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History Lives Here Text

TheMay Family

A descendent of the butcher family whichfounded Douglas visited the museum recentlyand brought additional information about the May family that the butcher'soldest daughter, Mary Ann, married into. (In exchange the Society was able toprovide her with copies of several early butcher May family pictures that werereceived in a recent donation.) Mary Ann herself never made it to Douglashaving died in Chicago before the family came north, but her only living son,William A. May, who billed himself "the original boy of Douglas" made themove with the rest of the butchers accompanied by his paternal grandmother. Hisfather, Frederic H. May, was busy with other projects elsewhere, but droppedinto the new settlement in 1860 long enough to draw one of the early maps andprovide its name, Douglas, after the capital of the Isle of Man where he wasborn. Below is a brief history of the Mays beginning with Marianne (Hennegan) May, mother of Frederic.

Frederick May

Marianne Henneganwas born December 23, 1796, at St. Elizabeth, near Black River on the Island of Jamaica where her father had a largeproperty and many slaves. He died comparatively young in an accident leaving awidow and four daughters. As a young woman Marianne was sent to London for advanced schooling and at the age of 24 wasmarried at Bristol, England,to Edmund May who had been born February 13, 1786, at Gittsham,Devonshire, England. The couple moved to theIsland of Guernsey, one of the channel islands near the French Coast and then,at some time prior to 1824, moved to Douglas, the capital city of the Isle ofMan in the Irish Sea where Edmund ran a "classical and mathematicalacademy" on Bath Street. According to a 1969 letter from a researcherthere the name May was first recorded on the Isle of Manin 1687 when a Manx woman named Curlett, was marriedto a man named May from abroad. Edmund and Marianne had one daughter born inEngland, and three additional daughters, and four sons during the time theyresided on the Isle of Man including one named Edmund Charles Moore Curlett May, born in 1824, which might link them to theearlier May family on the Isle of Man.Two of these children later came to Michigan:

Frederic Henry May, born March 22, 1826 at Douglas Julia Jane May, bornApril 1, 1828 at Douglas

Three children died and were buried at KirkOnchan on the Isle of Man. The Kirk (or church) Onchan, located in a suburb of Douglaswas the site of the marriage of Admiral Bligh of the ill-fated H.M.S. Bounty inthe 18th Century.

In 1841, the Maysand their remaining children three sons and two daughters, traveled to Americaand lived for several months in Brooklyn, New York, before moving to PikeCounty, Pennsylvania, where they prepared to open a country store at the tinysettlement of Quicktown, three miles from Milford,the county seat. However the large stock of goods they had gathered for thestore was destroyed by fire before it opened. They then moved on to theDelaware River at the mouth of the Lackawaxen Riverwhere their second son was married to Mary Ann butcher, daughter of William F.and Lucinda butcher in 1848.

Frederic's father, EdmundMay, became associated with a female seminary at Ellicott's Mills, Maryland,and afterwards resided in Lynchburg, Virginiaand then Norfolk. The oldest May son had died at Lackawaxen, and two siblings died of consumption at Lynchburg in 1 850 and1851. The father, Edmund May, died November 3, 1853, at Norfolk, Virginia.

Edmund's widow joined Frederic eitherbefore the butcher family left Pennsylvania in1853 or after their arrival in Chicago.William Augustus May, was born to Frederic and MaryAnn in 1851 in Pennsylvania.Two additional children were born in Chicagoand on October 16, 1854, seven days after the birth of her third child, MaryAnn died. She and both of the Chicago-born children are buried at Oak Wood Cemetery, Chicago.

