James Mckay, Sr. - 6th Mayor Of Tampa
He was the only non-U.S. citizen to serve as Mayor of Tampa.
He remained a citizen of the United Kingdom throughout his life.

Born: May 17, 1808
Died: November 11, 1876
Term: February 12, 1859 - February 1, 1860

Captain James McKay was a most unusual man, physically and mentally. Over six feet tall, he weighed a hundred and ninety pounds and there was not an ounce of fat on his body. He was broad-shouldered and had the muscles of a prize fighter. He was a born leader and for three decades was one of the most well-known and successful men in south Florida.



James McKay, Sr. was born in Thurso, Scotland, May 18, 1808*, in the County of Caithness.  For generations, Caithness was the ancestral home of this sterling Scottish family, whose lineage runs back in unbroken lines to the time of Robert Bruce and Mary, Queen of Scots. 
Historian Karl Grismer says March 17, 1809

McKay went to sea when a boy and became a master seaman before he was twenty-five.  As a mariner, he spent most of his time at sea but would return for brief periods to visit his family.





Two main sources below detail the life of James McKay, Sr., but they differ somewhat on the subject of when he came to America, where he went first, and when he first met and then married Matilda.  They do agree, however, on their marriage taking place in the U.S.  

Their versions are presented below, in separate columns.  

The City of Tampa Mayors website is incorrect on the bios of James McKay Sr. and James McKay Jr.  They claim James Sr. met and married Matilda and had their first four children in Scotland before coming to the US around 1846, and that James Jr. was their oldest son, born in Scotland.  This is incorrect, yet it is repeated word for word all over the web, including Wikipedia.  Three consecutive censuses and numerous historians support the versions that present their marriage in St. Louis and the birth of all the McKay children in the United States--the first four in Alabama.

Interspersed among the columns are excerpts from Charles E. Harrison's Genealogical records of the pioneers of Tampa and of some who came after them, published in 1915, and James McKay, Jr's "Reminiscences - History of Tampa in the Olden Days"  Dec. 18, 1923, (in brown), and THE SUNLAND TRIBUNE, Journal of the TAMPA HISTORICAL SOCIETY, Volume VIII Number 1 November, 1982 - JAMES McKAY, I, THE SCOTTISH CHIEF OF TAMPA BAY By Tony Pizzo (in pink.)


History of Florida: Past and Present, Historical and Biographical, Volume 2, pub. 1923 By Harry Gardner Cutler.  Text version available at USGenWeb Archives. Tampa-A history of the city and the Tampa Bay region of Florida, by Grismer, Karl H, edited by Mckay, D. B, 1950
(Grismer had the advantage of working with Donald B. McKay, James Sr's. grandson.)

In 1828, James McKay came to America, locating first in New Orleans, where for a period of nearly two years he was engaged in carpentry and building.

It could have taken 6 to 12 weeks to cross the Atlantic from Scotland in a 3-masted barque such as this one.  Read more at the source of this photo: "Crossing the Atlantic" at Ormiston.com.

He next located in St. Louis, Mo, where in 1837 he met and married Matilda Alexander Cail , a native of Scotland, born in Edinburgh, May 19, 1816.

Genealogical records of the pioneers, etc., by Charles E. Harrison, pub. 1915, states:

"They never met in the old country, but first became acquainted with each other in St. Louis, Mo., after both had immigrated to America.  They were married there in 1837. From St. Louis they removed to Mobile, Ala., where Mr. McKay engaged in mercantile business."

While in Edinburgh one day in 1835, James met a bonnie Scotch lass, Matilda Alexander Cail*, with whom he fell in love. But Matilda was then only sixteen years old, altogether too young to be married, in the opinion of her mother, Madame Sarah Cail. To remove her daughter "from temptation," Madame Cail left Scotland and went to America, taking Matilda with her. They settled in St. Louis.

*Matilda and her mother Sarah did not yet have the surname Cail; their surname was Alexander; her father's surname.  Sarah was widowed.

By the 1830s, it was common to see more than 150 steamboats at the St. Louis levee at one time. Immigrants flooded into St. Louis after 1840, particularly from Germany.  Wikipedia: 1857 illustration from Ballou's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, Boston, Massachusetts. The Levee or Landing, St. Louis, Missouri, 1857.

Not to be outwitted so easily, Captain McKay followed, found the Cails in St. Louis and immediately resumed his courtship. In 1837, Madame Cail finally relented and gave permission to Matilda to be married. The captain was then twenty-eight years old and his bride seventeen.

Soon after the wedding they moved to Mobile, Ala., where the captain engaged in the mercantile business.

The Alexander and Cail surnames

Noted Tampa historian Tony Pizzo corroborates the romantic story of forbidden love in Scotland (although it may be because he may have used Grismer's work as his source), and details how the Alexander and Cail surnames came abou

Capt. James McKay’s mother-in-law, Sarah Alexander Cail. This spirited and strong-willed Scottish lady earned a niche in Tampa’s pioneer lore for her independent character, and active part in the social and religious activities. Her remains rest in the McKay plot in the historic Oaklawn Cemetery downtown.

