Samuel J. May


Developed by Rog Hiemstra

Samuel Joseph May


Samuel Joseph May was our second minister. He was a well-known abolitionist and reformer on the national scene, and a well-loved parish minister at the Church of the Messiah, as we were then known, from 1845 to 1868. When the congregation built a large stone church in 1885, they named it the May Memorial Church in honor of Sam May. Eighty years later the congregation moved into the present building during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Sam May’s work for racial equality was still relevant to our members; thus, we retained his name for the new building by using the May Memorial Unitarian Society. Still later we voted to change its corporate name to May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society to keep the inspiration of Sam May’s social activism always with us and to reflect the merging of Unitarians and Universalists into one denomination.


Samuel May Bust

Bust of Samuel Joseph May in the MMUUS Memorial Room


We continue today to live out the spirit of Sam May through activities such as the following: Participation in the Sanctuary movement; church members being jailed for their efforts to close the School of the Americas, acceptance of gay and lesbian members, participation in a Syracuse housing rehabilitation project, work with the homeless and hungry, and support of a living wage for all working people.


We are very proud of our long connection to Sam May and dedicate this site to providing information about him so that others may understand the reasons for our pride. We hope you enjoy the various links shown below.

More on Rev. May:

·                     Rev. May Has Shown Me the Way—by the Rev. Richard (Rick) R. Davis, First Unitarian Society of Salem (Oregon)

·                     Samuel J. May: The Peaceful Warrior—by the Rev. Richard (Rick) R. Davis, First Unitarian Society of Salem (Oregon)

·                     Saint Before His Time: Samuel J. May and American Educational Reform—A 1964 master’s thesis by Dr. Catherine L. Covert

·                     Heretic in Syracuse—A paper by Dr. Catherine L. Covert

·                     The Remarkable Mr. May—An address by Dr. Catherine L. Covert

·                     The Just Demands of the OtherAn article about Sam May’s educational efforts in the peace, abolition, and women's rights movements.

·                     To Exercise a Larger Liberty—A description of Sam May’s involvement with MMUUS.

·                     Photos and location information for the tombstones of Samuel May and his wife, Lucretia Coffin.

External Links (will open in new window)

·                     Unitarian Universalist Association article

·                     Funeral and memorial service proceedings for Samuel Joseph May.

·                     A New York History Net reference to Sam May.

·                     Some recollections of our antislavery conflict. By Samuel J. May. Boston: Fields, Osgood, & Co., 1869.

·                     The revival of education. By Samuel J. May. An address to the Normal association. Bridgewater, Massachusetts, August 8, 1855. Syracuse, NY: The Association, 1855.

·                     The rights and condition of women. A sermon, preached in Syracuse, Nov., 1845, by Samuel J. May, and a graphic representation showing how it became known as the Women's Rights Tracts No. 1.

·                     Sam May is mentioned by the New England Transcendentalists by Amos Bronson Alcott, who later became his brother-in-law.

·                     A description of the "Jerry Rescue" in Syracuse, New York, and Sam May's involvement in it.

·                     A book about Sam May by Donald Yacavone, 1991.

·                     Abolitionist Samuel J. May confronts a northern merchant.

·                     Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Collection. Inside this site are several useful links plus a search link so the on-line portion can be examined with key words. For example, searching on the word “Syracuse” reveals many documents and you can even examine all the court documents surrounding trials related to the “Jerry Rescue.”

·                     Memoir of Samuel Joseph May by Thomas James Mumford. Worth the time to read these many pages.


Your feedback is solicited. Contact past chair of the MMUUS History Committee, Roger Hiemstra, at with your comments.

February 15, 2017