May coat of arms

The name May is found to be prominent, in its various forms, in the early records of Scotland, England and France. In Scotland the Mays or O'Mays were septs of the Clan Donald (North and South). In its-English origins the name May was probably given to a child born in that month. May, in the Saxon means daisy, a flower. In Gaelic Mai or Maith means good-, pleasant, or fruitful. In Welsh, Mad from Mai, means earth, the producer. In the French the name May is LeMay, meaning a descendant of May, a hypocoristic of Matthew from Maheu, Mayhew (gift of Yahveh).

The May Family

The first American colonist bearing a variant of the May name was William Mease, or May, who settled in Jamestown, Virginia in 1611. In 1621, one John May was one of twenty persons transported into Virginia by Sir George Yeardley.

In November 1642, a John May was transported into Yorke River County by Stephen Gill. Also in 1642 a John May was imported by Thomas Ray into Accomack County, Virginia. These John Mays could very well be the same person since there are more emigrations for a John May in the records, each time into the same general area in and around Accomack County, Virginia.

Other Mays listed are a James May, who was imported in 1657 and settled on the Petomack (Potomac) River. In 1662 a John May is found living on Muddy Creek and Mesango Creek.

In the 1704 Quit Rent Rolls of King and Queen County, Virginia, is found two John Mays and Thomas May.

In the vestry book of Bristol Parish, Virginia, is found a John May and several members of his children. This John's wife was named Mary and the children named in the vestry book were Mary (b. October 11, 1724), James (b. October 1, 1726), William (b. June 11, 1726), Agnis (b. July 19, 1728), Dorothy (b. July 19, 1728), Elizabeth (b. October 2, 1730), and William (b. December 28, 1732).

The next May found in the records is a John May, who about 1740 filled the office of Clerk of Bristol Parish, Virginia. This John May, known as John May, Jr., is presumed to be a son of the above John and Mary May, though evidence has not been found.

John May, Jr., whose ancestors according to some sources were from Lincolnshire and Mayfield, England, was married ca. 1735 to Agnes Smith. According to the vestry book of Bristol Parish, Virginia, John and Agnes had John (b. 1737), Betsy (b. November 1739), Richard (b. February 20, 1743), Stephen (b. November 15, 1745), David (b. May 15, 1747), Agnes (b. Sept. 6, 1749), William (b. October 1752), and George (b. February 6, 1756-d. May 22, 1822).

This John May (Jr.) has long been believed to be the ancestor of the Pitt County branch of the May family, but again there is no proof to support that belief. The two known sons, John and Benjamin, of the John May connected with Pitt County are not listed in the vestry records as children of John May (Jr.) and so one can presume that there is even another John May, whose children do not appear in the vestry records.

With the lineage uncertain, I continue with the John May who entered into Beaufort County, North Carolina, and proved his rights April 10, 1745 for four persons, including himself, three sons (John Jr., James and Benjamin) and two negroes.

In 1756 John May received a land grant in Beaufort County, North Carolina, from the Earl of Granville. In the 1762 Pitt County tax list John May, Benjamin May, and James May are found living together, having three negroes.

John May's Will was proved in Pitt County Court in February 1764 naming his widow, Mary May, executrix and his son, Benjamin May, as executor of his estate. Mary May, the widow of John May, was formerly Mary Stafford (b. ca. 1717) daughter of William Stafford. After the death of John May, Mary moved with her brothers and her daughters to Beaufort County, South Carolina, where she married second by 1771 to a Mr. Mullett. Mary died in 1823 at the age of 106 years and is buried in the Bostick Graveyard, near Garnett Station, Hampton County, South Carolina.

Benjamin May

Benjamin May, the son of John and Mary (Stafford) May, is believed to have been born in Virginia March 17, 1737. Tradition says he was born in Scotland, but that claim has never been proven.

Benjamin May is first found listed in the 1762 Pitt County tax list as living with his father John May and brother, James May. In the 176,4 Pitt County tax list Benjamin is found living in the household of Mary May, his widowed mother.

From this point on Benjamin May appears to have lead a most useful life. He became a very active and influential figure in the social, political and military affairs of Pitt County.

Benjamin May settled on Black Swamp, Pitt County, on the south side of Contentnea Creek near the present town of Farmville. He was listed as a "Saddler to the County and Province" as early as 1767 and he began purchasing large amounts of land as early as 1766. Between the years 1779 to 1783, Benjamin May received land grants totaling 1200 acres from the State of North Carolina.

In 1773 Benjamin May was named as captain of the local regiment of Pitt County Militia. On July 30, 1779, he was appointed 1st. Major of the Pitt Regiment of Militia by Governor Richard Caswell. It is said that Benjamin May commanded the local militia at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on February 15, 1781.

On October 4, 1774, Benjamin May was elected a member of the Pitt County Committee of Safety and was on the committee to build the courthouse and jail at Martinsborough, now Greenville, Pitt County, North Carolina.

On July 17, 1775, the Pitt County Safety Committee chose Benjamin May as one of the captains of the 15th Company of Pitt Patrollers.

Benjamin May was a delegate from Pitt County to the NC Provincial Congress at Halifax, North Carolina, April 12, 1776, when they passed the Halifax Declaration of Independence. He was appointed there with James Gorham (for Pitt County) to "receive, procure, and purchase firearms for the use of the troops". When the Provincial Congress met again on November 12, 1776, Benjamin May was chosen one of the five delegates from Pitt County.

Benjamin May served as a justice of the peace and resigned in 1784 after many years of service. He was named as one of the trustees of Pitt Academy, Martinsborough, Pitt County in 1786 and was a member of the NC House of Commons from 1804 until his death on August 8, 1808,

Benjamin May appears to have been married several times. He married first on November 25, 1765 to Mary Tyson (b. April 16, 1748-d. 1800) daughter of Cornelius and Mary (Sherrod) Tyson. They had the following 12 known children: Tyson, Benjamin (Jr.), Fanny, John, Patsy, Sally, Elizabeth, Delitha, Mary, Clara, James and William May.

Between 1800 and 1808 Benjamin May married Mrs. Anna Stanton Peterson, widow of Kinchen Peterson and sister of James Stanton (Benjamin May's daughter Sallie's husband). Anna is named in Benjamin May's Will as his "beloved wife", but the Will is dated 1805, and she must have died soon after. There was a marriage contract between Major Benjamin May, Sr. and Sallie Ewell, dated December 20, 1807, stipulating that each was to hold their property free from the complications of marriage. According to tradition, the lady was so mistrustful of the high-sounding document that she refused to go on with the wedding, and the Major died a widower.

View map showing the location of Major Benjamin May's gravesite.