The indomitable character of the young sea captain was demonstrated early in life when, in Edinburgh, in 1835, he met and fell in love with a Scottish lass, Matilda Alexander. Matilda’s mother, a wealthy widow, disapproved of the match because of McKay’s hazardous occupation and because Matilda had just turned 15 years of age. To remove her daughter from temptation, Sarah Alexander and her daughter Matilda Alexander emigrated to America, settling in St. Louis.

MATILDA ALEXANDER CAIL McKAY 1816-1894 Her captivating smiles attracted James McKay to America, and affected the course of Tampa history. James and Matilda had five sons and four daughters. Their uplifting influence did not cease with their deaths, for they have 1 left a line of descendants who for four generations have given priceless service to the Tampa community.

There Sarah Alexander married a Mr. Cail, an Englishman who had large investments in western lands. Mr. Cail disappeared while exploring the western wilderness, and left Madam Sarah Alexander Cail a widow once again, but much richer.

In 1837, the persevering young McKay decided to follow the smiles of his pretty, blue-eyed sweetheart to America. Having accumulated a fortune in his own right, he left Thurso on the northern headland of Scotland, ancestral home of his clan, to visit his fiancée, and seek his future in America.


In St. Louis, the tall, broad-shouldered and persuasive young Scot resumed his courtship of Matilda. This time the mother consented to the marriage. McKay was 27 years old and the bride 17.

After a few years, the family moved to Mobile, where Captain McKay engaged in shipping enterprises. Four of their children were born in Mobile. In the meantime, Captain McKay had been investigating the west coast of Florida, and finally decided to settle in Tampa because "it gave great promise of developing into an important port city."

Information and images (photos courtesy of Helen McKay Bardowsky) from:

In 1838 James and Matilda moved to Mobile, Ala, where the couple had their first four children:  George, Sarah I., James Jr. and John Angus.

At Mobile, McKay first worked as a carpenter and builder, but in 1842 he entered into a partnership with a man named Brighton, and established a willow-ware business under the name of McKay and Brighton. The venture proving unsuccessful, he disposed of the business in 1846.



Purchasing a small schooner, he brought his family--his wife, four children, and his mother-in-law to Florida, locating first at a small place north of Tarpons Springs. The location was not a favorable one, so he took his family to Brooksville, where he secured teams and wagons and continued on to Tampa, arriving at here in September, 1846.

Genealogical records of the pioneers, etc., by Charles E. Harrison, pub. 1915, states:

They removed to Florida from Mobile in 1846 and settled first at Chassewiska, on the coast of Hernando County. They did not remain long, however, at that place and in the same year, 1846, removed again, this time to Tampa, which has been the family home ever since.



In Mobile, Captain McKay met the Rev. Daniel Simmons, the Baptist minister who had established a mission in Hillsborough County in 1828 and had lived there until the Seminole War started, when he went to Alabama. Reverend Simmons was an ardent Florida booster and never ceased singing the praises of the Tampa Bay region. Captain McKay did not need much selling on the future prospects of the bay section. He knew that because of its geographical location, Tampa Bay was destined to become one of the leading ports of the nation. So in the early fall of 1846 he decided to go to Tampa.

Chartering a schooner, Captain McKay left Mobile with his family in September, 1846. Reverend and Mrs. Simmons went with him, and so did Madame Cail and Mitchell McCarty and his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of the Simmonses.


The schooner never reached Tampa. It was wrecked during a hurricane on shoals in Chassahowitzka Bay, in Hernando County. The cargo was lost but all on board escaped. The Simmons and McCarty families went on to Brooksville but the McKays soon afterward made their way to Tampa, arriving in November. Madame Cail came with them.

As the McKay schooner sailed south along the Florida coast, a violent storm drove the vessel upon a reef near the mouth of the Chassahowitzka River. Captain McKay, a brawny man, repeatedly swam through the rough surf to carry his wife, the children, and Madam Cail ashore. The slaves also survived the shipwreck, but the entire cargo was lost. They tarried at Chassahowitzka for a time where Donald B [S, not B], their fourth son, was born August 8, 1846. [See James McKay, Jr's version of this below.]

The McKay family and Madam Cail walked from the site of the shipwreck to Brooksville, where they stayed for several weeks. The trip to Tampa was trekked in covered ox-wagons through the wilderness. They trudged through bogs, dense growth of pine and oak, and deep white sand made the journey quite onerous. They camped at night close to fresh water and firewood. In the early morning hours, they wakened to the gobbling of wild turkeys in concert with the whooping of red-headed cranes and the hooting of owls. They passed many deer, turkeys, partridges, and water birds, and repeatedly saw wolf and panther tracks. The strange, wild scenery and the numerous creatures of the forest kept the travelers constantly excited and provided some compensation for the difficulties of their trek through the wilderness.


