Guide to the Collection
|Title:||May family papers
|Physical Description:||1 document
box, 5 cased volumes, 1 oversize box
|Call Number:||Ms. N-441
|Repository:||Massachusetts Historical Society
1154 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02215
This collection consists of the family and business
papers of five generations of the May family, primarily of Attleboro, Mass.,
1736-1980, including deeds, correspondence, poetry, a scrapbook, and diaries.
The collection includes accounts and correspondence relating to Elisha May's
work in the Massachusetts Militia supplying the Continental Army with beef
during the Revolutionary War.
Benjamin May (ca. 1705-1776) was a farmer and the
fourth generation of the May family to live in Massachusetts. He was the son of
Elisha (b. 1669) and Elizabeth Walker (dates unknown). He was born in
Attleboro, Mass. and lived there all his life. He married Susanna Clark (b.
1717) in 1736 and they had four children: Susanna (b. 1737), Elisha (b.1739),
Elisabeth (b. 1741) and Benjamin (b. 1743).
Elisha May (1739-1811), Benjamin's older son, was
a farmer and local officeholder in Attleboro where he spent most of his life.
He became successively selectman, coroner, justice of the peace, member of the
committee of correspondence, moderator of the town meeting, member of the
governor's council, state representative and state senator (1778-1804) and
presidential elector. During the Revolutionary War he served in the
Massachusetts Militia from 1775 to 1781, first as a lieutenant in Jabez Ellis's
company, then as a captain in John Daggatt's regiment, and later as a major,
lieutenant colonel and colonel in Isaac Dean's regiment, the 4th regiment of
Bristol County. He married Ruth Metcalf (1743-1815) in 1763 and they had ten
children: William (1764-1790), Oliver (b. 1765), Susanna (1769-1821), Lydia (b.
1771), John (1774-1837), Lucy (1776-1783), Jesse (1779-1815), Elisha (b. 1781),
Lemuel (1784-1870), and Tully (b. 1787).
Lemuel May (1784-1870), Elisha's penultimate son,
was also a farmer and local officeholder in Attleboro. He actively bought and
sold land and held a number of political positions, including justice of the
peace, member of the governor's council, state senator (1838-1840) and
postmaster. He married Eliza Wilder (1794-1831) in 1814 and they had two sons:
Lemuel Augustus (1816-1862) and John Wilder (1819-1883).
John Wilder May (1819-1883), Lemuel's second son,
was a lawyer and public official who grew up in Attleboro and moved to Roxbury
to study and practice law. He studied at Philllips Andover Academy and the
University of Vermont. After brief attempts at farming and school teaching, he
moved to Roxbury to read law in the office of Francis Hilliard. He was admitted
to the bar in 1851 and became active in local politics. He was a selectman,
member of the general court, city solicitor of Roxbury, district attorney of
Suffolk County, and chief justice of the Boston Municipal Court, a position
held until his death. He married his cousin Elizabeth Thurston Farnham
(1832-1878) in 1850 and they had four children: Henry Farnham (1860-1939),
Harriet Wilder (1862-1950), John Lemuel (1864-1893) and Elizabeth Farnham (b.
Henry Farnham May (1860-1939), John Wilder's
older son, was a lawyer who grew up in Roxbury and practiced law in Denver and
San Francisco. He studied at Roxbury Latin School and Harvard University. He
read law in the office of Frederick O. Prince of Boston and was admitted to the
bar in 1884. For a few years he practiced law with William Choate, a Harvard
classmate. From 1889 to 1917 he practiced law in Denver, specializing in
railroad and mining law. From 1917 to 1921 he worked as a special U.S. attorney
in San Francisco in charge of litigation over western oil lands. He married May
Rickard (1885-1946) in 1906 and they had three children: Elizabeth (b. 1907),
John Richard (b. 1909) and Henry Farnham.
