Sunday, September 28, 2008

Patrolman Benjamin May

Jamaica Plain News.



Brewer Street (Bromley, 1905). The Benjamin May house is opposite the end of Thomas Street.



May Street, 1874. The house of Benjamin May is along May Street. Both sides of May Street were once part of May Farm.




John May, master of the vessel "The James", and a carpenter, was born in 1590. He sailed between London and New England in the 1630s, before coming to Massachusetts with his family as part of the Great Migration of the Puritans to New England, and settled in Roxbury near the Great Pond in about 1640. His first wife died in 1651, and he remarried. His first son, also named John, was born in England in 1631, and became a carpenter like his father. The second John married Sarah Brewer Bruce, widow, daughter of Daniel and Joanna Brewer, and had eight children. Offspring number four was another John, first surviving son, born in 1663. This John married Prudence Bridge in 1684, and went on to become a church deacon and a Selectman of the town of Roxbury, and is buried at the Eustis Street burial ground in Roxbury. Of his many children, Benjamin was number eleven, born in 1708. When his first wife, Mary Williams, died leaving him with five children, he remarried Abigail Gore, widow of John Gore. His first child, Lemuel, was born in 1738, and would live until 1805. Lemuel served as Lieutenant in Captain Child's company, the 3rd Roxbury, in Colonel William Heath's regiment. His 1st Suffolk Company commission was signed by George Washington, and he would later be known as Captain Lemuel May. Lemuel married Abigail Davis, and they had two daughters before she died. He remarried Katharine Williams, and had nine more children, of whom three survived to adulthood. The first surviving son was Benjamin, born 1781. Benjamin married Mary Starr, and farmed the old homestead. They had four children, including Lemuel, born 1814. Lemuel married Lucy Ann Kent and had two sons. Their first son - takes big breath - was Benjamin, born in 1848, who married Sarah J. Moffatt, and is the gentleman featured in today's entry.

In this one branch of the May family, we have a Bridge, a Williams, a Gore and a Starr - all names known in Jamaica Plain history. The Bridge family were early settlers of the land along Centre street at today's Moss Hill, adjacent to the May property. The Williams family was one of the biggest land holders in Roxbury. The Gores gave us Paul Gore street, and the name Starr Lane we owe to one branch of that family. The May name was still on property between the eponymous May street and the new Arborway in 1905, but by 1914 the last of the old homestead land was in non-May hands. Perhaps the building of the Arborway across the old farm land was too much for the family to take.

Patrolman Benjamin May lived in his grandmother's old house on May street until moving into a Gothic cottage house at 9 Brewer street. Which is two-three houses up away from the house I grew up in, the son of a Boston policeman. Which brings the entire story home for me. A tenuous connection to early Jamaica Plain, but a connection nonetheless.

The story below honors Patrolman May's service to the community, and is of special interest in that it informs us that Lemuel May ran the Omnibus service between Jamaica Plain and Boston. There's a neat little tidbit!

Addendum: When you read Roxbury history, you get a sense that it was a small world. Here are some of the connections that show up in the May genealogy. Eleazer May, grandson of the first John, sold his land to Benjamin Fanueil. That land would in time become the Samuel G. Goodrich (Peter Parley) estate, and the southern portion would be laid out as Green street. Abigail May, first daughter of Captain Lemuel May, would marry Moses Brewer and become the mother of Captain Charles Brewer. A cousin,also named Abigail May, would marry Joseph Brewer, and later donate land to the Eliot School. Susannah, daughter of Benjamin (b. 1781), married Alexander Dickson, whose house remains on Green street today.



Jamaica Plain News February 15, 1908


POLICEMAN MAY'S RETIREMENT.


His Many Years in the Police Department and Life-long Residence in Jamaica Plain Full of Interesting Incidents.



Patrolman Benjamin May, whose retirement from the police force of Boston at his own request and by virtue of the age limit was mentioned in the News at the time, was not only one of the oldest men, in point of service in the police department, but is one of the longest continuous residents of Jamaica Plain now living and in touch with the life of the present day, and his life and service are filled with interesting incidents of the changes that have occurred in Jamaica Plain during the past sixty years as well as in his personal career as a police officer. The announcement of his retirement two weeks ago being made only the night before the News went to press, only a brief mention of the event was made then. The News is pleased to present in this issue a fuller account of Patrolman May and his interesting life and service as a policeman and a life-long resident of Jamaica Plain.

Patrolman May's service in the police department covered thirty-nine years, at his retirement at the age of sixty, two weeks ago, thirty-four being spent as a member of the police force of the city of Boston, and five years as a special officer of the town of West Roxbury. During these thirty-nine years, Patrolman May rendered the most faithful and efficient service and when his retirement was announced he received the highest commendation from the head of the police department and left active service with the warmest regard of his fellow officers. Through all the changes in the department he was uniformly efficient and devoted to his duty and his retirement now with a pension will enable him to enjoy a well-deserved rest.

Officer May was born in Jamaica Plain a little over sixty years ago and practically all his life has been passed in his home town. His public service began in 1866 when he became a member of the old hand fire engine company known as "Fountain No.1." During his service as fireman was thrown from the engine while making a run and was considerably cut and bruised and laid up for some time, and this mishap led to his resignation from the fire service. He was a member of the fire department until 1869 however, when he was appointed a special police officer in the old town of West Roxbury. After the annexation of West Roxbury to Boston he became a member of the police force of that city, his appointment dating from May, 1874. He was assigned to Div. 13, the Jamaica Plain station, and remained here until 1890, when he was transferred to the Back Bay station. He remained there until about a year ago, when he was again transferred to Div. 13, from which station he was retired.

Not alone as a fireman and police officer has Mr. May served with credit and efficiency. He also won some distinction in the early days as a bell ringer in Jamaica Plain, he having tolled the bell on the Unitarian church at the corner of Centre and Eliot streets upon the occasion of Governor Andrews' death, and by the request of the late Stephen Weld, having rung the bell on the old engine house (which stood where Seaver's block now stands) to announce the glad tidings of Lee's surrender. On this occasion he rang so long and vigorously that people became alarmed and came rushing to the engine house to find out where the fire was. There fear however, was soon changed to rejoicing when they learned the cause of the ringing of the bell.

Mr May was the son of Lemuel May who ran the first omnibus line from Jamaica Plain to Boston before the days of horse cars. The stable and starting place of this line was on Thomas street and hourly trips were made, the fare being 25 cents each way, and Mr May assured his friends that women did not go to Boston bargain hunting every day those times. As a lad Mr. May used to ride on the seat of the omnibus with his father or the driver and there learned, by holding the reins of the six horse team, to become the excellent horseman and driver he has always been. Before the time Mr. May's father started the omnibus line from here to Boston he says many people used to walk the distance, and others wait for the weekly trip of the Boston-Providence stage, which ran through Jamaica Plain and which was the only public conveyance from here to Boston at the time. The Providence stage, he says, never lacked a full load both ways between Jamaica Plain and Boston.

Mr. May has been a member of the Roxbury Historical Society, and has a deep interest in as well as a full knowledge of local history. His retirement after these thirty-nine years of active and arduous service will bring him the leisure and rest in his Brewer street home which he has so well earned.

Source of the May genealogy: A Genealogy of the Descendants of John May, Who Came From England to Roxbury in America.

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