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Fayette County, Iowa  

 Biography Directory


Portrait & Biographical Album of Fayette County Iowa

Containing Full Page Portraits and Biographical Sketches of

Prominent and Representative Citizens of the County

Lake City Publishing Co., Chicago

March 1891


~Page 428~


Robert H. May

Robert H. May, who resides on section 9, Illyria Township, is numbered among the honored pioneers of the county, his residence here covering a period of nearly thirty-seven years. With interest he has watched its growth and development and the progress which it has made, and has ever borne his share in its upbuilding and advancement. He was born October 11, 1820, on the Indian Ocean, three days' sail from the Cape of Good Hope, his parents being Robert H. and Mary A. (Campbell) May. His father was a native of England, and his mother was born in Ireland but was of Scotch descent. Robert May, Sr., and all of his brothers were seafaring men, and the last voyage which he took was that during which the birth of our subject occurred. Going to Ireland he settled in County Wicklow, where he spent the remainder of his life engaged in farming. He was thrown from a horse and from the effects of the injuries sustained died, being then in the prime of life. There were three children in the family: Robert H., of this sketch; John, who came to the United States and was killed in the Mexican War; and Mary who wedded a British officer and went to Australia with her husband and her mother.


Our subject spent the days of his boyhood and youth in County Wicklow, Ireland, and obtained good educational advantages, acquiring a fair knowledge of all the branches which are necessary in business life. 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 in the Irish Channel and driven shoreward, dragging her anchor. After some thirty-six hours the cable was cut and the vessel driven upon a sand bar, where it was soon shattered to pieces. A barrel with a rope attached was thrown in the water and soon carried ashore by the wind where it was made fast and thereby all on board were saved. After three years' of seafaring life Mr. May made a trip to Canada, in 1841, and after a year removed to Ohio. Later he became a resident of Pennsylvania, where he engaged in mining for a time. He scorned no employment whereby he might earn an honest dollar, but cheerfully accepted any work which he could get.


It was in Mercer County, Pa., on the 18th of January, 1849, that Robert H. May and Martha Alcorn were united in marriage. The lady, a native of that county, was born October 2, 1829, and is a daughter of William and Elizabeth (Callehan) Alcorn, the former of German descent and the latter of Irish lineage. Both, however, were natives of 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, seven of whom are living, 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. The living are: William H., who resides in Winnebago County, Iowa; Edward O., a railroad employee; Elizabeth J., wife of James D. Bartholomew; Mary A., wife of John W. Graham, a resident of Wisconsin; John J., who is farming the old homestead; Martha E., wife of Ira Bennett, who resides in Pleasant Valley Township; Sarah L., a teacher of Winnebago County, Iowa; David, at home; and Inez E., who completes the family.


As before stated Mr. May has been a resident of this county for thirty-seven years. On his arrival here he purchased eighty acres of land which was covered with brush, this being his first possession of real estate. Clearing it he plowed the land and soon had a productive farm to which he has added, until within the boundaries are comprised two hundred and forty acres. A comfortable residence is surrounded by splendid barns and outbuildings which are models of convenience and lie in the midst of rich and fertile fields that indicate to the passer-by the thrift and enterprise of the owner. Three fine springs afford an abundant supply of water for the house and also for stock, of which he raises good grades. Mr. May has made what he has by his own efforts and is accounted one of the leading citizens of Illyria Township. In politics he is a Democrat and a well-informed man who keeps posted on all questions of the day, both political and otherwise. 





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