From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)
James M. Priest, three-quarter length portrait, full face, seated at desk

Priest, James M.

(born: July 8, 1819  -  died: May 16, 1883) 

James M. Priest was enslaved of Jane Anderson Meaux, who was born in 1780 in St. Asaph [later Fort Logan], Lincoln County, District of KY, and died in Jessamine County, KY, in 1844.

Meaux stipulated in her will that all of her slaves were to be freed after her death under the condition that they go to live in Liberia in Africa. Prior to her death, she educated and freed one of her slaves, James M. Priest and sent him to Liberia to evaluate the situation of the former slaves. When he returned, Priest was sent to school from 1840 to 1843; he graduated to become an ordained Presbyterian minister. Priest had joined the Presbyterian Church when he was enslaved. He expressed an interest in becoming a minister, so he was placed under the direction of Rev. Samuel Taylor in Jessamine County.

Priest was such a good student that Meaux and Rev. Taylor decided he needed a more formal education; they therefore tried to get him admitted to Centre College in Danville, KY, around 1835. The school would not accept Priest as a student, so he was enrolled in McCormick Theological Seminary, located in New Albany, IN.

After graduating, James Priest returned to Liberia and became the first foreign missionary from McCormick Theological Seminary. He would become the Vice President of the Republic of Liberia, serving 1864-1868. He was serving as the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia when he died in July of 1883.

For more see p. 205 of History of Kentucky, edited by C. Kerr et al.; p. 9 of A History of the McCormick Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church, by L. J. Halsey; pp. 562-63 of Maxwell History and Genealogy, by F. A. W. Houston et al. [all available full-text at Google Books]; Settlers to Liberia "April 1843" at The Ships List website; and "The death of James M. Priest...," Arkansaw Dispatch, 7/28/1883, p. 2.

For more of James M. Priest being denied enrollment at Centre College, see "Dartmouth College - A Noble Example" in The Colored American, 4/29/1837 [available online in the Black Abolitionist Archive at the University of Detroit Mercy]. See also James M. Priest on p. 549 in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, by G. H. Anderson; and a photograph of James M. Priest in Library of Congress, American Colonization Society Records.

*Attached photograph shows James M. Priest, Vice President of Liberia under Daniel Bashiel Warner, 1864-1867; third president of Liberia, 1867. Washington, Augustus, 1820 or 1821-1875, photographer. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. LCCN Permalink .

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Lincoln County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Jessamine County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Boyle County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about St. Asaph, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Fort Logan, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Danville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Priest, James M.,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 23, 2024,

Last modified: 2024-06-10 17:16:10