Eighth May Generation
Biographical Sketches
Fred T. May - 2002

Mary (Polly) May (1797-1868)
More biographical sketches

- Genealogists -

There are a number of active genealogists of the Hamilton family of Eastern Kentucky. In 1998, they held a reunion at May Lodge at the same time the May reunion was in progress - and a few came to hear my talk on the Meÿ/May ancestors. At the 2002 reunion, I met some Hamilton descendants who offered their assistance and I soon was fortunate enough to find and purchase a very large book, Hamilton & Cantrell Genealogy, [with many photos] of the descendants of Mary May Hamilton, wife of John Hamilton, compiled and published in 1993 by Helen Cantrell Hunt of Ashland, KY. The following essay adds a few new facts to the one I distributed at the 2002 reunion. A listing of Marriage bonds from Morgan Co., KY has also added facts about Hamilton marriages in the 19th Century.

Family of Mary May | The Justice Family | The Hamilton Family | Living on the Licking River:1817-1868
Samuel L. Hamilton | John May Hamilton | Notes

Family of Mary (Polly) May
1 Mary (Polly) MAY b: Abt. 1797 Carter Co., TN, in the Watauga River Valley d: Abt. 1868 Morgan Co., KY, body moved to Hamilton Cemetery at Red Bush in 1983 age at d: 71 est.
.. +Robert Peyton JUSTICE b: 1784 Pittsylvania, VA d: Aug 1862 m: 10 Jul 1814 Shelby Creek, Floyd Co., Ky. (now in Pike Co.). Spencer Adkins, J.P., performed the ceremony. age at d: 78 est.

2 Elizabeth (Justice) HAMILTON b: 1815 Floyd Co., KY
...... +Isaac FERGUSON b: 1815 m: 6 Sep 1835 Morgan Co., KY, John Williams officiating

*2nd Husband of Mary (Polly) MAY:
.. +John HAMILTON b: 3 Mar 1793 North Carolina [later becameTennessee] d: 3 Mar 1886 Morgan Co., KY, body moved to Hamilton Cemetery at Red Bush in 1983 m: Abt. 1817 Floyd (present-day Pike) Co., KY age at d: 93

2 Samuel L. HAMILTON b: 27 Apr 1819 d: 15 Sep 1896 age at d: 77
...... +Cynthia HILL b: Floyd Co., KY m: 13 Apr 1843 Johnson Co., KY, by E. Howes

2 Thomas HAMILTON b: 17 Dec 1820 d: 4 Mar 1885 Red Bush, Morgan Co., KY age at d: 64
...... +Mary (Polly) FERGUSON b: 24 Nov 1824 d: 19 Sep 1911 m: 29 Feb 1844 Morgan Co., KY age at d: 86

2 Benjamin S. HAMILTON b: 1826
...... +Frances (Franky) WILLIAMS m: 11 Feb 1847 Morgan Co., KY
 *2nd Wife of Benjamin S. HAMILTON:
...... +Nancy FAIRCHILD m: Bef. 1852

2 John May HAMILTON b: 1827 Morgan Co., KY d: 14 Jul 1864 Bloomfield, Nelson Co., KY - executed by firing squad, without a trial, by order of Gen. Stephen Gano Burbridge of the Union Army, buried in Maple Grove Cemetery age at d: 37 est.
...... +Elizabeth HARGIS b: Abt. 1835 Pike Co., KY d: 17 Mar 1921 m: 10 Jun 1856 Morgan Co., KY, R. Humphrey officiating age at d: 86 est.

