George May was born September 13, 1798 in what is now McMinn County, Tennessee. At that time, this beautiful country was a part of North Carolina and Indian Territory. In fact, the territory currently included in McMinn County in southeastern Tennessee formed a part of the Hiwassee River District which the Cherokee Indians ceded to the United States by a treaty. In researching George May, I found that Native American people played a big role in his life – a colorful life destined for adventure in unknown territories.
George was the twelfth child of John and Charity Taylor May. Even though it is unimaginable to most of us today, at that time large families were not uncommon. Family information indicates that perhaps as many as five of the May children may have died at birth or shortly thereafter. The strength of these rugged men and women living in primitive country in unsettling times is amazing to me.
George was 26 years old when he married Mary Jane Upton on February 18, 1825. Like one of his siblings (Nellie), he married a Cherokee. This is the family lore that has been handed down through the years. Jim W. Kuhlman wrote the book, The History of the Nance Hereford Ranch, and has a great deal of information about the May family. Here is what he has to say about George and Mary Jane’s marriage.
It has been handed down, although there are no records, that George May married Mary Jane Upton on February 18, 1825. Another piece of history that has been handed down through the family was that Mary Upton was born on March 22, 1806, at old Fort Lewis, an army post near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Mary’s mother was a Cherokee maiden who married a U.S. Army officer. Although a marriage of this type might seem unusual, interracial marriages between the Indians and white Americans were fairly common even in those days. (Kuhlman, 24)
GEORGE MAY AND FAMILY JOURNEY WEST
The Mayes were like countless other courageous folks of that time who had a desire to move west. Even though the stories of our pioneer ancestors answering the call to “go west, young man, go west” sound adventurous to us, I doubt that adventure was their driving force. Perhaps the source of their pioneer spirit was the promise of the land or more freedom. Both George and Mary Jane had a connection with the Indians, and I wonder if that was a major influence on them.
Several years after they married, George and Mary Jane struck out on their journey west. During those years, they started a family. Family records say James Sanders was born September 15, 1825.
George and Mary May came to Texas around 1830. She was the only woman to make the trip to Texas with a group of men, riding all the way on horseback, with pack horses carrying all their belongings, along with a young son approximately four to five years of age. Can you imagine a youngster making this long arduous trip across the hills and valleys? There is some indication that they were at Fort Gibson in Oklahoma territory in 1829. Sam Houston was there that same year. (Kuhlman, 27)
By 1830 George and Mary Jane May were in Texas, settling first in Nacogdoches. At one time this area was considered the “east gateway to the Texas territory.” About the time the May family arrived, they were among many immigrants from the United States coming into this Mexican province. Among this stream of people were various Indian groups which had been driven out of the Old South. There is evidence they stayed there for about five to six years, and we know those were tumultuous times as the “clouds of revolution” gathered. When the Texas Revolution began in 1836, Nacogdoches was a “seat of unrest and supplied the revolutionary cause with men and money.” (Handbook of Texas Online)
During these unsettled times, life went on for George and Mary Jane. On February 19, 1833, she gave birth to a daughter, Malinda Josephine. According to the Census Report of Williams Settlement, April 21 1835 (Nacogdoches Archives) the May family was continuing to live in the area. Listed are George May, 37 years old; Mary May, 29 years old; James Sanders, 8 years old; and Josephine M. May, 2 years old. It was only a few days later that they had another child. A son was born on April 30, 1835, and he was named after George and Mary Jane’s friend, Sam Houston.
Sometime in the late 1830’s George and Mary Jane moved to Marshall, a small village in Harrison County, Texas. It is believed they were living here when on January 11, 1838, Mary Jane gave birth to a son, Isaac Upton. It is possible he was named for Mary Jane’s father, but there are no records verifying information about her father. Unfortunately, the boy had a very short life, dying less than a year later on January 3, 1839. Even though it seems unbelievable, Mary Jane gave birth to another son, John, on October 25, 1839, proving she was a woman of remarkable strength!
GEORGE MAY AND TEXAS WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE
These were tumultuous times with War for Texas Independence raging. In his research of records and letters, Jim Kuhlman found valuable information about George May’s involvement. He was a surveyor for Jim Bowie (of the Battle of the Alamo fame) and an Indian scout for Sam Houston. Records indicate that he was given four land grants for his services. (Kuhlman sources include “James Bowie Correspondence” and Writings of Sam Houston, 1813-1863, Volume II, July 16, 1814-March 31, 1842, edited by Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker)
At one time George was an Indian Scout for Sam Houston in the Republic of Texas Revolution. He was chosen for this job because of his wife Mary’s knowing and understanding of the Indians. It was important for Sam Houston to have the Indians on his side rather than the side of Mexico’s Santa Anna. (Kuhlman, 28)
It is likely the May family stayed in Marshall for about 10 years. On February 12, 1840, George was commissioned as the first sheriff of Harrison County and he served until February 1, 1841. The May family continued to grow. A daughter was born April 11, 1844 and was named Mary Jane after her mother. Twin daughters, Sarah Arkansas and Charity Melvina, were born October 28, 1846.
There is a record that indicates the May family was living in Victoria County in 1849. It was there that George May wrote and recorded his last will and testament. (Kuhlman, 30)
Know all Men, by there presents, that I, George May, of the State of Texas, and County of Victoria, being of a feeble state of health, but of sound mind, do, in the presence of the undersigned witnesses, make this, my last and only Will and Testament, in the following form and manner.
I give, will, and bequeath unto my lawful wife Mary May, during her natural life, for her use and benefit, all of my property, both real and personal, in the State of Texas, as well as money due me, from my share of my deceased Father’s Estate, in the state of Tennessee, and county of McMinn. And after the decease of my said wife, Mary May, to be equally divided among our children: James May, Malinda Josephine May, Samuel Houston May, Mary Jane May, John May, and the twins, Sarah Arkansas May and Charity Melvina May.
Witness my hand and Seal this 9th February, 1849.
Witnessed by: P. Harper, E. Trevhlz and William Williamsen
By 1850 they had moved to Lavaca County and can be found on the U.S. Federal Census. The name is misspelled as “Mays.” George Mays (52) is listed along with Mary Mays (45), Josephine Mays (18), Samuel H. Mays (12), John Mays (10), Mary Jane Mays (8), Sarah Valani Mays (6) and Cherela V. Valani Mays (6). (Note the misspelled names of the twins.)
It was only one year later in 1851 that George May died in Lavaca County. He was buried in the old Hallettsville Graveyard. On June 9, 1973 the descendants of George and Mary Upton May dedicated a memorial marker which was placed at the gravesite. The inscription is as follows:
George, son of John and Charity Taylor May, married Mary Upton on February 18, 1825, daughter of Cherokee Maiden and English Army officer. Surveyor, sheriff and soldier of the Republic of Texas. Personal friend of Sam Houston, James Bowie and
Pres. Mirabou B. Lamar.
Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
The Handbook of Texas Online, “Nacogdoches County,” www.tshaonline.org/handook/online
Kuhlman, Jim W., The History of the Nance Hereford Ranch, 1996.
Tise, Sammy, Texas County Sheriffs, Oakwood Printing, Albuquerque, NM, 1989.
USGenWeb, Census Report of Williams Settlement, http://files.usgwarchives.net/tx/census/1835/1835ws.txt
Written by Lucy Ann Nance Croft, 2011