On Oct. 13, 1846, the McKays entered the little village of Tampa which numbered less than two hundred inhabitants, exclusive of the soldiers in Fort Brooke. The village consisted of a few crude log huts thatched with palmetto fronds, with wooden shutters to keep out the cold and rain. The cottages were scattered over a sea of white sand. Cattle and pigs roamed at will.




James McKay, Jr. makes no mention of the storm upon their arrival at Chassahowitzka from Mobile or any heroic rescue by his father in the Dec. 20, 1921 article at right, Oldest Resident Citizen Recounts Tampa's Deeds:


This pencil sketch of the Captains' Quarters at Fort Brooke was drawn by one of the officers stationed there in 1845. Beyond the majestic, moss-laden oak tree at the left is seen the ancient Timuquan ceremonial mound enclosed by a fence. Leading from the gate is a path that forks to the left and to the right towards the top of the mound where a small Chinese summer house was perched. The ladies of the fort had socials there. Beyond the small cottage to the right of the mound is a glimpse of Hooker's Point. The first three large dwellings to the right of the cottage were the officers' quarters. The fourth building was occupied by Rev. Henry Axtell, the Army Champlain, his wife Juliet, and two of their daughters. The last building to the right was the chapel with its broad portico and small front yard set out with mulberry trees. Wide shell and gravel walks criss-crossed the post. The sketch has been preserved by the family of Chaplain Henry Axtell for over 150 years.

The north side of the government reservation [Fort Brooke] ran east and west along Whiting street. The town was situated north of this line, and was a bed of sand and thick growth of what was called the scrub. The post office was on the reservation. At the time our family came to Tampa, the postmaster was Dr. John M. Palmer. He constructed a small hotel on the north side of Whiting street near the river and named it the Palmer hotel. This was a building containing 10 or 11 rooms, with a dining room the entire length of it on the back, and about 15 feet wide, which was used later on as a dance hall for the young people. 

James McKay, Jr. in "Reminiscences - History of Tampa in the Olden Days"  Dec. 18, 1923

This enlargement from an 1852 county land plat shows Ft. Brooke outlined in green, with the area surveyed by John Jackson in 1849 outlined in brown. The boundary between the fort and the town was located at today's Whiting St.

The first home of the McKay family in Tampa was a crude structure at Fort Brooke, situated on the riverbank at the foot of Whiting St. This building, which was rented from the government, was totally destroyed in the disastrous hurricane which swept over the post in 1848.


Genealogical records of the pioneers, etc., by Charles E. Harrison, pub. 1915, states:

Some of the older children of this family were born before their parents' arrival in Tampa, but the majority of them...were born here.  The family was a large one, consisting of George, James, John Angus, Donald S. and Charles; sons, and Sarah, Marion, Matilda and Almeria Belle; daughters.






Both Captain McKay and Madame Cail were well off and soon after arriving in Tampa they began investing heavily in real estate, buying some of the best blocks in town as soon as the property was put on the market. They also purchased many large tracts throughout the county, becoming two of Hillsborough's largest land owners.

Plan of the Village of Tampa
Surveyed by John Jackson
Recorded Jan. 9, 1847

It is important to note that the survey recorded on Jan. 9, 1847, wasn't subdivided as seen below, nor were any properties marked with owners.  It wasn't until April 5, 1847 that lots were sold to the public, so these details were added later on the 1847 survey.  Possibly as each lot sold, the owner name was added.  It is also important to remember that this was a PLAN and not a map of what the area looked like at the time.  It was up to the city to create these streets according to this plan.  One deviation that can be s
een is that originally, the county courthouse was planned for the block where you see the Lesley and Givens properties.

Sarah Cail was one of three land owners who owned a whole block.  Later, her block would be where the successful hardware business of Knight and Wall would be built.

The property owners were added here as best as could be determined according to what was handwritten in the lots.  This was a very low resolution image and extremely difficult to make out the owner names.  It is possible that there is some error here.
Image from Judge Steele Left His Mark by Rodney Kite-Powell, Jun. 30, 2013, Tampa Bay Times online.



In 1848, the town was visited by a terrific hurricane causing the tide to rise above 15 feet above low water mark, washing away the W. G. Ferris store and the house we were living in; in fact, most of the houses that were located on the river bank. Our family was moved to the Palmer hotel, and when driven out of there on account of the tide, to the Darling and Griffin store, and then to the military hospital on the reservation. The Palmer Hotel withstood the hurricane, although the water rose two feet over the main floor.  As soon as Mr. Ferris could obtain material he erected a small building on the south side of Whiting street near the intersection of Franklin, which did not extend farther south, on account of the reservation.

My father also opened a small store in 1850, at the corner of Washington and Franklin street, where the Tampa Daily Times is now published.