When the Dutcher family moved to Michigan in 1855 theywere a party of 13. At the head of the family were William F. and Lucindabutcher with their son George N. and his wife Eliza, son Thomas Benton, adaughter, Elizabeth (who would later become the wife of Captain Lewis Upson,and Lucinda's brother, Martin Dietrich, and his wife, and their twins, Emma andEmmett; and the toddler William A. May and his grandmother, Mrs. Marianne May.Frederic came to Michigan about the same timebut rapidly became involved in railroad building and spent little time in Douglas. The 1860 AlleganCounty census shows Mary A. May, aged63, born Isle of Jamaica andnine-year-old William A., in the household of William and Lucinda Dutcher in Newark(later Saugatuck) Township. As a young man in PennsylvaniaFrederic May had done the first survey for the Erie Railroad. At the start of the Civil Warhe went to Southern Illinois and Missouri andworked toward the completion of the North MissouriRailway much needed as a supply line by the Union Army. In later years he wasgiven the courtesy title of "Colonel" and was often spoken of as awar hero although he had no military record. This mystery was never explainedin Michigan newspapers, but his New Jersey obituarytells the story this way:

"Duringthe War of Rebellion he was active in aiding the Government transportation oftroops and in keeping the railroads open when menaced by rebel guerrillas. Once when ordered by "bushwhackers" to pull down theAmerican flag in a railroad camp, he refused, and the leader, pulling a pistol,gave him five minutes to decide. Every half minute the guerrilla calledtime, but when four and one-half minutes had expired a man who supplied therailroad camp with meat (he was also a friend of the leader of the"bushwhackers") arrived out of breath and persuaded the leader tospare Mr. May, as his meat account for that week had not been settled!"

After the warMay returned to Allegan County where he was oneof the investors behind the riverboat Ira Chaffee, built at Allegan in 1867.Edward Costain, another investor and its captain formany years was also from the Isle of Man.The Chaffee was the first locally owned steamboat to make regular trips betweenSaugatuck and Chicago. In 1869 May became manager of the Allegan and Holland Railroad which immediately consolidated with the Muskegon and Ferrysburg to form the Michigan Lake Shore RailroadCompany. It was later acquired by the Grand Haven Railroad which retained Mayas manager. He severed his connection with the railroad in 1881 after it becamepart of the Chicago & West Michigan.

A small watering station in northern FillmoreTownship, AlleganCounty, the last station before trainsreached the City of Holland,was named for him. May Station was originally located on 146th Avenue where the Michigan LakeShore Railroad tracks crossed a branchof the Black River. Later a general store wasopened nearby and September 25, 1895, a post office called May was establishedthere. The post office closed in 1902. All remnants of May have now disappearedin the building of the Holland Industrial Park.

Frederic May was married for a second time, before 1862 to Rachel M. Torode of Chicagoand had five additional children. For much of the 1880s and 1890s May was ownerof the Chaffee House in Allegan where his mother died in 1879. At the time ofher death she was survived by her son Frederic and one daughter, probably JuliaJane, who was then living in Grand Rapids.

About 1882 Frederic and his family moved to New Jersey, first Caldwell, then Newark, and finally Rosevillewhere he died May 10, 1908.He was president and manager of the American Rapid Telegraph Company and hadmany business interests on the side including a mine in Utah.

William F. Dutcher, died in 1863, and all of his estate, including theDouglas village plat passed on to his heirs including William May, as heir tohis mother Mary Ann. Because he was still a minor a guardian had to be appointedand these proceedings are included in most land abstracts of property that waspart of the original village of Douglas.

The source of the name Douglas,has sparked discussion for more than a century. The official explanation isthat the town was named by Frederic H. May to honor his birthplace, Douglas, onthe Isle of Man where the Dhoo("dark" in Manx) and Glass ("gray"inManx) rivers meet. However, most of the Dutcher menwere avid Democrats and supported Stephen A. Douglas, the presidentialcandidate of 1 860 so there was common talk that the town was named for him.William A. May refutes this story, with some fervor, in a 1910 article in anAllegan newspaper:


"Mr. Maywas in politics a rabid Republican and having the right to name the town wouldnever have consented to call it after the Democratic nominee. Party feeling rantoo high in those days for such a thing to be possible."

But the namewas probably embraced with some enthusiasm by the Democratic butchers for thatreason.

William A. May moved to Alleganwith his father and step-mother but returned to Douglas in 1871 to marry JoannaPriscilla "Josie" Riley, the daughter of Thomas A. and Fidelia Gleason Adelaide(Bowman) Riley. Josie's younger sister, Mary Alice, later married JesseHutchinson and was the grandmother of J. Edward Hutchinson of Fennville whoserved in several political offices and from 1961 to 1976 was a member of the U. S. House ofRepresentatives. Thomas Riley died in the Civil War and Fideliatook for her second husband Union veteran Anthony Slack. They had one daughter,Blanche, who was later married to Great LakesCaptain Claude Ellis.

