Eighth May Generation
Biographical Sketches
Fred T. May - 2002

John May, Jr. (1781-1849)
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- Genealogists -
During the past few years, I have been in contact with 21 descendants of John May, Jr.
A number of them are actively continuing research on their respective family lines.
Fred T. May - 2002

Family of John May, Jr. | The Hanson Family | John, Caty & Elizabeth | Life in Illinois: 1830-1849 | Notes

John May, Jr. was nineteen years of age in 1800, when he migrated to Floyd Co., Kentucky from Carter Co., Tennessee with his parents and five younger brothers and sisters. He returned to Carter Co. in 1802 to marry Catherine (Caty) Hanson, who lived near the May family farm in the Watauga Valley. His father may have traveled with him - since he signed as surety on the marriage bond - and the young couple likely returned to Shelby Creek, following the festivities in the Hanson home.

Family of John May, Jr.
1 John MAY, Jr. b: 28 Apr 1781 Berkeley Co., VA d: 22 Nov 1849 Shelby Co., IL [his grave stone in Middleworth Cemetery indicates a birth year of 1783] age at d: 68
.. +Mary Catherine (Caty) HANSON b: Abt. 1784 Botetourt Co., VA m: 10 Feb 1802 Carter County, TN d: Abt. 1808 Eastern Kentucky age at d: 24 est.

2 Samuel MAY b: Abt. 1803 Tennessee or Estill Co, KY d: Bef. 1835 Floyd Co., KY age at d: 32 est.
..... +ELIZABETH d: After 1837

2 Elizabeth MAY b: Abt. 1804 Tennessee or Estill Co, KY
..... +Alexander Gordon Young GEORGE b: Abt. 1790 South Carolina m: 1 Jul 1819 d: 30 May 1873 Johnson Co., KY age at d: 83 est.

2 John MAY III b: 30 May 1806 Kentucky or Tennessee d: 16 Jul 1831 Tower Hill, IL, buried in Middleworth Cemetery age at d: 25
..... +Rachael ROOK b: 3 Jun 1808 Grainger County, NC m: 8 Nov 1827 Shelby Co, IL d: 30 Sep 1893 Mills County, IA age at d: 85

*2nd Wife of John MAY, Jr.:
.. +Elizabeth HANSON b: Abt. 1793 Western NC m: 1809 d: Abt. 1831 Shelbyville, IL, buried on the high bank of the Okaw River, Shelbyville, IL age at d: 38 est.

2 Cornelius MAY b: 15 May 1810 Tennessee or Estill Co, Ky. d: 5 Jul 1874 Burden, Cowley County, Kansas, buried in Silver Creek Cemetery age at d: 64
..... +Martha MCNEELEY m: 1831 Shelby County, Ill. d: Aft. 1841 Tower Hill, Ill, buried in Knobbs graveyard age at d: ?
*2nd Wife of Cornelius MAY:
..... +Lucinda NEIL m: Abt. 1843 Shelby Co, Illinois

2 Thomas Waldo MAY b: 12 Dec 1812 Estill Co, Ky. d: 6 Mar 1880 Oregon City, Oregon, buried in Graham Cemetery age at d: 67
..... +Nancy Caroline MCNEELEY b: 24 Mar 1813 m: 20 Sep 1832 Shelby Co., near Tower Hill, Ill. d: 13 Dec 1859 age at d: 46

2 Mary MAY b: 11 Jun 1814 Estill Co, KY d: 12 Mar 1868 Shelby Co., IL, buried in Middleworth Cemetery age at d: 53
..... +James HANSON b: 15 Jan 1816 Estill County, KY m: 4 Feb 1836 Tower Hill, IL d: 16 Mar 1893 Fayette County, IL age at d: 77

2 Rebecca MAY b: Abt. 1816 Estill or Floyd Co., Ky d: 1878 Oregon City, OR, buried in Graham Cemetery with a boulder as her marker age at d: 62 est.

2 Nancy Matilda MAY b: 5 Oct 1817 Floyd County, Ky. d: 26 Jun 1909 Yuma, Colorado age at d: 91
..... +Miles ABBOTT b: Abt. 1815 Illinois (according to the 1850 U.S. Census) d: 9 Oct 1873 Edinburg, Ill. age at d: 58 est.

