McSkimin, Samuel (‘Sam’) (1775–1843), local historian and collector, was born near Ballyclare, Co. Antrim, on a site later occupied by the Ollardale hotel, probably the only child of Samuel McSkimin (1754–1808) and his wife Nancy (1740–1820). His father was a unitarian presbyterian, and Samuel jnr became a practising presbyterian. It seems that he was largely self-educated; as a boy he was extremely interested in reading, subscribing monthly with others to receive reviews. Fearing for his life, no doubt because of his political sympathies – a letter written by James Hope (qv) states that McSkimin ‘was a spy in arms against the United Irishmen’ (Madden, 223) – he moved abruptly in 1797 to Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, where he opened a grocery shop in the Irish quarter. He maintained his interest in reading, and expanded his collection of books, manuscripts, and local antiquities.
After a severe illness he began publishing, his first article (1808) being a history of Carrickfergus (Belfast Monthly Magazine and Cyclopaedian Magazine). His major work, The history and antiquities of the county of the town of Carrickfergus, first appeared in 1811, with enlarged editions in 1823 and 1829, to which addenda (1833) and an appendix with illustrations (1839) followed. The History is largely a descriptive, detailed catalogue, including sections on antiquities, customs, and beliefs. Other of his articles appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine, Dublin Penny Journal, Northern Whig, and the University Magazine, while ‘The secret history of the insurrection of 1803’ was published in Frazer's Magazine. He collected oral history: ‘Recollections of the peninsular war’ (United Service Journal) was based on a firsthand account. He also collected accounts of the O'Neills and the 1798 rising, and was working on a history of the United Irishmen when he died; the unfinished text was posthumously published as The annals of Ulster or Ireland fifty years ago (1849). ‘A statistical account of Island Magee’ (Newry Magazine, four parts (1817)), initialled ‘S.M'S.’, may be his work, as may be ‘An itinerary from Belfast to the Giant's Causeway, coastways and returning by Coleraine, etc.’ in William Hamilton's (qv) Letters concerning the northern coast of County Antrim (1822 edition); he may also have written a guide to the Giant's Causeway. Although he corresponded with other historians and antiquaries, he did not acquire membership nor publish in the journal of any learned society.
Although not listed, McSkimin appears to have been a member of a yeomanry corps. In 1818 he was admitted by special favour as a freeman of Carrickfergus, and was entrusted to conduct its census in both 1821 and 1831. He was also a competent draftsman. The compilers of the ordnance survey memoir for Carrickfergus in the 1830s drew on and gratefully acknowledged his extensive knowledge.
He married (4 April 1802) Nancy Goodacre (1780–1857), and they had six children. It is possible that they lived in West Street, Carrickfergus, as it is recorded that he rebuilt a pair of two-storey, slated brick houses there (1829–34). He died 17 February 1843 and was buried at the southern boundary of St Nicholas's Church-of-Ireland graveyard, Carrickfergus. A great-granddaughter, Elizabeth J. McCrum, FRSA, updated his History, adding biographies of her antecedent and other local notables; a photographic half-length portrait of McSkimin was included as a frontispiece. She also produced a new edition of the Annals (1906) with notes and a memoir of him. On McSkimin's death, his lifelong collection of artifacts, books, and manuscripts, including an annotated autobiography of Edward John Newell (qv) (later published in Madden) and other material relating to the United Irishmen period, was sold and dissipated; a quantity was bought by Rev. Classon Porter (qv). Some of the material is in the RIA, while a letter from him is in PRONI.