1848 Hurricane by James McKay, Jr. in "Reminiscences - History of Tampa in the Olden Days"  Dec. 18, 1923


The next location of the McKay home was at the corner of what became Tampa and Lafayette Street, which was later occupied by Knight & Wall Co. McKay purchased half the block for $50 and built his home there. The building was of log construction, and the lumber used for finishing it was brought by boat from Mobile, Alabama.

Later, he purchased the block on the northeast corner of Washington & Franklin St. for $100 and a more commodious and modern home was built there.  On the south side and opposite corner, was located the building McKay used as a warehouse and general store, where for many years his merchandising and other business interests were located.






One of the blocks purchased by Captain McKay was the one bounded by Franklin, Jackson, Florida and Washington Streets. There he built his home. On another of his blocks, the one adjoining on the south, he built a store building and went into business. But he was not long satisfied with store keeping.

Late in 1848 he purchased a schooner, naming her the  Sarah Matilda, and started making runs to Mobile and New Orleans.

Two years later he bought another schooner Emma, for use between Tampa and Fort Myers.


After Tampa was platted in 1847, Captain McKay began purchasing land. Old records show some of his early purchases – two blocks from Jackson to Whiting Street, between Franklin Street and Florida Avenue, the Knight and Wall block on Franklin and Kennedy, a large tract on the river--the site of the Tampa Waterworks, and police station. On this site, McKay erected a large sawmill – the first mill in Tampa. The block on which the Masonic Temple stands on Kennedy and Marion was the site where McKay erected the Hotel Florida. McKay also owned a large section of land from Chapin Avenue to Ballast Point, and several large tracts east of Tampa. He also erected a large building on the southeast corner of Washington and Franklin in which he conducted a mercantile store offering “everything from a knitting needle to a sheet anchor.”


In 1848-49-50 my father owned and operated the schooner Sarah Matilda (named for my mother) between Tampa, Mobile and New Orleans. With the exception of the government vessels, this was the only vessel that was being used commercially for this port. He also constructed a twin wharf at the foot of Washington street. Cattle were penned between the wharves, for shipment to Key West, by schooner.

The Indians having moved to the Everglades and the country being in a peaceful condition, many settlers came into the country and some located in Tampa, purchasing lots and building homes, clearing up the scrub as they would build, putting down plank sidewalks and in some instances shell, but the sand remained in the streets making it hard on teams as well as pedestrians. No lot of 105 feet by 105 feet sold for more than $25 or $140 for the square. That is what our family paid for the lots where the Olive hotel is, also The Times lot, and the Almeria hotel square.

by James McKay, Jr. in "Reminiscences - History of Tampa in the Olden Days"  Dec. 18, 1923

Capt. McKay became a dominant factor in the up-building of the community. He established a line of schooners from Tampa to New Orleans, thus giving to the city business a connection with the outside world. He built a sawmill on what was then the outskirts of town, at what would become the Tampa Heights area on the Hillsborough River, supplying the town's needs for building purposes.

He accepted contracts to build the first non-log cabin courthouse for Hillsborough County and carry the mail from Tampa to Gainesville. He built and owned the only wharf in the harbor.

During the 1850s he added to his fleet, buying the 125-ton steamer Venice, a smaller steamer called the Woodduck, and the brigantine Huntress, purchased at federal auction in Key West after it had been condemned as a slaver.
In 1850, McKay was appointed treasurer of Hillsborough County with instructions to receive “nothing but gold and silver for county purchases.” For the welfare of his fellow citizens, McKay established the Loan Money Bank, advancing supplies and money to the farmers to help them grow their cotton crops and other staples grown in the county. In 1861, only 153 names appeared on the county tax rolls. Captain McKay appeared as the principal taxpayer with 404 acres of land and five slaves valued at $1,000 each.


The first Masonic lodge was organized, I think, in 1850 and the upstairs of my father’s store was fitted up for holding their meetings, and later on I think in the later part of 1852, the lodge building at the corner of Whiting and Franklin street was erected, first a two-story building, the upstairs for a lodge and the lower floor used principally for school purposes, and later on an addition of a two-story building at right angle to the first one, was constructed. I am under the impression that my father was one of the charter members of this lodge, and had as much if not more than any other citizen in its organization and construction but later on had a difficulty with one of the members, withdrawing from the lodge, saying he would never enter it again as long as this party was a member, and I do not think that he ever attended a lodge meeting after that. I am under the impression that he had several hundred dollars of stock in this organization which he lost for some reason. If I have made incorrect statements in reference to this matter and the lodge has records on file in regard to it, I would be very glad to be put right in the matter. We children attended school in this lodge building. Rev. J. K. Glover, a Methodist minister, was the teacher.

by James McKay, Jr. in "Reminiscences - History of Tampa in the Olden Days"  Dec. 18, 1923

[James McKay, Sr. became a member of Hillsborough Lodge No. 25, F&A.M. Apr. 10, 1850. He was expelled Dec. 15, 1855 due to a dispute with fellow Mason Madison Post. McKay was reinstated in the lodge, Sept. 5, 1863.]

