Overseer of the College (1839-61) and Secretary of the Board (1841-61). He married Frances, daughter of Richard Toppan of Brunswick, in 1821. The couple had one daughter.

McKeen's youngest son, James (1797-1873), received an A.B. and a A.M. from the College in 1817 and 1820 respectively. He succeeded one of his teachers as pracitioner in Topsham. James was Professor of Obstetrics in the Medical School from 1829 to 1839 and served as a lecturer on the Theory and Practice of Physics from 1837-39. He was also an Overseer from 1841-73. James had one child with his first wife, Sarah Farley of Waldoboro, and had no children with his second wife, Octavia Frost of Topsham.

Nancy, the eldest daughter of Joseph McKeen, married David Dunlap, a wealthy and well-known merchant in Brunswick.

The younger daughter, Alice married William J. Farley (Bowdoin 1820), but died in 1827.

Scope and Content:
The collection consists of correspondence between Joseph McKeen (1757-1807), his family members, and others, as well as sermons, lectures, speeches, and biographical notes and clippings concerning individual family members. Sermons in this collection are supplemented by the Samuel Eaton and Joseph McKeen Sermons (M53). Also included in the collection are various photographs, lithographs, engravings, and silhouettes of Joseph McKeen. For related Joseph McKeen material, see the Joseph McKeen Administrative Records.


Cite as: Joseph McKeen Collection, George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library.
Access Restrictions: None.

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