2 Jeptha MAY b: 26 Apr 1820 Floyd County, Ky. d: 26 Apr 1890 Oregon City, Oregon, buried in Carus Cemetery age at d: 70
..... +Amy Ann SHARROCK b: 17 May 1828 Richland Co., Ohio m: 1846 Tower Hill, Ill. d: 5 Nov 1912 Oregon City, Oregon, buried in Carus Cemetery age at d: 84

2 Alfred MAY b: 1821 Floyd County, KY d: California, according to family tradition
..... +Luhana NEIL b: 8 Sep 1824 Claibourne Co.,TN m: Jun 1842 "Knobbs" in Tower Hill, IL

2 Catherine MAY b: 10 Feb 1823 Floyd County, Ky. d: 30 Aug 1908 Tower Hill, Ill. age at d: 85
..... +John SHARROCK m: 30 Mar 1843 Shelby Co, Illinois d: 8 Dec 1896 age at d: ?

2 Lafayette MAY b: 28 May 1825 Floyd County, KY d: 14 Jul 1876 Clackamas Co., OR, buried in Old Canby Cemetery age at d: 51
..... +Nancy Caroline ABBOTT b: 1 Sep 1844 Illinois m: 26 Nov 1861 Clackamas County, OR d: 12 Feb 1875 Clackamas Co., OR, buried in Old Canby Cemetery age at d: 30
*2nd Wife of Lafayette MAY:
..... +Susan BALL m: 1875 Clackamas Co., OR

2 Jane MAY b: 29 Jan 1827 Floyd County, KY d: 12 Sep 1904 Sleeper, MO, buried in Holman graveyard age at d: 77
..... +Pryor NEIL m: 24 May 1848 d: Nov 1854 Tower Hill, IL, buried in Middleworth Cemetery age at d: ?

2 Andrew Jackson MAY b: 8 Sep 1830 Abbott Creek, Floyd County, KY d: 17 Sep 1908 Princeville, OR age at d: 78
..... +Mary Ann CRONK b: 14 May 1835 m: 5 Aug 1852 Linn County, OR d: 18 Dec 1861 age at d: 26

The Hanson Family
Caty's father, John Hanson (1760-1818), and six of his brothers served in the Revolutionary War. A number of descendants are D.A.R. and S.A.R. members. For several years after her father and mother, Mary Magdalena Wall, married in 1783, they remained in Virginia and began to rear their children. He and his brother, William, are on the 1783 list of the Botetourt Co. militia and John's name appears again in 1785. About ten years later, he moved his family to Western NC - which today is the northeast corner of Tennessee. John Hanson's name first appeared on tax lists of Carter Co., TN in 1796, and again in 1799. He is briefly mentioned as building a road to the top of Stone Mountain in "History of Carter County." From 1789 to 1800 John May (1760-1813) and his family lived in this same section of NC/TN. By the time John May began his move to Kentucky, his oldest son apparently was spending lots of time at a nearby farm, "courting" John Hanson's oldest daughter, Caty. His goodbyes must have included some big promises to the sixteen year old girl.

During the War of 1812 John Hanson moved briefly to Claiborne Co., TN. Two of his sons, Conrad and John, served as soldiers in the war. A Hanson family tradition tells that John, an experienced powder maker, was too old - at the age of 52 - for combat in the War of 1812, so he hid himself with others in the celebrated Indian Cave, known even to this day as Nick-a-Jack, and there made that "necessary article of war" for General Jackson's army at New Orleans.

Soon after the war, John and his family moved to Monroe Co., IN, and he died there in 1818. His estate wasn't settled until 1829. About 1831, his widow and a son, Conrad, moved to Shelby Co., IL. Conrad's household is recorded in the 1840 and 1850 U.S. censuses of the county.

John, Caty & Elizabeth
We have no official records proving where John and Caty lived during the six brief years of their marriage. They might have remained for a while on or near the Hanson farm in Tennessee, or more likely - at least according to the following story - "took-up housekeeping" near his father's homestead on Shelby Creek, in Floyd County, KY. We know with more certainty that, from 1803 to 1806, they had three children - Samuel, Elizabeth and John III - and within another two years, at the age of 24, Caty died. It is quite possible her untimely death was caused by complications from yet another pregnancy, but no records support such a theory. The following story tells us of some important events that soon followed her death.

