Saturday, May 23, 2015

Surname Saturday ~ May of England and Boston, Massachusetts

East Sussex, England
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
My immigrant May ancestor is John May. He was born in Mayfield, Sussex (now part of East Sussex), England, about 1590.

He was captain of "The James," a ship which sailed between London and New England. Ultimately he settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts, by 1640. His first wife's name is unknown; she died on June 18, 1651, and is noted as "Sister Mayes" in the Roxbury Vital Records.

He had at least two sons with this first wife, John and Samuel, as they are acknowledged as arriving in New England with him.

At some point, he married a second time, because a wife is mentioned in his will, though she is not named.

His will is dated April 24, 1670. It references his house, his land (to be divided between his two sons, John and Samuel), and his carpenter's tools (which were left to his son John).

Immigrant John died on April 28, 1670, in Roxbury. I descend from both his sons down to my maternal grandfather (in three ways, as noted below).

Generation 2:
John May was born about 1631 in England and ultimately settled in Roxbury with his father, where he received half his father's land and his carpenter's tools upon his death.

He married Sarah Brewer, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on November 19, 1656. They had eight children: Mary, Sarah, Eleazar, John, Mehetabel, Naomi, Elisha, and Ephraim.

Like his father, his will mentions carpenter's tools.

John died on September 11, 1671, in Roxbury, with a notation in the Roxbury Vital Records that he was blind at the time of his death.

I descend from their son John. For several generations (until generation 8 below), this family was in Boston, Massachusetts.

Generation 3: John May (1663-1729/30) married Prudence Bridge
Generation 4: Ebenezer May (1692-1752) married Abigail Gore
Generation 5: Samuel May (1722/23-1794) married Abigail Williams
Generation 6: Joseph May (1760-1841) married Dorothy Sewall. As I have noted before, my maternal grandfather is descended from two of their daughters:

Generation 7: Louisa May (1792-1828) married Samuel Greeley
Generation 8: Samuel Sewall Greeley (1824-1916) married Eliza May Wells (see below)
Generation 9: Ethel May Greeley (1875-1931) married Lowell Copeland
Generation 10: Lowell Townsend Copeland (1900-1974) married Helen Lysle Hunter
Generation 11: My mother
Generation 12: Me

Generation 7: Elizabeth Sewall May (1798-1822) married Benjamin Willis, Jr.
Generation 8: Elizabeth Sewall Willis (1820-1900) married Thomas Goodwin Wells
Generation 9: Eliza May Wells (1839-1880) married Samuel Sewall Greeley (see above)


Generation 2:
Samuel May was born before 1635 in England. He also settled in Roxbury, receiving half his father's lands after his death in 1670.

He married Abigail Stansfall, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on June 7, 1657. They had eight children: Abigail, Samuel, Jonathan, Joanna, Eleazar, John, Gideon, and Experience. All except for Samuel are recorded as being born in Roxbury. The birth of son Samuel was recorded in Dedham.

It is believed that Samuel's land included land that for a long time was known as "May's Woods" and now can be found on a Boston map in the area of Maywood Street and Edgewood Street.

Samuel died on July 17, 1677, in Roxbury.

I descend from his daughter, Joanna.

Generation 3:
Joanna May (1665/66-1751) married three times, to (1) Francis Garnett (14 January 1680/81), (2) Thomas Witon (26 Jan 1691/92), and (3) Nathaniel Farrow (23 March 1710/11). Although she was born in Roxbury (on March 7, 1665/66), all three of her marriages are found in the Hingham Vital Records.

I'm not sure how many children she had in total. I descend from Joanna, the eldest of her seven children with second husband, Thomas Witon. This family was in Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts for a few generations until David Farrar and Judith Stoddard moved to Buckfield, Maine.

Generation 4: Joanna Witon (1690/91-1737) married Jonathan Farrow
Generation 5: David Farrow/Farrar (1722-1799) married Sarah Pratt
Generation 6: David Farrow/Farrar (1750-1810) married Judith Stoddard
Generation 7: Judith Farrar (1773-1863) married Thomas Lowell (Read about how they met here.)
Generation 8: Reuben Lowell (1794-1837) married Sarah Smith
Generation 9: Sarah Lowell (1833-1916) married Henry Clay Copeland
Generation 10: Lowell Copeland (1862-1935) married Ethel May Greeley (see Generation 9 in the first line above).

This is just one way that my paternal grandfather's parents, Lowell and Ethel, are related. With many colonial New England ancestors, it's no wonder that they are related in more than one way.


My sources for this line include:
Samuel May, Richard S. Edes, John W. May, John J. May, A Genealogy of the Descendants of John May: Who Came from England to Roxbury in America 1640 (Boston: Franklin Press: Rand, Avery & Co., 1878)
Various Massachusetts Vital Records.


  1. Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Interesting! You and I are related through Ebenezer May and Abigail Gore. They had a son (Samuel's brother, obviously) Aaron (1733-1798). Aaron was a member of the Sons of Liberty, and appears on a list of members who met at a tavern in Dorchester on August 14, 1769. He married Elizabeth Cravath in 1761, and had a daughter Elizabeth, who married my 5th great-grandfather Captain Samuel Treat of Boston.

    1. Thanks for commenting. Looks like we are about 7th cousins or so.

  3. I'm so glad to find this. John May is in my genealogy (my great-grandfather being Charles Franklin May), and to learn a bit of his life makes him more that just a name on a family tree! Thank you.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for the comment, cousin!