Wednesday, August 10, 2022

American Stars #8: Steadfast Stars-The Mays


American Stars #8 
Steadfast Star by Becky Brown

The block recalls the steadfast May family of reformers.

The May family traces their American roots to Puritan John May (about 1590-1670) of Mayfield, England, a ship master who sailed "The James" back and forth across the North Atlantic. At about 50 he and his family settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts Bay colony, founded ten years earlier.

Joseph May (1760-1841)

We'll skip several generations here to Dorothy Sewall (1750-1825) and Joseph May, married in 1784. Dorothy's mother was a Quincy and related to the Hancocks. You can trace the whole Massachusetts aristocracy (Being English and Early is an asset, as we have noted) at Dorothy's grave site:

Dorothy gave birth to eleven children but only six survived to adulthood. She and Samuel raised their children at #1 Federal Court in Boston (a wooden house long gone.) Joseph was at one point a successful merchant in groceries but a dishonest partner caused a business failure and Joseph's subsequent psychological depression. Their house, near today's South Station, was a gift from friends. According to a memorial booklet: 

"He formed the resolution never to be a rich man; but to withstand all temptations to engage again in the pursuit of wealth."

Abigail May Alcott (1800-1877)

Among their four girls was Abigail May who married the impractical Bronson Alcott in 1830. Bronson's unfortunate economic attitudes must have appealed to a woman whose charming father wanted nothing to do with financial success. Abba and Bronson raised four daughters in straightened but happy circumstances. Our 2021 B.O.M. Hands All Around tells the story of American Stars the Alcott family. See a link below.

Abba's sister Elizabeth Sewall May Willis married young, had three children and died after the birth of the last when she was 23. The Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City owns this daguerreotype of her daughter, another Elizabeth Sewell Willis Wells, playing chess with sister-in-law Mercy Ellis Wells about 1850.

Samuel Joseph May 1797-1871
A steadfast abolitionist

Abba's Brother Samuel May became a Unitarian minister in Syracuse, New York. He was a leading antislavery activist speaking, writing and organizing radical yet peaceful resistance. His most famous action might be the 1851 "Jerry Rescue," when he and Jermain Loguen planned to defy the new Fugitive Slave law, which demanded  fugitives in Northern states be returned to their former owners. Northerners who refused to cooperate with "slave stealers" were subject to arrest.

Jerry Rescuer Jermain Loguen (1813-1872)
who was forced to hide in Canada after the rescue.

William "Jerry" Henry had been arrested and was on his way South when an irate group of Syracuse citizens freed him, hid him and ferried him to Canada. The October 1st anniversary of the Jerry Rescue day was celebrated annually in Syracuse until the Civil War. Reverend May was often hung in effigy by the opposition on October 1st.
"When the people saw a man dragged through the streets.. treated as if he were the worst of felons; and learnt that it was only because he had assumed to be what God made him to be, a man, and not a slave...there was a mighty throbbing of the public heart; an all but unanimous up rising against the outrage." Samuel May

Steadfast Star by Denniele Bohannon 

The Block

Steadfast Star is an original design, a four-patch.

Print the pattern on an 8-1/2 x11" sheet of paper. Note the inch square block for scale.

Steadfast Star by Jeanne Arnieri

Later Generations

Charlotte Coffin May Wilkinson (1833-1909)

The four children of Samuel and wife Lucretia Flagg Coffin May were close cousins of the Alcott family. Louisa May Alcott was particular friends with Syracuse cousin Charlotte May. 

Some of the May children grew up to be ministers; others socialites. Charlotte's obituary tells us she "took a prominent part in the social life of Syracuse and was conspicuous in educational work. She was a devoted worker for May Memorial Church, of which her father was the founder." Her husband, Alfred Wilkinson was a prominent banker from a Syracuse founding family.

Their eldest son Alfred II was a lawyer. He never married, probably due to a broken engagement and a broken heart.

Alfred (Fred) Wilkinson II (1858-1918) 
& Varina (Winnie) Ann Davis II (1864-1898)

In 1886 Winnie Davis, the "Sweetheart of the Confederacy," visited Syracuse, undoubtedly entertained by its first families including the Wilkinsons. She and Alfred fell in love. Not only was he a Yankee; he was the grandson of a leading antislavery advocate. Winnie's father Jefferson Davis told her he'd rather see her dead than married into the May family.

After Jefferson Davis's death the press North and South continued the hate campaign. The couple broke their engagement and neither ever married. Winnie died at 34 in 1898.

Henry Wilhelm Wilkinson (1869-1931)

Alfred's younger brother Henry followed a different path. Trained in architecture at Syracuse University he went to work for Syracuse furniture maker Gustav Stickley in 1900, developing the workshop's characteristic arts and crafts style.

Stickley sideboard made for Gustav's Syracuse home

Henry also designed buildings. The saga of the Mays changes course with a press release on a New York City apartment house Henry designed in 1910: Harperley Hall at Central Park West & 64th.

Still Standing

The corporation's directors: Alfred Wilkinson, John Wilkinson and Henry W. Wilkinson. The new buildings was advertised with reference to the Wilkinson's "Impressive pedigree extended centuries back into British peerage. The family’s extensive estate near Lanchester, England included a 17th-century manor house was known as Harperley Hall."
Harperley Hall in England

What! Not a word about Captain John May of "The James", the Jerry Rescue or Louisa May Alcott.

And one more May:
Eva LaPlante is a May descendent who has written two recent books on the Alcotts based on their writing.
My Heart Is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother

Marmee & Louisa. See a preview of the biography here:

LaPlante's gone into detail about Abba's Boston May family, welcome information.

Watch a 45-minute YouTube presentation by Eva:

Further Reading
Links to the Hands All Around stories & blocks about the Alcotts:
Posts on the Mays:

Becky's blocks x 6

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