"John May returned [to the home of his in-laws in Carter County, Tennessee] after about a year [following his first wife's death] for the purpose of relieving the Hanson family of the care of his [three] children. It was in the early fall when John and Elizabeth Hanson, the younger sister [of his first wife] were picking apples, and discussing plans for the children. Elizabeth expressed regrets over their leaving because she and her mother [the children's grandmother] had grown so fond of them. Finally John remarked, 'Well Elizabeth, there is only one way to solve this problem, as you are so devotedly attached to the children, and that is for you to become their step-mother.' Elizabeth dropped her apron full of apples [so the story goes] and made a hurried trip to the house to tell her mother what John had said. The mother with great tact said, "Well Elizabeth, you could never do better, for John May is a good man." They soon married and John and Elizabeth returned to Floyd County, where she took up the unfinished task of her sister, Caty."
This account comes to us from Catherine May Sharrock, 8th child of John and Elizabeth. Catherine was the grandmother of Homer Eiler, the first family genealogist to publish a history of the descendants of John May, Sr. *** Brackets have been added to clarify some details of the story.
Mrs. Howard Woodruff says this story appeared in the DAR Magazine. [sometime before the mid-1960s].

Elizabeth not only cared for her sister's three children but, from 1810 to 1830, also gave birth to eleven of her own children. Scant records of the whereabouts of John's home(s) prior to 1816 have been located in official documents - deeds, other court records, or the 1810 U.S. Census - of any county in Eastern Kentucky. Perhaps, following his second marriage in 1809, he remained in Tennessee for a period of time and was living in the Hanson household when the census was taken. Some genealogists of the family say that he lived in Estill County, KY near his Hanson brother-in-laws, for a few years. Absent better proof, the specific birthplaces of his older children by Elizabeth are uncertain. According to Mrs. Woodruff's account, Elizabeth's first child was born 15 May 1810 in Tennessee and the next two or three children were born in Estill Co.

In 1813 John May, Sr. died without a recorded will. All of his children are named as his heirs on a few Floyd County court documents, but the size of his estate isn't known. In 1815, a Commissioner's Deed for 50 acres on Shelby Creek was issued to John Sr.'s heirs. Though he certainly must have owned much more than these 50 acres, there is no evidence from existing records that his widow, Sarah, or any of their children received any sizable inheritance.

Conrad Hanson, a brother of Caty and Elizabeth, is known to have been living in Estill Co., KY by 1816, when his son, James, was born. [Twenty-one years later, James married Mary May, a daughter of John and Elizabeth May.] Also, Floyd County records show that Samuel Osborn sold 95 acres on "Abbott Creek and Big Sandy River" to "John May of Estill County" for $500 on December 14, 1816. [Floyd County Deed Book A:397] These facts lend support to the family tradition that John and Elizabeth lived in Estill County near her brothers - at least for a few years. The 1816 purchase most likely dates when he and Elizabeth moved to Floyd County to establish their farm on Abbott Creek - north of Prestonsburg and directly across the river from the farm where his brother, Samuel May, was busy building a fine brick home. John's household appears in the 1820 U.S. census for Floyd County with his wife [Elizabeth], five sons [Samuel, John III, Cornelius, Thomas and Jeptha] and three daughters [Mary, Rebecca and Nancy] at home. His oldest daughter, Elizabeth, who married in 1819, was living with her husband, Alexander George, and their young son, Albert.

Two other early land purchases by John on Abbott Creek include 37 acres from John Graham on December 1817 for $35 and 12 acres from William Herrel for $20 on February 3, 1819. [Floyd County Deed Book A:496 & B:22] We also have records of land that John acquired through the Kentucky Land Grant System in the 1820s. When he sold his Floyd County land and moved his family to Illinois in 1830, reference is made to 250 acres that had been "patented" to him in two tracts of land: 100 acres patented on 9 Sep 1826 and 150 acres patented on 21 Feb 1829.
[Floyd County Deed Book C:219 & C:220]

A survey of the 150-acre tract - "made by virtue of 2 Kentucky Land Office Warrants No. 15720 & 15719" - shows that on 6 Feb 1827 John was the "marker," Alexander George [John's son-in-law] was the "chain carrier," and Enoch Harrell was the "housekeeper" - the man who guided the survey crew over the property - for John Graham, who recorded the survey as Floyd County Surveyor. Adjacent properties were: a 50-acre survey made by Samuel May; an original 276-acre survey for John Preston; and the 37-acre tract John had purchased from John Graham in 1817. The previously mentioned 100-acre tract apparently wasn't surveyed for John, so it probably was assigned to him by the original owner of that survey, a common practice of the time. This additional 250 acres on Abbott Creek brought John May's total land holdings in Floyd County to a sizable 394 acres.