For a discussion of the May family, see Henry F. May's
Coming to Terms: A Study in Memory and History,
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987, and Samuel May's
A Genealogy of the Descendants of John May: Who Came
from England to Roxbury, in America, 1640, Boston: Franklin Press,
The May family papers consists of one document box, one oversize box and
five cased volumes spanning the years 1736 to 1980 (bulk: 1766-1883). The
papers cover five generations of the May family who lived mostly in Attleboro,
Mass. and later in Boston, Denver and San Francisco. The collection documents
family, business and public service activities.
The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence, deeds, appointments
and judicial records. The collection includes an extensive exchange of letters,
warrants and accounts to Elisha May from 1780 to 1781 about his arranging in
Attleboro for the Massachusetts Militia, 4th regiment (Bristol Co.) to supply
beef for the Continental Army. The remainder of the collection includes other
legal and professional records, accounts and other miscellaneous items.
The collection documents the family's long history of public service. The
papers of Elisha May, Lemuel May and John Wilder May consist mostly of the
appointments, notebooks and other records that they kept during their long
tenures of public service in offices such as justice of the peace, state
senator, and chief justice of the Boston Municipal Court.
The collection also contains family, religious and genealogical materials
kept by other members of the family. The papers include a sermon of William May
in praise of morally uplifting reading and a covenant with Jehovah of Eliza
Wilder May expressing a Calvinist view of human submission to divine authority.
There are diaries and scrapbooks kept by Elizabeth Farnham May and her
daughters Harriet Wilder May and Elizabeth May.
The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) holds the following collections
related to the May family papers:
May family photographs, ca. 1874-1980. Photo. Coll. 500.72.
Gift of Elizabeth May Slater, John R. May, and Henry F. May, Jan. 1988.
The collection is organized into the following series:
|I. Benjamin May papers, 1736-1745
|II. Elisha May papers, 1766-1812
|III. Lemuel May papers, 1805-1858
|IV. John Wilder May papers, 1833-1883
|V. May family papers, 1848-1925
|VI. Genealogical materials, ca. 1964-1980
|Box 1||Folder 1||I. Benjamin May papers,
This series consists of three deeds to land in Attleboro, Mass, and nearby
Barrington, Rhode Island purchased by Benjamin May. A church meeting record
from the First Congregational Church in Barrington documents a complaint about
the conduct of the pastor Peleg Heath.
|II. Elisha May papers,
This series primarily consists of correspondence and various legal
documents. There are a number of miscellaneous items including poetry, a cipher
code, a recipe, and a sketch from the Revolution showing the location of
people's homes in Attleboro in which all are described by name except one
belonging to "Negro."
The correspondence consists mostly of letters related to Elisha May's
political and military responsibilities, including an extensive exchange of
letters during the Revolution about the supply of beef for the Continental
Army. There are two letters denouncing people who have slandered him and one
letter from his wife Ruth.
The legal documents include deeds, accounts, warrants, appointments,
commissions, and judicial records. The deeds consist mostly of land purchased
by Elisha May in or near Attleboro. The accounts are generally for personal
expenses, including a tuition contract for his son William at Rhode Island
College. There are also accounts from 1780 to 1781 relating to the purchase of
beef arranged by Elisha May during his service in the Massachusetts Militia,
4th regiment (Bristol Co.) on behalf of the Continental Army. The warrants
refer to the removal of indigent strangers and to troop movements and beef
provisioning during the Revolution. The appointments are for many of the
political offices he held, including coroner, justice of the peace, senator and
member of the governor's council, and the military commissions are for his
promotions to major and colonel. The judicial records document his duties as
coroner and justice of the peace and consist mostly of inquest reports,
complaints and lists of the cases he decided.
|Box 1||Folder 2-3||Papers,
|Box 1||Folder 4||Revolutionary War papers,
|Box 1||Folder 5||Accounts and judicial notebook,
|III. Lemuel May papers,
This series consists mostly of deeds, appointments and judicial records.