The current home of Hillsborough Lodge 25
Photo from the Lodge FB page


Artist's sketch of Ft. Brooke as it appeared in 1850
Image from The Mayors of Tampa 1856 - 2015

In 1851 we shipped cedar logs that were cut from up the Hillsborough river, to Blanchard and Fitch in New York, for making pencils. In 1851 my father erected a saw mill at the place where the Tampa Steam ways is now situated, for the manufacture of lumber. Previous to this, all lumber was freighted from Mobile. Sawdust from this mill was placed on the municipal streets to assist teams in hauling. When the yellow fever appeared in town many of the citizens claimed it was from decayed sawdust and the practice was stopped.


Fort Myers was established, I think, in 1850 by the government. My father was appointed sutler of this post in 1852 and used a small schooner named Emma to take his goods from Tampa to Fort Myers. He also opened a store at Fort Denaud, which was on the Caloosahatchee river some 20 miles above Fort Myers and chartered a little steamer he owned, named the Woodduck to the quartermaster department to carry supplies to the troops at that place. She was operated between Punta Rassa, Fort Denaud, and Fort Myers.


The mails were brought to Tampa overland from Gainesville by stage first weekly, then semiweekly, under contract with my father in 1852. The first court house was constructed in [1848] and the second and larger court house was built by the Rev. John H. Breaker, being a two-story building in [1854].

by James McKay, Jr. in "Reminiscences - History of Tampa in the Olden Days"  Dec. 18, 1923


See details of Tampa's courthouses

In 1852 we opened a ferry at the foot of Jackson street, so as to cross the stage with the mail. It was also used by the public. Ponds that were located on the east end of Jackson street caused the city officials as well as the people, considerable annoyance, especially during the rainy season. One of these ponds at the corner of Jackson and Marion street would take in all four corners and prevent pedestrians from passing in that direction. I have skated rocks over ice on this pond when it was frozen over during the winter.

The authorities dug a ditch in the center of Jackson street to drain these ponds, and in some places it was 12 feet deep. Across Franklin and Tampa streets small bridges were placed so as to permit passage of teams and the public. This did not accomplish what was desired so the ponds were filled in later on.

by James McKay, Jr. in "Reminiscences - History of Tampa in the Olden Days"  Dec. 18, 1923

It has been remarked that Tampa had not been visited with a hurricane since 1848 until the one of 1921, which is an error, Tampa was visited with a pretty stiff hurricane in 1853, that I recollect very well. The schooner John Roalef owned by W G. Ferris and sons arrived from New Orleans with a cargo of general merchandise and just as she had finished discharging this cargo, this hurricane came along, bringing in a tidal wave with it that landed this vessel about 100 yards north of the A. C. L. railroad warehouse where it stands now and about 100 yards from the river bank. My father bought this vessel, had her jacked up and repaired, dug a canal to the river and launched her into this canal, floating her. The tide must have risen some 10 feet above low water mark as this vessel was drawing some five feet or more of water, at the time she went ashore.

by James McKay, Jr. in "Reminiscences - History of Tampa in the Olden Days"  Dec. 18, 1923

By personally guaranteeing the company against financial loss, he induced the Morgan Steamship Company to have two of their vessels, on the route from New Orleans to Havana, make semi-monthly calls at Tampa and other points in Florida. This was in 1856 and the same year he established a merchandising and trading business in Fort Myers, another post garrisoned by US troops.  

In 1857 during the summer, Tampa was visited by an epidemic of yellow fever, but it being very late in the summer and cold weather coming on, there were not many cases and but few deaths, but in 1858 it started early in the season and spread rapidly over the town. All that could move to the country did so but there were many deaths, some of our best citizens passing away. I was stricken with the disease and only for my mother and grandmother, being most excellent nurses, they having passed through an epidemic in Mobile sometime previous, I would not be here today writing this article.

There were many theories advanced from what source came the disease. Some stated that it was introduced from New Orleans by schooner. Others claimed it originated from filth in the town. Any way there was a campaign of cleanliness and sanitary measures were adopted in the winter of ’58 and early ’59. These measures were rigidly enforced and before the summer of ’59 came in, the town, was placed in fine shape. But it gave the town a setback from which it did not recover for two years.

by James McKay, Jr. in "Reminiscences - History of Tampa in the Olden Days"  Dec. 18, 1923

Records of the Huntress

Reports of vessels boarded under suspicion of fraudulently assuming a flag to which they were not entitled...for the suppression of Slave Trade, May 27, 1858.  Click to enlarge.

Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons
Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command, Volume 61



In 1858 my father came to the conclusion the country would be benefited from the exportation of cattle to Havana, Cuba, so he purchased the brig Huntress, fitted her up with cattle pens and contracted with the Morgan Steamship Line to load their decks twice each month, paying $1,500 per trip, whether he loaded the decks or not. He constructed a small dock at Ballast Point and lightered the cattle out of these vessels. Through this source quite a sum of money was placed in circulation in south Florida. In fact after the military left this part of the country the shipment of cattle was the only source of obtaining money. There was only a small amount of sea island cotton made in this section and some potatoes, sugar and hides. These were brought to town and sold in trade, for other goods.

by James McKay, Jr. in "Reminiscences - History of Tampa in the Olden Days"  Dec. 18, 1923


He expanded his cattle business until it attained such proportions that in 1859 he fenced off the Gadsden Point peninsula, the fence extending from where the Spanish sanitarium stood to a point on Old Tampa Bay, about a mile north of today's Port Tampa, and in this pasture grazed thousands of head of cattle in preparation for their shipment to Cuba.

McKay was joined in this endeavor by other Hillsborough County residents, notably the Lesleys, Lykes and Hookers. [Tampa Bay History Center Blog]


In 1859 he chartered the steamer Magnolia from the Morgan Line and entered the cattle business, buying herds and selling the them in Cuba. He is credited with being the first shipper of cattle from Florida to the Cuba market.

Magnolia, a wooden, seagoing, sidewheel steamer built by J. Simonson of Greenpoint, New York for Charles Morgan's Southern Steamship Company. Launched in 1854, the ship was impressed as a public vessel in New Orleans, Louisiana, 15 January 1862, by Maj. Gen. Mansfield Lovell, CSA, acting for the Confederacy's Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin. The South’s original plan to arm her as a ram was dropped in favor of turning her into a blockade runner. In 1858 Floridian cattle man Captain James McKay Sr. of Tampa made a contract with the Morgan Line. This contract allowed McKay to use Magnolia twice a month at a price of $1,500 each run in order to ship cattle to Cuba, making Magnolia the first of many ships to be used in the same way. For this reason, the introduction of Spanish doubloons to Florida can be traced back to the trading trips made by Magnolia.

In January, 1860, there was constructed a pasture fence, beginning on Hillsborough Bay just near the present site of the Spanish sanitarium, extending across the peninsula about two miles north of Port Tampa, to old Tampa bay, for the purpose of concentrating cattle.

The demand for cattle had increased to such an extent that my father in the spring of this year went north to purchase a steamer suitable for the trade and after searching the eastern ports, not finding a suitable vessel, went to Chicago and there purchased the steamer Salvor. She was not of sufficient size for the trade, so he took her to New York, cut her in two, putting 70 feet in the middle of her.

Before leaving Tampa he purchased from Captain L. G. Lesley, his entire stock of the S. V. brand of cattle, as well as 2,000 head of beef cattle from other parties. These cattle were all delivered to this pasture by June 5. The steamer should have arrived here by June 1, but owing to the slow manner of completing the work on her, she did not reach Tampa until the middle of July.  In the meantime the pasture went dry, not a drop of water for cattle and many died before the rains began. There were only about some 3,500 head that were in a condition to stand shipping, and those that were left alive, we altered the marks and brands and drove to Manatee county. The pen where I received all this number of cattle, some 8,000 head, was situated some 200 yards from where I am now living. At that time there was but one house within one mile of the pens. What wonderful improvements have I witnessed since that time.

by James McKay, Jr. in "Reminiscences - History of Tampa in the Olden Days"  Dec. 18, 1923


McKay served as Tampa's 6th mayor, from  February 12, 1859 to Feb. 1, 1860, and established the use of standard procedures and forms for licenses, ordinances and legal notices. He also regulated the Jackson Street ferry service in town to ensure the safety of passengers and cargo. McKay also attempted to purchase the Fort Brooke military reservation for Tampa but was only able to negotiate a rental agreement. For eighteen months, the City rented Fort Brooke from the U.S. government until April 1861 when Confederate troops occupied the fort and declared marshal law in Tampa.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, McKay and a handful of other local men used their vessels to run the Union Naval Blockade to bring guns, ammunition, foodstuffs and other merchandise for the Confederate army and civilian population in Tampa and the surrounding area.  From City of Tampa Mayors:

James McKay, I, Master mariner. 
Photo colorized from Tampa Bay History Center Blog

In the summer of 1860, McKay experienced a disaster due to the late arrival of his new ship, the Salvor. Having just purchased it in Chicago, the ship was being lengthened in New York.  The modifications to the Salvor in New York took longer than expected so thousands of his cattle died of thirst while waiting to be shipped south from Tampa. This resulted in McKay and other cattlemen to shift their operations from Tampa to the Peace River at Charlotte Harbor in order to take advantage of the better opportunities for selling cattle from there.

The Republican presidential victory and the ensuing clamor for secession prompted McKay and other cattlemen to step up their operations. Business was booming for McKay as he made numerous runs to Key West, Cuba and the Tortugas, but this was to soon open a "Pandora's box" for McKay.