2 Mary (Polly) Ann HAMILTON b: 1833 d: Morgan Co., KY, buried on Salyers Branch at Red Bush
...... +Marshal Laney SALYERS d: Morgan Co., KY, buried on Salyers Branch at Red Bush m: 27 Aug 1856 Morgan Co., KY

...... +Isaac WILLIAMS

2 David H. HAMILTON b: 1834 Kentucky
...... +Edith (Eady) BROWN d: Bef. 1907 m: 29 Dec 1855 Morgan Co., KY age at d: ?
*2nd Wife of David H. HAMILTON:
...... +Mary DILLS m: 1907

2 James HAMILTON b: 1836 Kentucky

The Justice Family
The information I have gathered from the referenced web site begins with William Justice (1625-1664), the great-great grandfather of Robert Peyton Justice. He was born in South Hampton, London, England and immigrated to Virginia as an indentured servant at a young age. In 1656, at the age of 31, records show that he owned 1,198 acres - known as Kittawon Plantation - in James City, VA. This land was granted to him from his father-in-law, Capt. JOHN FRAME, on 1 Sept. 1643 - "due sd. JUSTICE as marrieing the daughter & heyr of sd FRAME, as also for trans. of 24 persons [from England]." William became a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and owned the ship EDWARD, which sailed out of Bristol England.

Robert Peyton JUSTICE was born in 1784 in Pittsylvania, VA. In March 1813, upon the death of his father, William Justice (1737-1813), he inherited a lower bottom of land where his father had lived, but the house went to his mother. William is listed in the 1810 Floyd County census, over the age of 45, and the owner of seven slaves.

Robert Peyton Justice, commonly known as Peyton, married Mary (Polly) May on July 10, 1814 in Floyd County, KY and they were divorced on November 4, 1816. In 2001 I received information telling that Peyton and Mary had a daughter, Elizabeth, born about 1815, and that she was reared in Morgan Co. as Elizabeth Justice Hamilton.

Marriage certificate of (Mary) Polley May and (Robert) Peyton Justice
by Spencer Adkins

Peyton married his second wife, Mary (Polly) Blackburn, on Christmas day, 1818. She had previously been married to William Slone and they had one son, whom Peyton adopted. Peyton is listed in the 1820 Floyd County census with his mother, (second) wife and three children under ten years of age. They are known to have had at least ten children.

A story of the death of Peyton from the referenced sources is repeated below:

During the Civil War, Confederate scouts were crossing the river where Russell Fork runs into the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River, and someone shot at them from the hillside. They stopped at Peyton's house and found him sick in bed. When he could not tell them who fired the shot, they took him with them a few miles down the river to the mouth of Dry Fork. Here they killed him. Later a man was coming down the road and stopped to rest on a log. He found Peyton Justice's body. The Confederate soldiers were under the command of Col. Nathaniel McClure Menifee - a man with a ruthless reputation for killing innocent citizens - who was relieved of his command in early 1863. Peyton's wife had Menifee, and several men indicted, but they never stood trial.

The Hamilton Family
John Hamilton was the son of Benjamin and Susannah (Moonglow) Hurst, a half-Cherokee Indian. This family group includes:

1 Benjamin S. HAMILTON b: 1761 Hawkins Co., TN d: 12 Jul 1849 Moon, Morgan Co., KY age at d: 88 est.
.. +Mary RANKIN m: Abt. 1782 Bledsoe Co., TN

*2nd Wife of Benjamin S. HAMILTON:
.. +Susannah (Moonglow) HURST d: 1846 Moon, Morgan Co., KY m: Abt. 1792 Sullivan Co., NC, which became part of TN in 1796 age at d: ?

2 John HAMILTON b: 3 Mar 1793 North Carolina [later becameTennessee] d: 3 Mar 1886 Morgan Co., KY, body moved to Hamilton Cemetery at Red Bush in 1983 age at d: 93
...... +Mary (Polly) MAY b: Abt. 1797 Carter Co., TN, in the Watauga River Valley d: Abt. 1868 Morgan Co., KY, body moved to Hamilton Cemetery at Red Bush in 1983 m: Abt. 1817 Floyd (present-day Pike) Co., KY age at d: 71 est.

2 Elizabeth HAMILTON b: 1794 North Carolina [later becameTennessee] d: 1864 age at d: 70 est.
...... +Jesse OLDFIELD b: 1775 d: 1866 m: 19 Feb 1814 Floyd Co., KY age at d: 91 est.