There are more than thirty deeds and Lemuel May is generally the purchaser of
land in or near Attleboro, including farm land, shares of cotton factories and
debtors' estates. The appointments document his service as justice of the
peace, state senator, member of the governor's council and postmaster. The
judicial records consist of notebooks summarizing the cases he presided over as
justice of the peace. Miscellaneous items include a subscription for the
erection of the Washington Monument, a covenant with Jehovah made by his wife
Eliza Wilder May, daughter of clergyman John Wilder, and a sermon written by
his nephew William May (b. 1803) of Winthrop, Maine, son of John May .
|Box 1||Folder 6-7||Papers,
|Box 1||Folder 8||Judicial record book,
|Box 1||Folder 9||Judicial record book,
|Box 1||Folder 10||Loose papers removed from judicial record book,
|Box 1||Folder 11||IV. John Wilder May papers,
This series consists of correspondence, school certificates and various
legal documents. The correspondence includes several personal letters, requests
for genealogical information, letters of recommendation in support of his
selection as district attorney, and letters of condolence on his death in 1883.
The school certificates are for his enrollment in and fraternity membership at
Phillips Andover Academy. The legal documents include his legal licenses,
partnership agreements, deeds and a mortgage, insurance policies, a marriage
ceremony he performed and appointments. The deeds are for a cemetery plot and a
piece of land he sold in Roxbury. The appointments document his becoming a
master in chancery, justice of the peace and city solicitor of Roxbury, captain
of a militia company and district attorney of Suffolk County.
|V. May family papers,
This series consists of a diary and scrapbook of Elizabeth Farnham May
(1832-1878), wife of John Wilder May, correspondence of their son, Henry
Farnham May, and three diaries of their daughter Harriet Wilder May. The diary
of Elizabeth Farnham May was kept from 1848 to 1849 in Dorchester, Mass. and
deals with personal and family matters. The scrapbook consists of clippings of
poetry, meditations and articles kept by Elizabeth Farnham May from 1862 to
1878, as well as notices of John Wilder May's death in 1883 and additional
material compiled by their daughter Elizabeth (b. 1868) and added to her
mother's scrapbook. The correspondence of Henry Farnham May relates to family
matters and school subscriptions. The diaries of Harriet Wilder May were kept
from 1901 to 1920 in Newton, Mass. and deal with personal and family matters.
They also contain lists of books, addresses, household and clothing items, as
well as poetry and quotations.
|Vol. 1||Elizabeth Farnham May (1832-78) scrapbook,
|Box 1||Folder 12||Loose papers removed from Elizabeth Farnham May scrapbook,
|Vol. 2||Elizabeth Farnham May (1832-1878) diary,
|Box 1||Folder 13||Henry Farnham May papers,
|Harriet Wilder May diaries
|Box 1||Folder 14||Clippings removed from Harriet Wilder May diaries,
|Box 1||Folder 15||VI. Genealogical materials,
This series consists of research notes on family history, excerpts of
published biographies of various family members as well as histories of
Attleboro, Mass. and Winthrop, Maine, and transcriptions of family gravestones
|OS Box||Oversize Box
May family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in
the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers
desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should
search the catalog using these headings.
|May, Benjamin, ca. 1705-1776.
|May, Elisha, 1739-1811.
|May, Elizabeth Farnham, b. 1868.
|May, Elizabeth Thurston Farnham,
|May, Harriet Wilder, 1862-1950.
|May, Henry Farnham, 1860-1939.
|May, John Wilder, 1819-1883.
|May, Lemuel, 1784-1870.
|Massachusetts. Militia. Regiment,
4th (Bristol County).
|United States. Continental
Army--Supplies and stores.
|Justices of the
States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Equipment and supplies.
Photographs from this collection have been removed to the May family
photographs, ca. 1874-1980. Photo. Coll. 500.72.
Printed Materials Removed
For a list of printed materials removed from this collection, see Curator of