Lancaster County was established about twenty years before the arrival of the Mays. The Borough benefited from its strategic location on the "Old Philadelphia Pike" leading to Wright's Ferry. This wagon road, originally laid out in 1733, led west from Philadelphia to the Susquehanna River and continued south through Maryland into Virginia. In 1746, two years before the Mays arrived, there were about 300 houses in town with an estimated population of 1,500. In 1748, the Lutheran minister, Rev. Frederick Handschuh, reported there were "about 400 houses, with more still being built on account of the good livelihood . . . people still come here, so that in a few years it must probably become a large and populous city." In 1752, a committee of the Pennsylvania Assembly reported there were "311 taxable in the fine Town of Lancaster, a town not much more than twenty years old."
From 1756 to 1763 the citizens of Lancaster County prospered from trade contracted for the British during the French and Indian War. In 1757, Governor Denny and the Indian Chiefs of the Six Nations held an important meeting in Lancaster. In 1759, an official census lists 474 heads of families and a population of 2,840. By 1760, Lancaster, with a population of about 2,900, had grown to become the largest inland town in America. It retained that honor for fifty years, until being replaced by Pittsburgh, the gateway to the Ohio River Valley. Also, Philadelphia was the most populated city in America, a distinction it retained throughout the Eighteenth Century.
The two major ethnic groups in town were the British and the Germans. There are numerous examples of attempts - many successful, some failures - of the citizens of Lancaster to deal with differences in their cultural backgrounds. The British expected the German immigrants to conform with the English language and culture, to imitate the "Engellanders," as the Germans called them. Most of the Germans, called "Dutchmen" by the British, refused to relinquish any more of their language and culture than absolutely necessary. Their church services were conducted in German and their children were instructed in the German language. However, since this was a British colony, all tax lists, election notices, deeds and court proceedings were required to be recorded in English.
In 1752, Samuel Holland and his assistant Heinrich Miller, using a press and type rented from Benjamin Franklin, began publishing a bi-weekly paper, the bilingual "Lancasterishe Zeitung & Lancaster Gazette" Its format was parallel columns printed in German and English. The Gazette provided "Foreign Advices" and "Home News" of the American mainland and the West Indies. Items of commercial interest included advertisements by merchants in Philadelphia which kept the readers current on the prices of goods and services. Prior to the establishment of this paper, Franklin's bilingual publication, "Hoch-Teutsche und Englishche Zeitung," was the source of news for Lancaster.
Education was a common issue of importance to all citizens of Lancaster. Throughout the colonial period the church schools constituted the basic agencies for education in the town. The German congregations were the first to support elementary schools. In 1750, the Reformed Church opened a schoolhouse and the enrollment grew throughout the decade. In 1762, with money raised by a public lottery, they constructed a larger building. By 1765 eighty children were receiving instruction. The Lutherans were equally dedicated to education. Opened in 1747, their school had ninety students by 1762. The Moravian Church also had a school during this period.
The English congregations had a smaller membership and was less able to support schoolmasters. They established no schools during this period. Some of the British parents, English and Irish, chose to send their children to the German schools. Elementary reading, writing and spelling were taught in both the German in English languages. They taught an ABC book, the books of the Bible and the catechism. Moral values were impressed on the scholars through a study of religious works, prayer and hymns. External examiners from the hierarchy of the churches visited the schools and tested the students. In 1767, the Rev. Henry Muhlenberg reported "a fine group of children who were well-instructed in spelling, reading, writing and singing."
Maria Catherina (Graeff) Meÿ
From the births of his children and other records, it appears that Leonard didn't settle in the town of Lancaster until about 1756, possibly as late as1758. He lived in Donegal Township in the northwestern tip of Lancaster County until 1752, then he moved to Conestoga Township, south of the Borough of Lancaster. At the time of this move, the British were hiring every available man with a wagon and a team of horses or mules to haul supplies to western Pennsylvania for their war that had broken out with the French. It is quite likely that this was the opportunity that led Leonard to become a "Waggoner." He and his fellow waggoners provided their services in the - subsequently famous - "Conestoga wagons" of Lancaster County. He was probably away from home much of the time during the seven years of war.
Daniel May and Anna Maria - Godparents
From numerous records we know that Daniel was an Innkeeper on King Street, within two blocks of the courthouse in the Borough of Lancaster. A 1761 record shows that both he and Leonard had three of the 130 licenses issued by the county that year to operate a tavern.
Frantz (Francis) Peter May and Anna Maria
As you can see, the original entry for John in the church register is written in German. In 1937, William J. Hinke made an Anglicized translation of these records. Note that he chose to ignore the German spellings of the names: "Franz Peter May, Johannes or Johannes Kann" in the record of John (Johannes) May.
Numerous tax records and legal documents show that John's father was
often called by his Anglicized name, Francis May. Before John's birth
record was found, we knew from a declaration regarding his service in
the Revolutionary War and from his uncle Daniel's will and the sale
of Daniel's home, that
In 1768, when the May families left the Province of Pennsylvania, John was eight years old. He probably had completed two or three years of school in the "School House for the High Dutch Reformed Congregation" - as it is called in a contemporary article of the "Pennsylvania Gazette."
The next three essays provide a glimpse of the life of John May from
1768, when he moved with his parents to Virginia, to 1813, when he
died in Eastern Kentucky.
1. Wood, Jerome H. Jr., Conestoga Crossroads - Lancaster, Pennsylvania 1730-1790,
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, PA 1979.
[This book, still in print, is an excellent source for general information on Lancaster County.]