2 Sarah HAMILTON b: 1796 Virginia
...... +Edward HILL b: 1794 Virginia m: 27 Jul 1815 Floyd Co., KY

2 Nancy HAMILTON b: 1797 Virginia
...... +Joseph HANNAH m: 22 Jan 1818 Floyd Co., KY

2 Polly HAMILTON b: Kentucky?
...... +James HANNAH m: 11 Feb 1819 Floyd Co., KY

2 Esther HAMILTON b: 1804 Kentucky?
...... +William ISON m: 20 Apr 1826 Morgan Co., KY

2 David K. HAMILTON b: 1805 Virginia
...... +Drucilla HILL m: 7 Aug 1823 Floyd Co., KY

2 Benjamin HAMILTON, Jr. b: 1806 Kentucky
...... +Elizabeth (Betsy) NICKELL b: 1807 m: 18 Oct 1828 Morgan Co., KY

2 Amelia Ann HAMILTON b: 1811 Kentucky
...... +Isaac ISON b: 1805 m: 4 Dec 1852 Morgan Co., KY

2 Martha HAMILTON b: Kentucky
...... +Ebenezer HANNAH b: 1810 m: 1829

Benjamin Hamilton and his older brother, Thomas, say in their applications for Revolutionary War Pensions that they enlisted in Bedford Co., VA. On John's gravestone is inscribed "PVT, Christina's Regt. VA Troops, Rev. War." The earliest records of the family found by Mrs. Parrish were in "Early Tennessee Tax Lists: 1796-97." Family traditions say that three Hamilton brothers, Thomas, Benjamin and Samuel, came to Eastern Kentucky in the early 1800s. Other records I have seen don't list these brothers. In Benjamin's household for the 1810 Floyd County census were his wife and ten children under 26 years of age. His is the only Hamilton household in this 1810 census. In 1820, five children were still in Benjamin's household.

Helen Hunt's book adds information to that provided in Mrs. Parrish's work. Regarding Benjamin's service in the Revolutionary War [from a 1908 letter from the Commissioner of the U.S. Revolutionary War Section], she states: "Benjamin's enlistment began May 10, 1780 and (he served) under several different officers up to 1783. On June 25, 1783 he was drafted in Sullivan County, North Carolina, where he served as a spy and ranger against the Indians." His brother, Thomas, served a much longer time." In 1796 Sullivan Co. NC became Sullivan Co., TN. After moving to Kentucky, he made his home at Relief on Big Paint Creek, Morgan Co. In 1840, he was living with his son, David K. Hamilton, and getting an annual pension of $43.33 from the U.S. government. He was granted his pension from an application executed Dec 2, 1833, as a resident of Morgan Co., KY, aged 72.

Living on the Licking River:1817-1868
I appears that not long after their marriage about 1817, Mary and her husband, John Hamilton, were living in the Licking River Valley, a few miles over the mountains from the Big Sandy River Valley. From the 1820 Floyd County census we know that John lived near the home of his father with Mary and their young children; a son [Samuel] and a daughter [Elizabeth] under ten years of age. In 1823, Morgan County was formed from parts of Floyd and Bath counties, so any subsequent records of the family should be found in Morgan County records. Marriages of John's siblings are also recorded in the work by Mrs. Parrish.
Like many other men of the period, John took advantage of his opportunity to buy unclaimed lands in the region at bargain prices, using the Kentucky Land Warrant System, as modified in 1815. Mrs. Parrish wrote that in 1820 four Kentucky Land Warrants for a total of 250 acres of land were issued to John Hamilton in Morgan - actually Floyd at the time - Co., KY; in 1827, 50 acres on Stone Coal Creek, and on branches of Paint Creek; in 1833, 50 acres; in 1840, 100 acres; in 1845, 50 acres. I recently discovered that John and his father - their last name spelled Hambleton by the surveyor - had surveys done on their respective 100 acres of land on Stone Coal Creek in 1821. That same year, John's brother, Thomas - his last name spelled Hambilton by the surveyor - had 50 acres surveyed on Middle Creek. Any subsequent surveys for John should be in entered in Morgan County survey books.
Mrs. Parrish lists six sons and one daughter of John and Mary but doesn't have any succeeding generations of this branch of the Hamilton family. From my other sources, I learned of the existence of Mary's first child and recorded a number of additional generations of Mary and John's descendants in my records. Existing vital statistics of their children are at the beginning of this biographical sketch. Most, if not all of them, appear to have lived near the place of their birth. Elizabeth is known to have had at least eight children; Samuel, twelve children; Thomas, eight children; Benjamin, seven children; John; four children; Mary, ten children; Sarah, no known children; and David, fifteen children, by two wives. James is listed in the 1850 Morgan County census, age 14, but no other records of him have been found.
Mary died about 1868 and John survived her by about eighteen years. He and others of the family were buried on the family farm in Morgan County. Years later, the Paint Creek Dam was built and the graves were moved to the Hamilton Cemetery in nearby Red Bush.