William andJosie were married at the family home in Douglasthat still stands. The Riley/Slack/Ellis home is located behind the bowlingalley on what is now known as Ellis Street. Elijah Mix Jr. was best man at the weddingand gifted the couple with a candlestick that had belonged to his fatherGeneral Elijah Mix who had assisted in the capture of Jefferson Davis in theclosing days of the Civil War. The brass candlestick was said to be the onethat held a candle on the table in the tent to which Davis was brought before the Union officers.

William andJosie May were in and out of Douglas for several years after their marriage,two of their five children were born in the village. For several years Williamwas a traveling auditor for the CanadaSouthern Railroad and later worked for the press bureau of the American RapidTelegraph Co. which his father managed. 4n the side he followed a theologicalcourse of study and in 1920 was ordained into the Baptist ministry. He was alsoa prolific song writer and composed more than 1,000 hymns and many popularsongs.

About 1920 the William Mays moved back to Douglas for a year and livedat the butcher home down by the river where the 70-year old man astoundedrelatives by going skating on the frozen river before breakfast on wintermornings. The butcher home was located in a grove of trees across Washington Streetfrom the Douglas Basket Factory. A small story and a half cottage erected byJonathan Wade prior to 1855 had formed the nucleus of a residence expanded by along, low addition. The structure eventually evolved into a two-story colonialfront house that continued as a home until 1989 when it was razed by the Community Church in anticipation of a new parkinglot which was never completed.

LeavingDouglas about 1922 the Mays lived in Allegan for a while before returning toNew Jersey where William died March 25, 1935, as he and Josie were making plansto return to Douglas and spend their declining years with her half -sister,Blanche (Slack) Ellis. Josie died in 1936. William and Josie and two sons,Frederic W., who died in 1933, and David E., who died in 1929, are buried in the Douglas Cemetery.

* * * * *

In addition to the May family, andCaptain Captain there are at least two other areafamilies from the Isle of Man.The Corlett family which first began visiting the Douglas lakeshore in 1901 may be distantly related to theMays. They have owned several houses along the Douglas lakeshore including onecalled "Ballakeyll" which means "fiveacre farm" in Moat. More recently William Manifold Sr., a native of Man,settled in Saugatuck township.


I sometimeshave a vision when the whirl of day is past,

That will be in mydreaming as long as dreamings last,

For it brings to mea thrilling joy, an hour of mem'ries caught

From goldenmoments, as they pass with untold riches wrought.


I see awinding river whose rippling currents flow

By wooded slopesand yellow hills, to sandy beach below,

Passing a quietvillage town, of houses trim and neat,

Where maple trees with rustling leaves, make music low and sweet.


I see the"big gate" swinging where the wide street meets the lane;

Walkbeneath the fruit trees branching o'er the pathway clear and

Upto a little cottage, with its wide-board whitewood floor, plain

And a tall and spreading rose bush growing by the kitchen door.


I hear the Great Lakesinging as it strikes its pebbled strand

When I pause amoment to gaze upon that favored land,

Then turn to find awelcome from one with beaming face,

Whose loved and loving presence I hold in swift embrace.


I see thenodding lilacs along the orchard walk

Where young folksused to wander for a little pleasant talk,

And I hear thenight-birds calling in the silent twilight hours,

Feel thebreeze my forehead touching; smell the perfume of the flowers.


The visionthen begins to fade -- but once more I see the room

Where others lookedone summer day on happy bride and groom**

And then it slowlydisappears -- for Fate and Fancy hold

Some thingsthat dreams, with all their power, cannot to us unfold.



* On her 78thbirthday

** MarriedJuly 2nd, 1871



This poem was written by William A. May in 1930 in celebration of the78th birthday of his wife, Josie (Riley) May. The portion reprinted herecontains an interesting description of early Douglas,especially the young man's path from his house by the "winding river"to her house "where the wide street meets the lane" on the outskirtsof the settlement. Note several references to fruit trees and orchards that aregrowing within the village.