Thomas May
(1 Feb 1787 - 3 Sep 1867)
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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 of Prestonsburg, Kentucky. [1] We also have confirmation of the birthdates from the Bible of Garland Hurt, a great-grandson of Thomas, who was reared by Thomas Patton May on Johns Creek, Ky.

3. Thomas May
m. Dorcas Patton (1790-1872) on 19 Aug 1813
1) Daniel
2) Reuben
3) Thomas Patton
4) Cynthia
5) William James
6) Samuel
7) John
8) Sarah
9) Henry
10) Harvey George
11) Dorcas
12) David
13) Mary

The family of Thomas May

Thomas May, the third child of John and Sarah May, was the son who stayed on the homestead in Shelby Creek after his father died in 1813. A property deed indicates that his parents were living in Hampshire County, Virginia (now W. Va.) in 1784, so we can assume they still lived there when Thomas was born in 1787. He was only a child of two in 1789 when the May family migrated southwest up the Shenadoah River Valley on their trek to Western North Carolina. Thomas certainly must have had vivid memories of the next family move in 1800 when he was thirteen and they ventured northwest over the mountains into Floyd County, Kentucky, which had just been formed from Fleming, Mason and Montgomery Counties.

After John May died on January 25, 1813, Thomas assumed the major responsibility for the family. The older brothers, John Jr. and Samuel, were married and had not been living near the May farm on Shelby Creek for a number of years. Thomas was only 26 years old and his mother and three younger brothers and two sisters were still living at home. Daniel was the next oldest at age 24 followed by the sisters - Betsy, age 19 and Polly, age 16 - and the younger brothers - Reuben, age 13, and Phillip Pollard, age 8. Both sisters soon married - Betsy in June 1813 and Polly in July 1814.

Thomas married Dorcas Patton on August 19, 1813. she was the daughter of James Patton and Florence Graham (Patton). Tress May Francis tells us that after their marriage he took pack horses, traveled 117 miles north to Catlettsburg, Kentucky at the mouth of the Big Sandy River, and carried the goods needed to start housekeeping back to his farm on Robinson Creek fork of Shelby Creek.

The 1820 U.S. Census for Floyd County shows Thomas, age 33, as the head of the family with five young children under ten (their four boys and one girl, assuming Samuel wasn't born at the time), three males ten or older (probably his brothers, Tlepolard, Reuben and possibly Daniel), and two older females (Dorcas and probably his mother, Sarah). The other May families in the 1820 Census were Thomas' brothers, John and Samuel, who lived near Prestonsburg, and Caleb, who lived in the Licking River Valley near the present city of Salyersville and is not related to our May family.

The neighboring farm to Thomas in 1820 was owned by his brother-in-law, James W. Little, who was married to Elizabeth (Betsey) and had two young children listed in the U.S. Census. Other records show that these children were Mary Little and Thomas May Little, born in 1817 and 1819, respectively.[2]

Pike County, Kentucky was formed from Floyd County in 1822. In a meeting at the house of Spencer Adkins on March 4, 1822, the first Justices of the Peace were commissioned and a court was formed for the County of Pike. Spencer Adkins was appionted clerk of this court and Thomas May was one of six surities for his bond in the amount of 1000 pounds. This meeting was held just below the mouth of Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River. Two of Thomas May's children, Sarah and Harvey George, married children of Spencer Adkins around 1840 and both families later moved to Harrisonville, Missouri.

In 1972, when Pike County celebrated its sesquicentennial year (1822-1972), Kentucky House of Representatives Resolution No. 23 congratulating the citizens of Pike County was introduced by Mr. Marrs Allen May, State Representative from Pike County, and a great great grandson of Thomas May.[3]

Thomas May was one of the Commissioners appointed in 1824 to report on plans to build the first courthouse in the County Seat of "Pike". The town name was changed to Piketon in 1829, and finally changed to the present name of Pikeville in 1888. In 1830 Thomas May was the head of the only May family in Pike County. At this time there were fifteen members of the household plus one male slave. In 1840 there were thirteen members of the household plus four male slaves. Apparently his mother, Sarah, lived with him since there was a female 70 to 80 years old in the household.

Thomas Patton May, the third child of Thomas May and Dorcas Patton (May) was married to Elizabeth Margery Leslie on Johns Creek on March 4, 1841. She was the great granddaughter of William Robert Leslie, who established the first settlement on Johns Creek (in present-day Pike County) prior to 1790.[4] William Robert was buried in a hollow poplar log which is located on a farm once owned by Garland Hurt, a grandson of Thomas P. May. A marker of this grave is visible on a hill beside a Pike County golf course now located on the farm at Gulnare. Thomas P. May was a Methodist Minister for 60 years and was a trustee of Snively Chapel, located near his home on Johns Creek. In 1860 his estate, valued at $11,500, was unusually large for the region.

Thomas purchased the farm of his Brother, Samuel, near Prestonsburg in 1842 and two of his sons, William James, age 23, and Samuel, age 22, moved to the large home on the farm and lived together and worked the land until they both married, at which time they divided the farm. William James May became the owner of the large brick home his uncle had built and all of his twelve children were born in this home. His first wife, Eliza Jane Harman, died soon after their only child was born. His second wife, Cynthia Ann Powers, was the granddaughter of Archibald Prater, another pioneer of Floyd County. Two of his sons, Beverly Clark and Lee P., were elected Sheriff of Floyd County and Beverly also was County Judge. Later a grandson, Alex Davidson, was also County Judge of Floyd County.