Samuel L. Hamilton
He is the great-grandfather of Helen Cantrell Hunt, who compiled genealogies of the Hamilton and Cantrell families, adding new facts to the history of the descendants of John and Sarah Phillips May.

Samuel was the first child of Mary May and John Hamilton. Some records give Samuel's birth year as 1817, but the 1819 date is most likely correct. After he married Cynthia Hill, they settled near Hager Hill in the Burnt Cabin section of Johnson, Co., a few miles south of Paintsville. They moved within the county from Hager Hill to Hargis Creek and then to Paint Creek near a community now known as Moon. From there they moved to the Licking River side of the mountain on Coffee Creek, now known as Silver Hill. He and his wife are buried in Hamilton Cemetery on the property he owned on Coffee Creek.

Hollie Williams provided an account of Samuel to Helen Hunt, telling that he was a Primitive Baptist minister and was once affiliated with the Paint Church. Riding over the mountains on horseback, he served a church circuit in Morgan, Magoffin, Johnson, Lawrence and Floyd Counties. One family story says that following an extended trip when some of his children were very ill he returned home and Cynthia asked, "Samuel, where have you been?" He replied, "I've been out saving souls." "Well", said Cynthia, "you should have been home trying to save some bodies."

Fate of John May Hamilton (1827-1864)

[This story was sent to me by John B. Wells III of Paintsville, KY in 1992.]

I end this brief account of the family of John and Mary May Hamilton with a story of the execution of one of their sons during the Civil War:

An account in "A History of the Civil War in Nelson Co., KY" by John B. Thomas, Jr. tells of the fate of John May Hamilton. The story begins on the night of June 17, 1864, when Col. George M. Jessee's Confederate Cavalry with about 200 men camped somewhere in - mostly Rebel - Nelson Co., KY between Bloomfield and Bardstown, possibly at a place called Camp Charity. Five of his men went to the home of John R. Jones who lived nearby in a large brick home that still stands near the Blue Grass Parkway and the Bloomfield-Springfield road [KY 55]. They demanded a horse, saddle and bridle. Jones refused and fired on the men through the front door, inflicting a fatal wound on one before being killed himself. He was buried three days later at a place called the Camp Ground with a large crowd in attendance.

The previous month, from Washington, Joseph Holt, Adjutant General of the Army, had sent a message to Gen. Stephen G. Burbridge of the Military District of Kentucky suggesting punishment - which might even have been interpreted as execution - of Confederate soldiers captured a second time after being released on an oath not to fight again. Some say Holt - whose wife was from Nelson County - and Burbridge wanted an excuse to shoot Confederate prisoners. On July 16, 1864, Burbridge issued General Order 59, establishing a policy stating: "When an unarmed Union citizen is murdered, four guerrillas will be selected from the prisoners in the hands of the military authority and publicly shot to death in the most convenient place near the scene of the outrage." This order started what is known as Burbridge's Reign of Terror in Kentucky. During the next seven months, over 60 prisoners, usually selected by lottery, were sent to various places in the state and shot or hanged. The case of John R. Jones was one of the first to come to the attention of Burbridge.

Two young men, John May Hamilton and Richmond Berry, were brought to Nelson County, not knowing their fate. They had been held as prisoners-of-war in Lexington, KY after being captured as guerrillas who served with "Partisan Rangers" in Tennessee and Kentucky. The men in these outfits "lived off the countryside" and were more or less recognized as having official standing by the South, but were seen as bank robbers, outlaws, and guerrillas by the North. Hamilton had been with "Sidney Cook's Guerrillas" when they raided Flemingsburg, Ashland and Olive Hill in Eastern Kentucky. He was captured March 6, 1864, while on a raid in Johnson County, near his home farm. They were taken to "Bunker Hill" [now called Schoolhouse Hill] and executed by firing squad to atone for the death of John R. Jones, a man they had never seen. In a history of the town, Dr. A. H. Merrifield called it "the gloomiest day Bloomfield had during the war."

