Samuel May
(8 Oct 1783 - 26 Jan 1851)
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Our earliest source of information on this family was compiled over a period from the 1930s to 1950s by Mrs. Tress May Francis [1] of Prestonsburg, Kentucky.  More recently, Dr. Robert Perry [2], the first president of The Friends of the Samuel May House, Inc, has researched and written about the life of Samuel May and the history of the home he built in Prestonsburg. Extensive information on Samuel May and the May House is available on the internet, as noted at the end of this essay.

2. Samuel May
m. Catherine Evans on 8 May 1808
1) Thomas                      
2) John                           
3) Elizabeth                     
4) Catherine                   
5) Samuel                      
6) Sarah Minerva          
7) Mahala Jane               
8) Louvina            
9) Amanda Fitzellen         
10) Charlotte Temple       
11) Lucretia Caroline       
12) Andrew Jackson        
13) George Washington    
14) Daniel Wesley            

 The family of Samuel May

Samuel May, the second son of John and Sarah May, became the most prominent member of the early May family in Kentucky. He was born in Martinsburg, Virginia (now W. Va.), and was six years old in 1789 when John May moved his family up the Shenandoah River Valley into the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Samuel's memories of childhood were associated with the mountains of the western frontier. He was thirteen when Tennessee became a state, so he was exposed to the excitement of the political talk of adults during this rapidly changing period in American history. He must have been influenced by the political spirit of the era, since his adult life was highlighted by public activities at the local and state level.

John May needed the help of his older sons, John Jr., Samuel and Thomas, to clear the land and plant the crops on Shelby Creek in Eastern Kentucky when they arrived in 1800. Samuel, however, was determined at an early age to move and establish his own life in the Prestonsburg area, the center of public activity in this remote section of Kentucky. Samuel wrote a brief deposition for his mother's Declaration for a Revolutionary War pension on September 19, 1845 that recalled his father frequently speak of having served in the army of the Revolutionary War and both parents speaking of being married very shortly after the expiration of his father's service in the army. He also told of his move away from home on Shelby Creek (to Prestonsburg) in his twentieth year (about 1802-03).

Deed Book A of Floyd County shows that Samuel purchased three Town Lots, #1, #9 and #15, in Prestonsburg in 1807. The plat for Prestonsburg had been laid out in a survey for Colonel John Preston's grant on May 3, 1797, when the Big Sandy Valley was still in Mason County, by John Graham, Deputy Surveyor of the County. Unfortunately, earlier Floyd County records were destroyed when the log courthouse burned in 1808 and only a few, such as Samuel's purchase of the Town Lots, were re-recorded.

According to genealogist Tress May Francis, other deeds show Samuel acquired land in three different parcels from John Graham, outside the northern limits of the town of Prestonsburg. This land, located on May's Branch, became known as the May Farm. Prestonsburg Community College is now located on the north end of this old homestead.

On May 8, 1808, Samuel married Catherine (Caty) Evans the daughter of Thomas Evans who had emigrated from Wales. Thomas, of Morgantown, Monongalia County, Virginia (now W.Va.), died about September 1808 and his will was probated in Morgantown. Other records of the
disposition of part of his estate is recorded in Floyd County. We know that Samuel developed skills as a carpenter and supplemented his farm work as a building contractor. One construction job, for example, was to build the stocks, pillery and stray pen for the county at Prestonsburg, as recorded in County Court Book I in December 1808.

Thomas Evans, Caty's brother, was contracted to build a new courthouse in Prestonsburg in March of 1806. The Commissioners appointed by the Court would not accept the courthouse in August 22, 1808 due to cetain incomplete work items. Sometime between this date and October 25 of the same year the building burned and the Court records, which apparently had been transferred to it, were destroyed. Evans proposed a new courthouse plan which was approved with one year allowed for construction for $670, and Thomas Evans and his securities were released from their original contract of 1806.

Caty's brothers, Richard and Thomas Evans, were early Sheriffs (Collector of the Levies) of Floyd County. Richard served in 1807 and Thomas in 1811 and 1812. The Evans family probably influenced Samuel to become involved in the business at the county seat which later led to his political activities in the state. In May 1811 Samuel was appointed as a Justice of the Peace in Prestonsburg. The courthouse was still not completed at this time. It was May of 1813 before the Commissioners of the Court received the courthouse as finished according to contract.

In 1818 another courthouse was commissioned by the Court and it was constructed by Samuel May of "brick manufactured at or near the scene". It was 30 feet square and had two stories with seven windows on the lower floor and four windows on the upper floor. Green Venetian shutters were hung outside the windows and the roof was painted red. The magistrates also directed the outside doors to be of mahogany with yellow ocre and white decorations. This third courthouse was completed in 1821 and served Floyd County for almost seventy years. A drawing of the courthouse that replaced this old building in 1890 has been used as the cover seal of the "History of Floyd County" published in 1992, the bicentennial year of the State of Kentucky.