On June 6, 1861, McKay's cattle boat Salvor was detained by the U.S. Navy at Key West. The Navy then leased the ship from McKay for their own use and allowed him to return to Tampa in a fishing smack. Soon after his arrival in Tampa, McKay was arrested for treason and charged with supplying beef to the Union enemy.  Florida's Peace River Frontier, by Canter Brown, Jr.

On August 10, 1861, McKay was brought to trial in Tampa on treason charges.  The trial was held before two justices of the peace at the Hillsborough County courthouse and the volunteer prosecutor was Senator James T. Magbee.  Magbee called for the death penalty, demanding that McKay be hanged. However, the Justices of the Peace avoided judgment by binding the captain over for a new trial at the October term of the circuit court.  Arrangements were made for McKay to pass the new Union blockade and head for Key West; he was required to post a bond of $10,000. Soon after, McKay was allowed to leave Tampa and resume his business activities.  He fled to Key West.


On October 13, 1861, McKay, who had gone to Key West after his trial in Tampa, was traveling with his son and crew from Havana aboard his steamer Salvor when he was captured by the USS Keystone State. A search of the Salvor reportedly found 600 pistols and rifles, 500,000 percussion caps, coffee, cigars and clothing.   They were brought into Key West where McKay, his son Donald, and his crew became prisoners of war and his steamer with its cargo was  confiscated.

More on this topic is presented on this separate TampaPix page:
"The Capture of the S.S. Salvor and Imprisonment of James McKay, Sr."


From the summer of 1862 through October, 1863, McKay made six runs in the Scottish Chief through the Union naval blockade to Havana.  At first he carried cattle, but as time went on he shifted to cotton, a commodity at once more profitable than cattle and more easily handled.  On return trips McKay brought back commodities and supplies needed by local civilians, McKay's blockade running career ended on the morning of Oct. 17, 1863, when a Union raiding party, guided by Tampan Henry A. Crane, discovered and burned the Scottish Chief while it was moored in the Hillsborough River. Florida's Peace River Frontier, by Canter Brown, Jr.

Continue with the Hillsborough River Raid on Magbee & the Civil War in Tampa, page 2

After the Hillsborough River raid, Confederate Major Pleasant W. White appointed McKay Commissary Agent for the 5th District of Florida.

True to his promise made to the Union, McKay seems to have frustrated attempts to supply the Confederate army with beef using a series of excuses ranging from "bad weather, lack of funds, a scarcity of cow hunters and drivers and poor health." As a result, the cattle shipments that did arrive from Florida were far below the needs of the Confederate Army. Extremely displeased with the number of cattle being transported to the army, the Confederate government conducted inspections of the cattle and methods of supply but could not determine if there were intentional delays.

See McKay excuses

After the war, McKay resumed his cattle and shipping business until 1876 when he had an accident from which he never fully recovered. He died in Tampa on Nov. 11, 1876.


If Captain McKay were living today, he would be classified as an entrepreneur. He was an amazing man – a natural leader with great ability and an uncanny flair for business. Fate dealt him many reverses throughout his lifetime, but he never wavered; he forged ahead despite the setbacks.
 --Tampa historian, Tony Pizzo

McKay Family Censuses in Tampa

Their 1850 Census shows James & Matilda's first four children, George, Sarah, James & John, all born in Alabama.
Donald and Marian born in Florida, and Sarah Cail, Matilda's mother, born in England.

1860 Census of the McKay Family in Tampa
The McKay's had a music teacher from London in their household--J.A. Butterfield.
See the table of combined census info below for explanation of names.


1870 Census of McKay family members
It wasn't until the 1880 census that the relationship to head of house for each person was recorded.

Res. 319 James Jr. now married to Mary E. (Crichton) with 3 children,
Res. 321 John A. married to Mary J. (McCarty) with son Donald.  (This is Donald Brenham McKay.)
Res. 323 Donald (S.) now living in his own residence.  Enumerator failed to record a "1" for
"Parents of foreign birth" in Col. 11 & 12 for Donald.
This census has been pieced together from 2 successive pages; the 2nd page starting with 15-year old Charles McKay. 
(See table below for notes concerning Charles.)



McKay Family Census Comparisons


  Census Names   Age Calculated Birth Year Birth Place
1850 1860 1870 1850 1860 1870 1850 1860 1870 1850 1860 1870
James Sr James James James Sr. 41 50 67 1809 1810 1803 Scotland Scotland Scotland
Matilda Matilda Matilda Matilda A. 30 42 59 1820 1818 1811 Scotland Scotland England
George George D D 11 D D 1839 D D Alabama D D
Sarah I. (Thomas) Sarah Sarah NF 9 20 NF 1841 1840 NF Alabama Mobile, Ala NF
James Jr James James James Jr. 7 18 28 1843 1842 1842 Alabama Alabama Alabama
John Angus John John John A. 5 15 26 1845 1845 1844 Alabama Alabama Alabama
Donald S Donald Donald Donald 3 14 24 1847 1846 1846 Florida Florida Florida
Marion E. (Randolph) Marion Mary Marion 1 12 21 1849 1848 1849 Florida Florida Florida
Matilda Ann (Wall) NA Ann Matilda NA 8 20 NA 1852 1850 NA Florida Florida
Almeria Bell (Lykes) NA Almeria Almyria NA 7 18 NA 1853 1852 NA Florida Florida
Charles M. NA NL Charles NA NL 15 NA N.L. 1855 NA NL Florida
NA=Not Applicable NL=Not Listed

