Lancaster County 1748-1768
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Continue with an essay on the family in Berkeley County

Borough of Lancaster
We have numerous records, such as the Lancaster County tax rolls and deed books, to document that the May family soon made the transition from their traditional way of life in Germany to a new way of life in Lancaster County on the western edge of the Pennsylvania wilderness. The principal town of the county was the Borough of Lancaster, located in the center of the region on Conestoga Creek. Over the next few years after their arrival in 1748, the Mays bought and sold land, established businesses, paid taxes, joined the First Reformed Church, married and baptized their new-born children.

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."[1]

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
According to records cited by a genealogist researching the May family, Maria Catharina Meÿ, the mother who immigrated with the family, died in Conestoga Township of Lancaster County on October 11, 1751. Born in Hüffelsheim on December 23, 1685, she had a life span of almost sixty-six years. Between 1709 and 1726 Maria Catharina gave birth to ten children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Five years after her husband died in 1743, she immigrated with five of her children to America.

When Maria Catharina left Germany, she had to say good-bye to her oldest son, Johann Nickel Meÿ, a shoemaker who remained in Niederhausen with his family, and possibly to her daughter, Anna Maria, who had recently been widowed. Her presence on the long journey down the Rhine and across the Atlantic must have been memorable to her children, inspiring them to work hard to succeed in their new homeland. We don't know how well she withstood the illnesses experienced by the passengers on the their small ship, the Edinburgh, or what was caused her death in Lancaster County three years later. Her death marked the end of the family's strongest link to the traditions of Germany.

Leonard and Anna Christina May
Soon after arriving in Lancaster County, Leonard May married Anna Christina Shuch. Over a period of sixteen years, beginning in 1750, Anna Christina gave birth to eight children. Their daughter Anna Maria was probably the first of the May children born in America. The third and fifth children were named after Leonard's two brothers living in America. Two of Leonard's sons were baptized in the First Reformed Church in Lancaster and four others are known to have been baptized in other townships in the county.



Lancaster Co. Residence

Anna Maria
Frantz Peter
Johann Daniel
Johann George

21 Jan 1750
Abt. 1750-51
13 Mar 1752
18 Jul 1753
27 Sep 1756
Abt. 1758
1 Oct 1758
Abt. 1766

Donegal Township
Donegal Township
Donegal Township
Conestoga Township


Eight children of Leonard May and Anna Christina Shuch

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
Though there is no record that Daniel and Anna Maria May ever had any children, they certainly were among the most popular Godparents in Lancaster. This fact is among the many that lead us to believe that Daniel was a very respected and well-liked man of the town. Over a period from 1751 to 1761, he and Anna Maria are known to have been the Godparents at the baptisms of eighteen children in Lancaster County. Some of these baptisms are recorded in the Lutheran Church and others in the Reformed Church. Typically a baptism occurred soon after birth, and the children took the first name of the Godparent. Two of Leonard May's children and Frantz Peter May's daughter had this couple as 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
Most likely, Francis had his Shoemaker shop and residence on King Street for most of the twenty years he lived in Lancaster County. He signed a mortgage on the property to secure a loan for £80 on August 28, 1757. He also owned property on Orange Street that he bought from his brother Leonard in 1761 for £150 and sold for £200 on June 20, 1763. Entries were written by Edward Shippen on the side of two mortgages totaling £85 on the Orange Street property, stating that the lender had "received full Satisfaction on this mortgage from Francis May . . . on the Twenty first Day of June 1763." There are no records telling us how he disposed of the King Street property when he left the Borough in 1768.

Their first child, Anna Maria, was born on February 1, 1753 and was baptized in the First Reformed Church of Lancaster. Her uncle and aunt, Daniel and Anna Maria May, were the Godparents. Seven years later Frantz Peter and Anna Maria's only other child, Johannes, was born. Other than her 1753 baptismal record and her 1768 confirmation record in the Reformed Church, we have no other information regarding Anna Maria.

It was the search for the birth record of John May (1760-1813), and curiosity about the name and origin of his father, that led me to research and write The Shoemaker's Children. A baptismal record in the First Reformed Church of Lancaster tells us that John was born ("gebären") on January 6, 1760, and was baptized two weeks later with the name of "Johannes." His parents were "Franz Peter May und Anna Maria." Their son's sponsors (Godparents) were "Johannes Kann und frau." From the church records, we also know that the minister who conducted the ceremony was the Rev. William Stoy, who served as minister from October of 1758 to January of 1763. John's baptismal record is the only direct proof we have that he lived in Lancaster.

1760 birth and baptism record of Johannes May

On the 20th of January, Frantz Peter May and Anna Maria presented for baptism, their son, Jonannes, who was born on the 6th of January.
The sponsors were Johannes Kann and his wife.

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.




Francis Peter May
Anna Maria

Anna Maria
b. Febr. 1, 1753
bapt. Febr. 4, 1753

Daniel May & wf.

Francis Peter May
Anna Maria

b. Jan. 6, 1760
bapt. Jan 20, 1760

John Kann
& wf.

A 1937 translation of the birth and baptism records of the children of Frantz Peter May and his wife Anna Maria.

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
   1. John was born about 1760,
   2. he had uncles named Daniel and Leonard, and
   3. a man named Francis was probably a relative.
   Now we know that Francis was John's father.

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.]

Take a quick look at an essay on the May Brothers and Sisters.

Continue with an essay on the family from 1768 to 1789 in Berkeley County, Virginia - now located in West Virginia.

References to family records and facsimile copies of regional maps are printed in the book on the May/Meÿ family, The Shoemaker's Children.

              © 2000 Fred T. May                Return to Index of John May essays