James McKay, Sr. - 6th Mayor Of Tampa

James McKay SR photo

Born: May 17, 1808, Scotland

Died: November 11, 1876, Tampa, Florida 

Term: February 12, 1859 - February 1, 1860

Born in Thurso, Scotland on May 17, 1808, James McKay immigrated to the United States in 1837. He married Matilda Cail, and the couple lived in Alabama before relocating to Tampa in 1846. McKay opened a general store on Franklin Street and a sawmill on the Hillsborough River. He also invested heavily in local real estate and purchased two schooners that he used to transport cargo from Tampa to Cuba, Central America, and South America. In 1858, McKay began purchasing vast herds of cattle for transport to Cuba and, in the process, became one of Tampa's wealthiest and most respected residents. James and Matilda McKay had a total of nine children, and two of his sons also had political careers within the City of Tampa. James McKay Jr. was Mayor of Tampa from 1902to 1904, and John A. McKay served on Tampa's City Council from 1869 to 1873. 

 Elected mayor on February 12, 1859, McKay 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 until April 1861 when Confederate troops occupied the fort and declared martial 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. On October 14, 1861, during one of these trips, McKay, his and vessel were seized by a Union ship for carrying contraband and imprisoned in Key West until March 1862 when they were paroled after taking an oath of allegiance to the United States. 

 In 1863, 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. 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 prove there were intentional delays.

After the war, McKay resumed his cattle and shipping business until his death in Tampa on November 11, 1876.


Sources for this Biographical Sketch:

Covington, Dr. James W., and Wavering, Debbie Lee, "The Mayors of Tampa: A Brief Administrative History," Tampa, FL: University of Tampa, 1987.

Grismer, Karl H., Tampa: A History of the City and the Tampa Bay Region of Florida, St. Petersburg Printing Company, FL, 1950.

Robinson, Ernest L., History of Hillsborough County, Florida: Narrative and Biographical, The Record Company, St. Augustine, FL, 1928.

Tampa Council Minutes, City of Tampa Archives, Tampa, FL

January 1, 1857 - October 2, 1891, Microfilm Roll # 1