NF=Not Found


George died 1859, buried in Oaklawn Cem.
Charles first appears on the 1870 census with parents showing foreign birth; he was omitted on the previous census, 1860.     In 1874 his brother John A. McKay had a son named Charles.

Charles M. McKay, son of James Sr. and Matilda McKay.  B. Jan 3, 1857, D. Sept. 15, 1877.

Sarah Cail, mother-in-law of James McKay, Sr.  Native of Bath, England, born July 13th, 1790, died Dec. 21st, 1865.

Matilda A. McKay, wife of James Sr.  Born Edinborough, Scotland May 9, 1816 D. Sept. 21, 1894.

Left: Matilda McKay (Wall), wife of Dr. John P. Wall, center: William George McKay, right: Sarah Cail, mother-in-law of James Sr.

Genealogical records of the pioneers, etc., by Charles E. Harrison, pub. 1915, states:

  1. George, the first son, died in early manhood, unmarried.

  2. Sarah, married Robert B. Thomas of Kentucky.

  3. James Jr. married Mary E. Crichton, the mother of all his children, 2nd marr. to Helene Turton, of Mass., and 3rd time to Lillian Nimms Warren, of NJ. 

  4. John Angus married Mary Jane McCarty. 

  5. Donald S.  was born at Chassewiska, Aug 8, 1846, and came to Tampa with his parents in the same year. He married Mary M. Collier, then 2nd to Martha A. Hayden.

  6. Marion E. married William Randolph of Tallahassee.

  7. Matilda Ann married Dr. John P. Wall.

  8. Almeria Belle married Howell T. Lykes, of Brooksville.

  9. Charles McKay was not mentioned by Harrison.  Charles died at age 20 in 1877.





This was the homestead of Capt. James McKay. This view shows the home in the 1870s, and was located on the southeast square of Franklin and Jackson Streets, the present-day site of the Tampa City Center skyscraper. The McKay children were reared in this house.
Photo courtesy of Helen McKay Bardowsky
Historic marker from Exploring Florida

McKay homestead from THE SUNLAND TRIBUNE Volume VIII Number 1 November, 1982

Capt. James McKay, I (1808-1876). On this site, after the devastating hurricane of 1848, McKay, a native of Scotland, built his first permanent home of finished lumber from Mobile, Ala. Here, with his wife Matilda, they raised their children. McKay was a dominant factor in the upbuilding of Tampa in pioneer times. His shipping lines established the first commercial connection with the outside world. In 1848, he built a courthouse; in 1858, opened the first cattle trade with Cuba, and in 1859, was elected mayor. During the Civil War, with his side wheeler, the Scottish Chief, he became one of Florida's most active blockade-runners; also formed the "Cowboy Calvary" to protect cattle drivers headed for the war-front." (Tampa Historical Society) 





Photos and info below are from the Historical Monument Trail website, Friends of the Riverwalk.

James McKay was born in northern Scotland 1808. As a young man, he took a liking to the sea and became a master mariner. McKay moved to the United States where he married Matilda Cail, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1846, James and Matilda, along with her mother, Sarah, moved to Tampa. McKay purchased property downtown as well as in the Ballast Point vicinity and elsewhere in Hillsborough County.

He built a downtown courthouse in 1847, the First Baptist Church, the Florida House Hotel, and in 1851, a large steam sawmill on the banks of the Hillsborough River north of town that provided lumber to build many of Tampa’s homes.  Shortly after the severe 1848 hurricane, McKay began a shipping enterprise connecting Tampa to Mobile, New Orleans, Fort Myers and ultimately Cuba, where he sold the cattle of Hillsborough County’s ranchers.

Although he was a slave owner, McKay initially argued against those who called for Florida to join the Confederate secession from the United States. Ultimately, however, McKay supported the Confederate cause. He successfully evaded the Union blockade to provide supplies to southern troops and civilians, until his ship was destroyed by Union forces in October 1863. After the war, McKay’s cattle shipping enterprise expanded dramatically. He also briefly served on the county commission in 1870, adding to his earlier periods in public office as mayor of Tampa in 1859-60, and as the treasurer of Hillsborough County in 1850. McKay died November 11, 1876, and his widow, Matilda Cail McKay, died September 21, 1894.






(For this feature and the Ulele Springs history feature)

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