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Fayette County, Iowa  

 History Directory

Past and Present of Fayette County Iowa, 1910

Author: G. Blessin


B. F. Bowen & Company, Indianapolis, Indiana


Vol. I, Biographical Sketches



~Page 1006~


Robert H. May


"A venerable and highly honored citizen of Illyria township, Fayette county, was Robert H. May, a pioneer who made his residence here for nearly fifty-six years, during which time he played a conspicuous part in the general development of the community and watched its growth with much interest. He was born October 11, 1820, on the Indian ocean, three day’s sail from the Cape of Good Hope. He was the son of Robert H. and Mary A. (Campbell) May, the father a native of England and the mother of Ireland, but of Scotch descent. The father and all of his brothers were seafaring men, and during the last voyage of Robert H. May, Sr., his son, the subject, was born. He spent the last part of his life farming in county Wicklow, Ireland, but he died in the prime of life as a result of injuries received from being thrown from a horse. His family consisted of three children, Robert H., Jr., John, who came to the United States and was killed in the Mexican war, and Mary, who married a British officer and went to Australia with her husband and her mother.

Robert H. May, of this review, spent his boyhood and youth in county Wicklow, Ireland, and received a good education there, in fact he was educated for the Episcopalian priesthood, consequently his text-book training was very broad and complete. When seventeen years of age he went to sea with an uncle, serving for three years as steward. The first vessel on which he sailed was caught in a storm on the Irish channel and driven shoreward and finally shattered to pieces on a sand-bar, but all on board were saved. After three years of "life on the ocean wave," Mr. May made a trip to Canada, in 1841, and after a year moved to Ohio, thence to Pennsylvania, where, for a time, he engaged in mining. While living in Mercer county, that state, on January 18, 1849, he married Martha Alcorn, who was born in Ohio on October 2, 1829, the daughter of William and Elizabeth (Callehan) Alcorn, the former of German lineage and the latter of Irish ancestry, but both were born in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Alcorn followed farming throughout his life. The mother died in Fayette county, Iowa, at the age of sixty-six years. Their family numbered nine children, Mrs. May being the fifth in order of birth. By her marriage she became the mother of eleven children, two of whom died in infancy. They are: William H., born April 21, 1850, lives in Albert Lea, Minnesota; Edward O., born January 4, 1852, lives in Glendive, Montana; Mrs. Elizabeth J. Bartholomew, widow, was born September 6, 1853, and lives in West Union, Iowa. The above named children were born in Mercer county, Pennsylvania; those born in Fayette county, Iowa, are Mary A., wife of John W. Graham, born September 12, 1856, lives in Fayette, Iowa; John J., born August 18, 1858, lives in Smithfield township, Fayette county, Iowa; Martha E., born May 20, 1861, is the wife of Ira Bennett and resides at Elgin, Iowa; Sarah L., wife of Clinton Ambrose, of Hastings, Nebraska, was born December 21, 1863; David D., born May 3, 1866, rents the home farm and lives with his parents; he is unmarried; Mrs. Inez E. Greathead was born August 19, 1868. Mr. and Mrs. May have twenty grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Upon his arrival in Fayette county in the fall of 1854, Robert H. May purchased eighty acres of land, which was covered with brush, this being his first possession of real estate. He set to work and soon developed a fine farm and a good home, adding to his original purchased until he had one of the best farms in the township, consisting of two hundred and forty acres, he having cleared one hundred and seventy acres of brush and timber. This place is well watered by three excellent springs and everything about the place indicates good management and splendid taste. The dwelling is substantial, comfortable and neatly kept. Mr. May made what he had through his individual enterprise and was long rated as one of the leading citizens of Illyria township. He was not able to do any active work for some time prior to his death, which occurred on August 27, 1910, being then eighty-nine years of age; his good wife is in her eightieth year. They lived long and useful lives and enjoyed the friendship and good will of everyone. Mr. May was progressive in everything to which he turned his attention. In politics he was a Democrat, and he always kept well posted on current topics. He was a member of the Illyria township school board for a number of years, and district member of the county board, and as such he was always an advocate of better schools, of higher and better educational advantages, better paid and better educated teachers for county schools."


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