The local account of the deaths of these two men tells of the bravery of John May Hamilton, when he realized they were to face a firing squad. "Their bodies were given over to the good people of Bloomfield and were buried handsomely in metal caskets. Before interment their bodies were laid out in the Masonic hall where the whole town wept over these innocent young men." A number of years later the local women's club - who thought he was from Richmond, VA instead of Morgan Co., KY - erected a stone for John that notes, "Though a stranger, he lies among friends."

Reinterment in 2009
Commander Terry Kidd and members of the 5th Kentucky Infantry Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans officiated at the reinterment of John May Hamilton on Sunday August 9, 2009 in the Hamilton Family Cemetery at Keaton, Kentucky -- 145 years after his tragic execution.

Red Beans
The same events are also recorded in the Hamilton & Cantrell Genealogy by Helen Hunt - 1993. She cites a summary by James Christopher Hamilton - a great-great grandson of John May Hamilton - of his father's research into the facts of the mysterious death of their ancestor. The story adds to the one above with details of how John May Hamilton and another Confederate prisoner were chosen by their fateful selection of two red beans from a bag. Helen Hunt memorialized the story this way:

"The crowd grew still and the soldiers came to a Confederate prison camp. The enemy held out a bag of beans, each prisoner in turn drew out one. Little did they know what was in store for the two who chose the red. Southern troops had stopped at J. R. Jones to trade tired horses for fresh. Jones was angry when they took his saddle too. An argument came up and Jones was shot. After the killing, Union soldiers went to the Confederate camp with the beans, the two who chose the red were taken to Jones' son and he said 'Shoot em.' Richard Berry and John May Hamilton were forced to ride on their caskets to the cemetery and were shot. Two brave innocent men gave their lives to avenge a murder they did not commit."

Mrs. Verle Hamilton Parrish apparently wasn't aware of the above story. She added some service information but gave some conflicting facts about John. She says his name was John Major Hamilton and that he enlisted in Co. K, 5th Kentucky Infantry of the CSA at the beginning of the Civil War, and later was elected First Sergeant of Co. E, serving under Gen. Humphrey Marshall in Bragg's Kentucky campaign. They were nearby at Harrodsburg when the Battle of Perryville was fought. After a year's enlistment he was discharged but didn't return home to the mountain counties of Kentucky where the Union troops and the Home Guard were on the lookout for Rebels. More recent information - consistent with his murder - seems to confirm that he never returned home; his wife of eight years and mother of their four children, Elizabeth Hargis, remarried in 1866 and had at least three daughters.

When Tress May Francis wrote her history of the May family in 1956, she only knew of the marriage of Mary (Polly) May to Peyton Justice and assumed that members the Justice families of Pike County are their descendants. She had no knowledge of their divorce in 1816 and her subsequent marriage to John Hamilton. I learned of the Hamilton marriage from a genealogist, Verle Hamilton Parrish, now deceased.

Much of the information found in 2002 is of value to May genealogists researching later generations of the May family - descendants of Mary May (Hamilton), of the 8th May generation.

My personal research on the Justice family has been limited to available Pike County records. The following internet source is used for much of the information cited here. http://www.charleston.quik.com/jeffkat/d13.htm#P149

Rebecca Young, a descendant of Mary May, of Alta Loma, CA related that Mary's child by her first husband was reared in Morgan County as Elizabeth Justice Hamilton.

A web site on the descendants of Benjamin S. Hamilton is at:
Benjamin's Pension Record is #S31111

I have not personally researched records of Morgan County, KY. Another source of the birth date for Mary, for example, should be in the 1850 and 1860 censuses of the county.

Some early Hamilton family surveys are in Floyd County Survey Book A:310 & A:249.

More biographical sketches