W. J. Mays

Submitted to the West Virginia Biographies Project by:
Valerie & Tommy Crook
April 13, 2000

The History of West Virginia, Old and New
Published 1923, The American Historical Society, Inc.,
Chicago and New York, Volume III,
pg. 409

W. J. MAYS is the present efficient sheriff of Taylor
County, was for a number of years in the police and me-
chanical service of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and
baa been a resident of Taylor County since he was two
years old. He represents one of the pioneer families of
West Virginia.

Hia pioneer ancestor was William Mays, who served with
Virginia troops in the Mexican war, and spent his last
years in Monongalia County, being buried in the family
graveyard near Fannie Furnace in that county. His son,
Frederick Mays, was born in Monongalia County, and
married Eleanor Snider, a native of Preston County and
daughter of John Snider. They had a large family of
children, including three sets of twins: Jacob, Lewis S.,
James M., Mary E., who married George Boylan; Sarah
E., who married William LaRue; John N.; Margaret A.,
who married Jake Ecoff; Sophia D., who married Wesley
Hartman; Kate, who married John Smith; Richard C.;
and Martha A., who became the wife of William Grimes.

John Nelson Mays, father of Sheriff Mays, is a retired
farmer at Thornton in Taylor County. He was born
in Marion County, February 4, 1843, but grew up near
Independence, Preston County, where he acquired a sub-
scription school education and a practical knowledge of
farming. He has one of the most notable war records of
the surviving soldiers of the Union. He was eighteen
when in May, 1861, he joined at Morgantown, Company
A of the Third Infantry, under Capt. J. J. Thompson
and Col. David T. Hughes. After a period of training
at Clarksburg the company was assigned to guard duty
on the Parkersbnrg branch of the Baltimore & Ohio. After
six months the regiment was put on scout duty with the
Mountain Department of West Virginia, and after about
two years the regiment was mounted and became the Fifth
Infantry. While in service in the Valley of Virginia it
participated in the battles of McDowell, Cloyd Mountain,
Cross Keys, Port Republic and Culpeper, and fourteen
days of fighting along the Rappahanock River. It was on
patrol duty in Washington when Lincoln was assassinated
and during the closing scenes of the war, including the
Grand Review. In the meantime the regiment had been
organized as the Sixth West Virginia Cavalry. After the
war the Sixth Regiment was ordered to duty on the west-
ern plains, Mr. Mays in the meantime having re-enlisted.
They proceeded by rail to Fort Leavenworth, and thence
across the plains to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, to open the
mail route closed by Indian hostilities. A year later Mr.
Mays was returned to Fort Leavenworth, where he was
discharged in June, 1866. In the first years of his army
experience he was twice taken prisoner, first near Morefield
Gap by General Rosser and Green’s Confederate command,
and later by the same forces at New Creek, now Keyser,
West Virginia. Both times he made his escape from his
captors. Later, in Nebraska, he was with a force guard-
ing an ox-train carrying Government supplies. One eve-
ning he and a comrade were about a mile from camp
looking for game. By some strange premonition he sensed
danger, though there were no Indians in sight, and when
his companion refused to leave off hunting he rode to the
corral. He never saw his fellow hunter again, since he
was hardly in camp when a band of 400 warriors came
by, capturing his comrade and stampeding some cattle
in another wagon train camped nearby.

John N. Mays had three brothers in the Union Army,
Jacob, Lewis S. and Frederick G. After his discharge
at Port Leavenworth John N. Mays was returned to
Wheeling, where he was mustered out, and he soon re-
sumed the routine of civil life as a farmer in Preston
County, and later moved to Taylor County. He has always
been a republican, never active in politics, held a commis-
sion for some years as notary public, and is a member
of the Methodist Episcopal Church. His first wife was
Miss Phoebe Griffith, a native of Preston County and
daughter of Ebenezer Griffith. She died three years after
their marriage, as the result of an overdose of morphine
administered by a physician. One of her two children
died in infancy and the other is W. J. Mays. On March
10, 1875, John N. Mays married Miss Emma Hardinger
in Taylor County, where she was born, August 10, 1861,
daughter of Moses and Julia N. (Rose) Hardinger, na-
tives of Pennsylvania and farmers in Taylor County.
Emma was one of a family of five sons and four daugh-
ters, and three others are still living. The children of
John N. Mays by his second marriage are: Ola, wife of
Allen DeMoss, of Thornton; Alonzo, of Detroit, Michigan;
Grace, who married Robert Travis, of Thornton; Ira E.,
of Detroit; Chauncey, of Richmond, Virginia; and Pearl,
wife of Edward Haines, of Cumberland, Maryland.

W. J. Mays, son of this old soldier, was born near Evans-
ville, Preston County, February 5, 1869, and was less than
two years old when his father moved to Taylor County.
He acquired a country school education, and at the age
of eighteen became a blacksmith apprentice in the shops
of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. After four years of
apprenticeship he was raised to the regular rank and
pay, and remained in the shops of the company for eleven
years. Leaving that he conducted a dairy at Grafton five
years, and then by appointment from Mayor James Love
served two years as chief of police. The Baltimore &
Ohio invited him to return to its service as a police of-
ficer, and subsequently he was promoted to captain of
police for the Mononga division, a post of duty he held
two and a half years. During the World war period,
when the railroad needed all available mechanical skill,
he resumed his former trade in the railroad shops. While
there he was persuaded by his friends to stand for nomi-
nation for sheriff, received that honor in the primaries
of 1920, and in the fall of that year was elected by a
majority of 2,144, the majority being larger than all the
votes cast in the county for his competitor. He succeeded
Sheriff Melvin Newlon in January, 1921.

Sheriff Mays is an active representative of all progres-
sive movements in his city and county. He is a republican,
a member of the Chamber of Commerce, a Methodist and
is affiliated with the Masons, Modem Woodmen and Red
Men. In Taylor County, November 30, 1891, he married
Miss Margaret A. Knotts, daughter of John K. and Ann
(Linn) Knotts. Her father was a Taylor County farmer,
and represented one of the prominent family names there.
Mrs. Mays, who was born March 23, 1872, was the young-
est of eight children, the others being William L., Emery,
Robert, Isaac A., Zebulon B., Spencer S. and Miss Mary
J. Three of the sons became farmers and two railroad

Mr. and Mrs. Mays have an interesting family of five
sons and five daughters. Clyde N. is chief clerk of the
division of accounts of the Mononga division of the Balti-
more & Ohio. Edna Jean is the wife of Charles Payne,
deputy sheriff of Taylor County. Abe Warder is deputy
sheriff and jailer of Taylor County. Paul Herbert is the
sheriff’s bookkeeper. Verne K. was recently discharged
from the artillery service of the United States Army. Mary
M. is a senior in the Grafton High School, and the younger
children are Samuel Linn, Margaret M., Virginia and