9. MAY

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Fay Sampson’s Family History

This site is a work-in-progress. There is a massive amount to cover. I have included both male and female lines, and some go back 30 generations. Keep coming back for more.
I have numbered the generations working backwards from my own as (1)

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JOHN MAY. There are many John Mays in Deal, but only one whose baptism fits with his having a child in 1712. He was baptised in Deal on 26 March 1679, the son of John May and his wife Mary. On 1 June 1678 John May, mariner of Deal, aged 28, married Mary Pettit, aged 25 in her home parish of Buckland next Dover, otherwise known as Dover St Mary.[1]

John grew up in Deal. He was the eldest in a family of four. Since his father was a mariner, as were many of his descendants, it is probable that John became a boatman.

There were, however, other options. In 1715 we have a lawsuit between John May of Deal, tallow chandler, and George May and two men named Robert May. These appear to be another branch of the May family.


In Nov 1703, a tremendous storm hit southern England. It raged for a week, causing untold damage and thousands of deaths. 1000 seamen died on the Goodwin Sands off Deal. In one of the earliest examples of modern journalism, Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, advertised for eyewitnesses to tell him their experiences. He published these the following year in The Storm. He records that Thomas Powell, a shopkeeper in Deal, paid five shillings each to rescue sailors stranded on a sand bar, Defoe credited him with saving 200 lives.[2]

It may have been this which caused Defoe to write his polemic poem.

“If I had any satire left to write,
Could I with suited spleen indite,
My verse should blast that fatal town,
And drown’d sailors’ widows pull it down;
No footsteps of it should appear,
And ships no more cast anchor there.
The barbarous hated name of Deal shou’d die,
Or be a term of infamy;
And till that’s done, the town will stand
A just reproach to all the land.

He may have blamed the Deal boatmen for not rescuing the men from the angry sea without payment, or of being more concerned to salvage cargo than save lives.


On 9 Nov 1712  we have a baptism in Deal for Henry son of John and Susannah May.
This is followed by seven baptisms for children of John and Sarah May.
27 Dec 1714  David s of John and Sarah May
1 Mar 1716/17  Mary d of John and Sarah May. A note in the register says she was born Sept 20 1716.
20 July 1718  Sarah d of John and Sarah May
28 Jan 1721 John s of John and Sarah May
31 July 1723  Margaret d of John and Sarah May
This first Margaret died at or soon after birth. She was buried on 2 Aug 1723. Her name was passed on to the next child.
27 Oct 1725 Margaret d of John and Sarah May
30 Jan 1727 Valentine s of John and Sarah May

In old documents the names Susan and Sarah may be used interchangeably as diminutives of Susannah. This may be be the same couple as Henry’s parents, but we cannot be sure. We have not found the marriage of John May to either Susannah or Sarah.

It may be significant that Henry called his daughter Susannah, while Valentine called his Sarah.

There is a burial for John May in Deal on 23 Jan 1711/12. If this is Henry’s father, it would explain why there were no more children for John and Susannah. On the other hand there is a burial in Deal for Susannah, wife of John May on 12 Aug 1723.  She would be entered as a “widow” if John were already dead.
This burial is 10 days after that of little Margaret May who died at birth. It may be that Susannah is the same as Sarah, mother of Margaret. But this still leaves two more baptisms for children of John and Sarah. The closeness of the burials is probably just coincidence.

We find Sarah May, wife of John May, buried in June 1734.

The evidence is inconclusive, but, on balance, it seems better to take these as two separate couples, despite the closeness of the baptism dates.

If Henry’s father John is the son of John May and Mary Pettit, then he would have been 33 when his first known child was born. The husband of Sarah would have been 35. The former seems marginally more likely. Of course, the 1679 baptism may have been neither of them, but there is no evidence of another John May of Deal raising a family at the time we would expect for the son of John May and Mary Pettit.

John jnr, son of John and Sarah May, joined the Royal Navy. In 1745 John May mariner of Deal signed on aboard the Royal George. He would have been 24. As was customary, he was required to make his will “considering the perils and dangers of the sea”. He left all his worldly estate to his “dearly beloved brother and sisters Valentine May, Mary May, Sarah May and Margaret May”. The will was proved in 1764.

He does not mention either Henry or David. He may have felt that, as adult men, his older brothers did not need his financial help. Alternatively, there are no further mentions of David in the registers, so he may have died, and Henry may very well not be his brother.


Daniel Defoe made a series of rides around Great Britain in the 1720s, making notes as he went. This time, he writes about Deal:

“This place is famous for the road for shipping, so well known all over the trading world, by the name of the Downs, and where almost all ships which arrive from foreign parts for London, or go from London to foreign parts, and who pass the Channel, generally stop; the homeward-bound to dispatch letters, send their merchants and owners the good news of their arrival, and set their passengers on shoar, and the like; and the outward-bound to receive their last orders, letters, and farewells from owners, and friends, take in fresh provisions, &c.
   Sometimes, and when the wind presents fair, ships do come in here, and pass thro’ at once, without coming to an anchor; for they are not oblig’d to stop, but for their own convenience: This place would be a very wild and dangerous road for ships, were it nor for the South Foreland, a head of land, forming the east point of the Kentish shoar; and is called, the South, as its situation respects the North Foreland; and which breaks the sea off, which would otherwise come rowling up from the west, this and a flat, or the bank of sands, which for three leagues together, and at about a league, or league and half distance run parallel with the shore, and are dry at low water, these two I say, break all the force of the sea, on the east and south, and south-west; so that the Downs is counted a very good road-
   And yet on some particular winds, and especially, if they over-blow, the Downs proves a very wild road; ships are driven from their anchors, and often run on shoar, or are forced on the said sands, or into Sandwich-Bay, or Ramsgate-Peer, as above, in great distress; this is particularly when the wind blows hard at S.E. or at E. by N. or E.N.E. and some other points; and terrible havock has been made in the Downs at such times.[3]


Most of the Deal boatmen made their living by supplying ships anchored in the Downs, ferrying passengers and mail to and from the ships, and by salvaging what they could from ships wrecked on the sandbanks.


We have the burial of Susannah May, wife of John May, on 12 Aug 1723. She would probably have been about 40.

Besides the burial in 1711/12, there is also a burial for John May in Deal in Jan 1744/5. If this is the son of John May and Mary Pettit, he would have been 65.



[1] All BMDs are from the Canterbury Diocese records, accessed through Findmypast.
[2] The Storm in The Novels and miscellaneous works of Daniel Defoe, Volume 6, Henry G. Bohn, 1855 (scanned book)
[3] Daniel Defoe, A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies 





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