In 1850 Thomas was listed in the Census for Pike County as age 63 and Dorcas was age 60. Only one child, David L. age 22, was living at home. Also, some grandchildren were in the household; Adaline who was the four year old daughter of William James May and Eliza Harmon (who died in 1848), and John Little who was the son of James W. Little and Betsy May. Two young Hamilton (Hambleton) men were laborers on the farm and possibly were also related. The farm, valued at $6,000, was one of the largest in the Pike County.

The Civil War
Thomas and Dorcas were still living on In Pike County in 1860 and their estate had grown to a value of $12,400. The household only lists the two of them living together at ages 73 and 70. Obviously the land was not being farmed by Thomas at this advanced age and the crops were probably tended through leases to farmers in the area. Perhaps the most difficult period of the life of Thomas May was not the hard work clearing the land with his father and brothers in the virgin forests of Eastern Kentucky, or the rearing of a large family remote from doctors and the conveniences of life, but instead, probably was the anguish brought on by the Civil War when he lost his youngest son and had his oldest living son leave his native state, never to return.

Most members of the May family chose to support the Confederacy but, as was common in Kentucky, there were cases of brothers and cousins serving in different armies. Examples in the Thomas May family are illustrated by the following brief accounts of some sons and grandsons.

Reuben May had moved away from the family farm in Pike County a number of years before the outbreak of the Civil War. He was living in Clay County, Kentucky near Manchester and enlisted in the Union Army on September 23, 1861, at the age of 46. He advanced to become a Colonel in the 7th Kentucky Regiment Union Volunteer Infantry. He engaged in a number of well known battles of the war including; Perryville, Kentucky in 1862; Stone River, Tennessee in 1863, where he was wounded; the seige at Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1863; Conee Creek, Louisana in 1864; and St. Charles, Arkansas in 1864.

During the war (in 1864) his family moved to Vernon County, Wisconsin and at end of the war he joined them there and lived the remainder of his life in that state. He was a very successful farmer of a 700 acre farm and a part time politican. Reuben was a Wisconsin State Representative for two terms and failed by only six votes in an election to the State Senate in 1875. In 1879, at the age of 64, Reuben ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Wisconsin on the Greenback ticket.
Other stories are known about members of the May family being wounded and killed in the Civil War. The most tragic involved the Battle of Cynthiana, Ky., where Thomas lost his youngest son, David, and a grandson, Solomon (the oldest child of Samuel).

He served in the Confederate Army in the Civil War after joining on June 1, 1863 at Camp Bowen, Va. He was a Second Sergeant when he was killed on or about June 12, 1864. Family traditions, related by a grandson, Lucien May, say he "was not killed by bullet or sabre, but was drowned in action," and that his widow was denied any benefits "due to the manner of her husband's death." Lucien related that the drowning occurred when a dam for a millpond was blasted open by the Union soldiers. David May's grave is in Battle Grove Cemetery, Cynthiana, KY. [5]

Prior to the war, David was a merchant and a farmer with an estate of $1800 in 1860. He had been elected as a State Representative from Pike County on August 5, 1861, for the 1861-63 term along with another Southern sympathizer, John M. Elliot of Prestonsburg who represented Floyd and Johnson Counties. David was expelled on August 29, 1862 for "joining or aiding the Confederate Army."

Note: About seventy-five years later David's grandson, David Darwin May of Prestonsburg, was the first Floyd Countian to enter the West Point Military Academy, where he graduated in 1942.

Another son, John May, served under the command of his first cousin, Andrew Jackson May and also fought in the Battle of Cynthiana. John was a large land owner in Pike County with as estate of $12,000 in 1860. He advanced to the rank of Captain of a regiment. After the war he served one term as a Kentucky State Representative. John's son, Solomon, also served in the Confederacy and was captured. He then agreed to fight for the Union Army and is said to have received pensions from both sides.
Another son, Henry May, also served under the command of his first cousin, Andrew Jackson May and later fought in the Battle of Cynthiana. He also was a large land owner in Pike County with an estate of $10,000 in 1860. When his nephew (Samuel's son, Solomon) was killed, Henry took Solomon's horse and used it the remainder of the war and then returned it home.

Thomas May died on September 3, 1867, at the age of 80. Afterward Dorcas lived with her son, John, on Robinson Creek. Her daughter-in- law Mary Bickley May, widow of David, lived on a farm nearby with their seven children. Dorcas died on June 9, 1872, at the age of 82 and is buried beside Thomas on their old homestead near the mouth of Robinson Creek. They share a large marble gravestone that is still easy to locate across the highway from the Robinson Creek Post Office. A road, which passes near the graves, was built in the 1990s to access a coal stripmine site at the top of the hill.

The will of Thomas May, dated July 12, 1865, is filed in Pike County, Ky. Will Book B, pp. 65-66. It was probated on November 4, 1867, as attested by Hibbard Williamson, Clerk.

 Francis, Tress May.  May Genealogy. Southern Branch with Biographical Sketches: 1776-1956.      Unpublished, filed at Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, Ky. 1956.
2.  Sewell, Juanelle S.   We, The Little People, McDowell Publications, Itica, KY, 1987.
3.  Roberts, Leonard, Editor of Revised Edition. 150 Years, Pike County, Kentucky: 1822-1972,
     Sesquicentennial Issue Vol. I,Pike County Historical Society, 1972.
4.  Scalf, Henry P. Kentucky's Last Frontier, Pikeville College Press, Pikeville, Ky., 1972.
5.  Family traditions provided in 2000 by Nancy May, a descendant of David May and an organizer of annual family reunions.

Continue with an essay on the fourth child of John and Sarah, Elizabeth May.

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