James McKay, Sr.
(C. 1808- 1876)
Prepared by the Historical Monument Trail Selection Committee, Friends of the Riverwalk. For further information, contact Robert Kerstein, BKerstein@ut.edu.
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.