Sometime after the death of Thomas Evans in 1808, his daughter, Caty, inherited her share of the Evans' estate. Around 1813, the year his father died, Samuel inherited his part of John May's estate. These inheritances made the young family relatively prosperous for the area. In September 1814 Court, Samuel May was granted leave to keep a ferry across the Sandy River at his house. The rate was set at 12.5 cents per man and horse.

In 1816 and 1817 Deed Book A shows that Samuel purchased over 3,000 acres of land in Floyd County for about $3,400. This included 120 acres (which probably became part of the May farm) purchased from John Graham near Prestonsburg for $200. In October, 1816, Samuel Osborn sold Samuel May three Negro slaves. The U.S. Census shows he still owned two slaves in 1820. These are the first known records of slaves in the May family in Eastern Kentucky. Unfortunately, this practice continued with some members of this generation and as noted in another essay, John Jr. may have left the area in 1830 in opposition to owning slaves. John Jr. lived on Abbott Creek directly across the river from Samuel from about 1816 to 1830.

In March, 1816, Jacob Waller's son, Jacob, was bound to Samuel May to give apprentice training for six months as a joiner (in the carpenter trade). In 1817 the first brick home known to be built in the Big Sandy Valley was constructed by Samuel on the May farm. The historic two story Samuel May House with its plastered walls and hand carved mantels stands today in it restored state in north Prestonsburg, near the campus of Prestonsburg Community College. Extensive details on the construction features of the house and the making of the brick on the grounds of the farm were described by Tress May Francis. Her father, Beverly Clark May, was born in this home in 1856. Also, Leonidas Polk (Lee P.) May, the grandfather of the author of this essay, was born in this home in 1865.

There was once a race track in the meadow along the river bank that belonged to the family so this certainly must have been the center of sporting activity for the people of the County in the
nineteenth century. In the 1940s Prestonsburg High School played their baseball and football games on a field of this old farm.

Samuel was elected as the State Representative for Floyd and Pike County in 1832 and 1833. He was State Senator for Floyd County from 1834 to 1839. Serving in Frankfort ment a long horse ride for Samuel from Prestonsburg which would take several days each way for his sessions at the State Legislature. Samuel and his brothers increased their estates by purchasing numerous tracts of land in Eastern Kentucky using Kentucky Land Warrants that were in effect after 1815 and County Court Orders that were created in 1835.

By the early 1840s it appears Samuel was having financial difficulties and had sold or mortgaged most of his land. In 1842 his brother, Thomas, paid off $4,750 in mortgages that Samuel owed and took possession of the May farm at Prestonsburg. Samuel then moved to Prestonsburg and lived in a home he had built on First Avenue for John Layne. He continued as a contractor and owned a sawmill at the mouth of Abbot Creek. Samuel's last venture was to the gold fields of California in 1849 with his nineteen year old son, Andrew Jackson May, and another young man named White. This time he traveled across the continent to seek another fortune at the age of 66. He arrived in Placerville, California but he was never to return to the mountains of his youth.

According to his son, Samuel knew he was dying and he gave the boys directions about returning to Kentucky with their gold and with his hands on their heads, he pronounced a benediction. Samuel died on January 26, 1851, and is buried in the Placerville area. Andrew returned to Placerville in 1898 searching for his father's grave but found no trace of the burial site.

Andrew Jackson May was probably the most prominent child of the Samuel May family . He was born January 28, 1829, at Prestonsburg. The name Andrew Jackson was very popular during this period and he had two first cousins with the same name in Floyd County. In 1861 he organized a company for service in the Confederated States Army and was elected Captain of the ompany when it mustered into service in October, 1861, and became Company A of the 10th Kentucky Infantry. Andrew was given a number of field promotions and in the winter of 1862-63 he organized the 10th Kentucky Cavalry. He served as a Colonel until August 1864, when he was forced to resign because of illness. After the War he moved to Tazewell, Virginia, where he was a very successful lawyer.

After Samuels death in 1851, Catherine (Evans) May lived with her daughter, Mahala Jane (May) Randall, in Maysville where Mahala's husband, Dr. Perez S. Randall, practiced medicine. After Dr. Randall's death in 1867 Catherine and Mahala moved to Lousia, Kentucky where Catherine later died.

Francis, Tress May.  May Genealogy. Southern Branch with Biographical Sketches: 1776-1956.     Unpublished, filed at Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, Ky. 1956.
2. Perry, Dr. Robert. The Oldest House in the Valley, A Study of the May House in Prestonsburg, Kentucky     and the man who built it. © 1993 Friends of the Samuel May House, Inc., P.O. Box 1460, Prestonsburg,     Kentucky 41653.

Continue with an essay on the third child of John and Sarah, Thomas May.

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