John May (Jr.)
(28 Apr 1781 - 22 Nov 1849)
Return to Index of John May essays
The first child of John and Sarah May was
named John. No records indicate that he was ever called John
"Junior," but to distinguish him from his father the
name John May (Jr.) is used in this essay.
John May (Jr.) was born in Martinsburg, Virginia (now W. Va.), during the Revolutionary War. He was eight years old when his family moved to the Watauga Valley in Western North Carolina (now Tennessee) in 1789. When he was living in Carter County, Tennessee, the John Hanson (Hinson) family were neighbors on a 230 acre farm. They had moved to the Watauga region from Botetoute Co., Virginia sometime after 1785. When the May family moved to Kentucky in 1800, John (Jr.) was nineteen and had to say goodbye to his young sweetheart, Mary Catherine (Caty) Hanson.
On February 10, 1802 John (Jr.'s) father signed a bond for him to marry Caty. It is thought that sometime afterward they moved to Kentucky - probably to Estill County with some Hanson relatives - and by 1806 she had given birth to three children. Caty died about 1808 and John (Jr.) returned with his children to Tennessee. While there, probably in 1809, he proposed to and married Caty's younger sister, Elizabeth Hanson, who had been helping care for the three young May children in Tennessee, and they soon returned to Kentucky.
[This story was given by a daughter of John Jr. and Elizabeth, Catherine May Sharrock. One of the earliest historians of the May family, Homer Eiler (1868-193?), was a grandson of this Catherine, and all May descendants owe their gratitude to him for beginning a tradition of preserving family history. A copy of his 1929 essay on the family is on the shelves of the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort, Ky.]
In 1813 John May, Sr. died and each of his children received a sizable inheritance from his estate. Floyd County Deed Book A has records of John May [Jr.] purchasing land on Abbott Creek as early as 1816. Samuel Osborn sold 95 acres on Abbott Creek and Big Sandy River to John May of Estill County for $500 on December 14, 1816. Two other purchases by John on Abbott Creek included one of 37 acres from John Graham on December 1817 for $35 and one of 12 acres from William Herrel for $20 on February 3, 1819. This total acreage of 144 probably was the May farm remembered by the children of John May (Jr.) who contributed to the early history of the family.
From the 1816 deed, John apparently had been living in Estill County, Kentucky prior to moving to Abbott Creek. Elizabeth's brother, Conrad Hanson, was living in Estill County in 1815 when his son James was born. James later married Mary May, a daughter of John May (Jr.) and Elizabeth, in 1836.
John and Elizabeth had eleven children who were born over the period from 1810 to 1830, and they also reared John's three older children born to Elizabeth's sister, Caty. John May [Jr.] appears in the 1820 and 1830 Census of Floyd County. The oldest daughter, Elizabeth (Betsy), was married in 1819 to Alexander G. Y. George at the age of fifteen and was not living at home in 1820. She had nine children and lived a long life in Johnson County. Samuel, John's oldest son, died in Floyd County about 1825.
In the late 1820s several families from Floyd County, including the Abbotts, neighbors of John May, were going farther west into the free State of Illinois. John May III, the surviving son of Caty, accompanied them and was married in 1827. Three years later John May (Jr.) and Elizabeth followed John III to Shelby County, Illinois. Some traditions passed down in this line of the family say the reason for leaving may have been conflicts with other family members over the issue of slavery.
On October 11, 1830, John May (Jr.) sold his 144 acre farm, including separate tracts of 37 and 12 acres to Samuel May, Jr., possibly a nephew, for $400. On the same day he also sold Samuel May, Jr. 250 acres on Abbott Creek for $100. These 250 acres had been patented in the name of John May (Jr.) in 100 and 150 acre tracts in 1826 and 1829. The sale of these properties were signed by John's mark and witnessed by Jacob Mayo, Floyd County Clerk. His last child, Andrew Jackson, was born on September 8, 1830. These probably were his last business transactions before finally leaving the Big Sandy Valley which he had first entered at the beginning of the century with his parents as a boy of nineteen.
In 1830 the John May (Jr.) family made the long and difficult move from Floyd County to their new homesite near Shelbyville, Illinois. On this journey there were eleven children, ranging from the baby son who had just arrived to Cornelius who was a young man of twenty years. There was no commercial passage down the Big Sandy Valley in 1830 - it was 1837 before steamboats penetrated as far as the forks at Louisa. After the long trip down the Ohio River the conditions at the end of the journey up the Little Wabash River were equally as primitive.
The combination of bearing her eleventh child and moving under extremely difficult circumstances was fatal to Elizabeth who died soon after arriving in Illinois at the age of 37. Two more family tragedies occurred in 1831 with John III dying at the age of 25 and Rebecca losing her eyesight with measles.
Five of the children traveled the Oregon Trail in the 1840s and some made the rush for gold in California, following the May tradition of migration to find new land and establish their homes. The oldest to go to Oregon was Thomas Waldo May who settled a claim in 1847. The others were Rebecca, who was blind, Jeptha, Lafayette and Andrew Jackson who arrived prior to December 1850.
John May Jr. lived on the May homestead near Tower Hill, Illinois,
and in 1849 he went to stay with his daughter, Catherine Sharrock,
while her husband was seeking gold in California. John died on
November 22, 1849, at the age of 68, and is buried in the Middleworth
graveyard next to his son, John III. Historians of the family
have recorded their visits to this site.