In 1829, the names of Caty's three children were recorded in the "Settlement of the Estate" of her father in Monroe Co., IN. John May gave a receipt for $30.06, the share of the Hanson Estate belonging to "Caty, my first wife, and the same is to become the property of her children thus named." This modest sum for Caty's share of the estate - she was one of five children - suggests that her father's estate probably was valued at only a few hundred dollars. His wife, Mary Magdalena Wall, lived until 1845.

Life in Illinois: 1830-1849
As the 1820s came to a close, several families from Floyd County, including the May's neighbors, the Abbotts, had gone north to take up land in the "free State of Illinois." John May III, when he was about 20 years old, is said to have accompanied a group to Shelby Co. IL, where he was married in 1827. Since his father's household was enumerated in the Floyd County censuses of 1830, we know that he arrived in Illinois a few years later than John III.

About the time he left Floyd County, John sold all of his property to his oldest son, Samuel, on 11 Oct 1830. The 144 acres John had purchased in three tracts for $555 - when he first settled on Abbott Creek - were sold for $400 and the 250 acres he obtained through the Kentucky Land Grant System were sold for $100. It isn't apparent how his 27-year-old son raised $500, but the deeds aren't written with mortgages against the property. We now know that in 1832 Samuel sold the 144 acres to John Osborn for $400 - probably to cover his indebtedness - and died before 1835.

Slavery continued to be a burning issue throughout the South, and families were often divided on their positions. According to tradition among John's descendants, it was such a split that caused John and Elizabeth to follow their son to Illinois. Probably because of the money he received from the property he sold when he left Floyd County, Mrs. Woodruff concluded that John was not a poor farmer when he established his new home in the North.

Traditionally, the family's move was thought to have occurred late in the summer of 1830, between the time of the 1830 census and the birth of their son, Andrew Jackson, in September. However, in Oregon Land Claim No. 479, Andrew recorded that he was born in Floyd County, KY. This fact, combined with the previously noted October 1830 date for the sale of John's land to his son, Samuel, leads us to think the move probably was soon after - not before - Andrew's birth.

Mrs. Woodruff notes: "John set forth with his family and all of their earthly belongings, traveling in pioneer fashion, experiencing all of the struggles through wilderness and forest, until they reached their new homestead near Shelbyville." She adds, "No pen can portray the hardships endured on such a journey." In the family were ten children, five of whom were under ten years of age, and Elizabeth had either recently given birth to Andrew, or was expecting the infant's arrival very soon.

It's little wonder that there remains the family tradition that Elizabeth had a premonition of her coming death in Illinois, which she told others in the family. Her son, Andrew Jackson, was born September 30, 1830 and shortly afterwards she died, as written in "History of Shelby County." Mr. Homer Eiler writes that in his youth he visited Elizabeth's grave on the high bank of the Okaw River, a stream that runs by the eastern edge of Shelbyville. He can distinctly remember his mother saying, "Here lies my grandmother Elizabeth May." Still later, with the coming of the C&EI Railroad, a right-of-way was cut through the center of the old burial grounds and Elizabeth's grave, along with others, was ruthlessly scooped out to make way for progress.

In 1831, about the time his step-mother died in Shelby County, John III, at 25 years of age, also died. He was buried in Middleworth Cemetery near Tower Hill. John May, who remained a widower the rest of his life, then moved from Shelbyville to the "Abbott Homestead" about three miles northeast of Tower Hill , which afterwards became known as the "May Homestead." Homer Eiler visited the site in 1926, where he found the outlines of the old foundations, the old well still intact, and stubs of mulberry trees where an orchard once grew.

