John May is credited with the official name of Maysville, after its founding as Limestone, and yet, he never had a permanent residence here.
From all indications, John May, (b. 1744 - d. 1790) was willing to traverse the wilderness of the newly formed nation of America, just as many other pioneers of his time.
John May lived in Virginia and his Last Will and Testament was recorded in that state.
Evidence suggests John May was in the area now known as Kentucky and Ohio in the mid 1770s.
According to a footnote in History of Maysville and Mason County (G. Glenn Clift) John May kept a Land Book as clerk of the old Kentucky county and clerk of the Land Commission sent out by Virginia in 1779 to hear disputes about western lands and settle them.
“May's book contains a copy of each certificate issued by the Commission for land in the present limits of Kentucky. It is known as “he Doomsday Book of the conquest of Kentucky.” ... In 1923 the Kentucky State Historical Society published the entire record in Vol. 21 of their journal, the "Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society.””
In 1785, Patrick Henry, Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, granted John May “a certain tract or parcel of Land, containing eight hundred (800) acres by Survey bearing date the 26th day of January 1784, lying and being in the county of Fayette (later Bourbon, now Mason) on the Ohio River and Limestone run and bounded as follows. ...” Within Henry's land grant to May, James Douglas and Simon Butler (Kenton) were also named.
In December 1787, the Commonwealth of Virginia established the town of Maysville, which was then in Bourbon County.
According to Clift's research, it was October 1787 when the politicians in Virginia began to notice the growth of Limestone and decided to establish a warehouse for receiving and inspection of tobacco. The warehouse was established on the land of John May and Simon Kenton “on the lower side of Limestone Creek.”
Under the enactment of Maysville as a town, 100 acres of land, on the lower side of Limestone Creek ... the property of John May and Simon Canton (Kenton), were vested to Daniel Boone, Henry Lee, Arthur Fox, Jacob Boone, Thomas Brooks and George Milford as trustees and their duty was to lay out in half acres lots, “with convenient streets,” a town named Maysville.
Under the conditions of the establishment of the town, the lots and streets were “laid off” and the trustees were to sell the land at public auction "for the best price that can be had.” The purchaser was under the condition of “building on each a dwelling-house sixteen feet square, with a brick or stone chimney, to be finished fit for habitation within three years from the day of sale; and pay the money arising from the sale of the said lots to the said John May and Simon Canton, or their legal representatives.”
The next year, 1788, the families who would settle May's Lick arrived in the area.
They finally found 1,400 acres for sale "on the waters of the North Fork of Licking, lying on the road from Limestone to the lower blue licks; being May's settlement and preemption and includes Mays lick, good bonds on persons in this district. ...”
In 1789, the sale of lots in Limestone (Maysville) was held up by John May because the trustees were trying to amend the act establishing the town.
Taken from the Jan. 24, 1789 Kentucky Gazette, John May gave notice of establishing Maysville would “probably be altered” and he forbade the trustees from acting under the former law "and further forwarn all persons from purchasing John Mays lands, under the description of John May's and Simon Kenton's, as John May and Simon Kenton have no such land, and of course, whatever is done under the former law, will be considered null and void.”
This notice gives one pause to consider what might have been going on between the parties, for May to take out a newspaper notice.
In 1789, the settlement of Maysville and Mason County was threatened by the ongoing Indian Wars and 1790 saw the county's bloodiest year as more pioneer families were attacked as they came down the Ohio River and as their stations further away from the river bank were attacked.
It was March 1790, when John May was traveling with a group of settlers down the Ohio were ambushed and attacked by Indians from the Scioto river area.
John May had been in Virginia for business due to May's land holdings in Kentucky; he started his return voyage in February.
May joined with another group at the mouth of the Kanawha River and then a third group, including two young women, joined the party near Point Pleasant.
In the early morning hours of March 20, as they traveled between the Scioto River and Maysville, they believed the pleas of two white men who called from the shore saying they had been taken prisoner by the Indians and were seeking passage down the Ohio River. A vote was taken among those on the boat, and despite John May's warnings the party moved toward the shoreline, only to be attacked by numerous Indians hiding in the bushes and trees.
John May, seeing that fighting was useless, removed his nightshirt in a motion of surrender, only to be shot in the middle of his forehead, he was 46 years old.
Descendant's of John May eventually located in what is now Pike County, Kentucky.
Originally printed in at maysville-online.com. Research for this article was conducted at the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center's Research Library and G. Glenn Clift's History of Maysville and Mason County.