Born: May 17, 1808
Died: November 11, 1876
Term: February 12, 1859 - February 1, 1860
Born in Thurso, Scotland, James McKay left home as a young man to become a mariner. He spent most of his time at sea but would return for brief periods to visit his family. It was during one of these visits in 1837 that McKay met and married Matilda Cail in Edinburg, Scotland. The couple had four children: George, Sarah, James and John, before they immigrated to the United States in 1846. Later that year, the family moved to Tampa where 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 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. During the late 1840s and 1850s, James and Matilda McKay had another four children: Donald, Marion, Matilda and Almeria.
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 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. 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. The next month, McKay wrote to the U.S. Adjutant General stating that everything in his power would be "done for the restoration of the Union."
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 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 there were intentional delays.
After the war, McKay resumed his cattle and shipping business until his death in Tampa on November 11, 1877.
Note: James McKay, Sr., was the only non-U.S. citizen to serve as Mayor of Tampa. He remained a citizen of the United Kingdom throughout his life.
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