Minnesota State Law Library
Samuel James Renwick McMillan was born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania on February 22, 1826 to parents Thomas McMillan and Jane Gormley McMillan. Both of his parents were descendants of Revolutionary soldiers. While still an infant, his parents moved to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He stayed there and graduated from Du Quesne College in 1846, at age 20. He studied law for three years and was admitted to the bar in 1849. He married his wife Harriett E. Butler in 1850.
He practiced law in Pittsburg for three years before moving to Minnesota Territory in 1852, settling in Stillwater. After four years, he moved to St. Paul and continued practicing law until the territory became a state. In 1858, he was appointed District Judge for the First Judicial District, and held that office until 1864.
During his time on the court he also served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Stillwater Frontier Guards during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. He was appointed Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1862. He was reelected to the court twice, and in 1874 was appointed Chief Justice by Governor Davis. He resigned as Chief Justice a year later, when he was elected to the United States Senate where he served until 1887 when he retired to St. Paul and resumed the practice of law.
He died after an illness in 1897 at the age of 71. He was survived by his wife of 47 years, three sons and three daughters.
You may read more about the life and work of Chief Justice McMillan in the articles, linked in this guide, and in the Minnesota Supreme Court Historical Society's book: Testimony: Remembering Minnesota's Supreme Court Justices, which is a source of this brief biography.