Soon after the Mays arrived in Shelby County, some of the children began to marry: Cornelius married Martha McNeeley in 1831; Thomas Waldo married Nancy Caroline McNeeley [likely a sister to Martha] in 1832. In the 1840 Shelby Co. census, these two older sons of John and Elizabeth were in their own households. The oldest daughter, Mary, had married her first cousin, James Hanson, our "first family historian," in 1836. About 1847, the families of Thomas and Jeptha "buddied-up" with the Abbott family and moved along the Oregon Trail to the Great Northwest. Thirty-year-old Rebecca - who had been afflicted with measles at the age of fifteen, became totally blind, and never married - went along on the journey with her brothers. In 1878, she died at Oregon City, OR in Jeptha's home. Three other sons - Alfred, Lafayette and Andrew Jackson May - traveled their separate ways to Missouri, California, Oregon and other points west. The May daughters - Mary, Nancy, Catherine and Jane - spent most, if not all, of their married lives in Illinois. After the end of the Civil War, Cornelius moved his family from Shelby Co, IL to Burden, Cowley Co., KS.

After his sons left Illinois, John May went to live with his daughter, Catherine, near Tower Hill, while her husband, John Sharrock, was in California seeking gold. John May died November 22, 1849 and was laid to rest in Middleworth graveyard next to his son, John III, who died eighteen years earlier. Mrs. Woodruff visited the area in the summer of 1959, relating that "the cemetery is a solid block of trees and thick underbrush, with three large trees growing from the center of his grave." John's grave stone is inscribed: Died Nov. 22, 1849; Aged 66 yrs 6 mo 24 days. This would give his date of birth as 28 Apr 1783. Other records, however, give his birth as being on this same day in 1781. An illegible stone next to John probably was the grave of his son, John III.
[An inventory of graves in the cemetery was taken in 1965 by Ed Boedecker, relationship not known.]

Most of our early records of John May, Jr. were researched by two of his descendants, Homer Eiler and Mrs. Howard W. Woodruff, both deceased. Mr. Eiler privately printed a small pamphlet on his research in 1929: Our Ancestors: A Record of May, Hanson, Pollard and Philips Families. He has SAR # 41001. Mrs. Wooruff privately published her work in 1967: John May, Sr & Sarah Jane Phillips . . . 1760-1967.

Mrs. Tress May Francis, also deceased, was in contact with both of these genealogists during her years of research up to the mid-1950s. Tress primarily documented the families of John's brothers, Samuel, Thomas and Reuben.

I have seen only one document - Floyd County deed: A:257, which names John and all of his children - that refers to the first son of John May (1760-1813) as John May, Jr. I typically use Jr. only when it is necessary to distinguish him from his father.

More research is needed to prove the time and location of John's residences prior to 1816.

Mrs. Howard Woodruff calls James Hanson the "first historian" of the May-Hanson family. In 1876, the year of the centennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence, the thought occurred to him to leave to posterity a family history. This document was saved by his brother, Martin, and was later passed down to Raymond C. Hanson, of the next generation, who spent seven years compiling a record of the family. According to Mrs. Woodruff, it was Raymond's work that "proved to be the starting point for Homer Eiler of Topeka, Kansas, who spent twenty years and a small fortune on research."

John's oldest daughter, Elizabeth, was married to Alexander George in 1819 and she remained in Kentucky when her father and step-mother moved to Illinois in 1830.

Traditions of John May's family speak of the Abbott family - known to have lived in Shelby Co., IL - moving from Floyd County. I have found no records to prove that any Abbott family lived in the county during the early decades of the 1800s. However, the name of the creek where the Mays lived - Abbott Creek - is a strong hint that such a family may have lived there for a number of years. John's daughter, Nancy Matilda May, married Rev. Miles Abbott about 1840 in Illinois. Mrs. Woodruff listed Miles' place of birth as "Floyd Co., KY, near the May settlement," but offered no proof in her account.

Some deeds are made to John's oldest son, referred to as Samuel May Jr., apparently to distinguish him from John's well-known brother, Samuel May. Young Samuel, apparently died before 1835, leaving a wife and daughter, Emeline - as noted in an ACT of the Kentucky Senate approved 16 Feb 1835. His estate - probably his remaining 250-acre tract - was described as "not being sufficient to pay his debts, and the real estate is unproductive, consisting of a mill and land, only valuable for the timber, and the same is greatly out of repair . . . " During the years of these legislative actions, his uncle, Samuel May, was serving as a State Senator. Floyd County Deed Book C:327 gives the name of his wife as Elizabeth.

Three May first cousins were named for Andrew Jackson, the "First Western President," who was elected in 1828.

When John and his family migrated from Floyd County, steamboats hadn't yet begun to travel up the Big Sandy as far as Prestonsburg.

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