William Harrison Mays Papers

Identity elements

Reference code

US TxAM-C C000003

Level of description



William Harrison Mays Papers


  • 1866-1982 (Creation)


1 Box (18 Folders)

Name of creator


Biographical history

William Harrison Mays was born a slave on March 22, 1845. His mother, Susan May, was owned by Josiah S. Doakes of Nueces County, TX, and died when W. H. Mays was fourteen years old. After the Civil War, Mays moved to Corpus Christi, TX and on August 4, 1869, married Alice Sinclair (1854-1934), who belonged to a prominent family in the local African American community (her mother, Clara Sinclair, was one of only two black women in Corpus Christi listed as property owners in the 1870 census; her brother, Moses Sinclair, was the second pastor of St. Matthew Baptist Church, the first black Baptist church in Corpus Christi).

Though a brick mason by trade, Mays was a cowboy for much of his life. In 1870 he worked on the King Ranch and later was in charge of cattle shipments for Mifflin Kenedy (for whom he would later name his youngest son, James Mifflin Mays). When Mays died in 1909, his obituary stated that he was "one of the oldest Negroes living in Corpus Christi…[he] was well-liked by both white and black and had many friends who regret to learn of his death. He was an upright, honest, and hard-working citizen."

Mays' granddaughter, Alclair Mays Pleasant, was born on May 6, 1906. The daughter of James Mifflin Mays (1880-1925) and his first wife, Annie Garcia Bohman (1887-1982), Mrs. Pleasant spent much of her life as an active member of the African American community in Corpus Christi. A teacher, historian, and community advocate, Mrs. Pleasant served her community and family until she passed away in 2011 at the age of 105.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

This collection contains a variety of documents related to William Harrison Mays, an African American cowboy living in Corpus Christi, TX during the late 19th and early 20th century, and his family. The collection consists of tax receipts, promissory notes, land deeds, and receipts for lumber and building loan payments, photographs, and correspondences from which the researcher is able to track the development of a family over the course of three generations.

Of particular interest is a letter written by W. H. Mays' grandson, Roby Williams, dated September 12, 1982, in which he claims that his grandfather, "was a gun toten cow puncher with the Kings and Kennedys who used to ride over the border and steal Mexican's cattle and bring them back to Kings ranch and brand them KR. Grandpa knew he was living such a hard and risky life, he knew he was subject to being killed on some of these adventures and cattle drives up to Abilene, Kansas, so he didn't buy anything in his name. If he was arrested for cattle rustling, they couldn't take his property." One of the deeds dated 1872 may dispute this claim as it conveys to "Harrison Mays, Colored" a property in Corpus Christi for the sum of twenty-five gold dollars. However, all the tax receipts thereafter for the property are made out to a Clarissa Sinclair (also known as Alice Sinclair, William Harrison Mays' wife).

Other items of interest include a photograph, circa 1865, of two African-American men each standing with a leg up on a wooden box with a large bag marked "$1,000." The handwritten caption on the back reads: "Uncle Willie Cox on left. Just after a win in a cock's fight. Bag contains $1,000.00 in gold. San Luis Portisi, Mexico."

System of arrangement

This collection was originally purchased through an estate sale and was received by the archive with no original order. Most items have been placed within protective sleeves or coverings due to their fragile nature. Series grouping is based on the subject matter (finances, personal correspondence, etc.) and then arranged in chronological order.

This collection is organized into four series:

  • Series 1, Finance
  • Series 2, Personal Correspondence
  • Series 3, Serials
  • Series 4, Photographs

Due to the fragile nature of the materials in this collection, digital copies are available of certain items for the benefit of researchers.

Conditions of access and use elements

Conditions governing access

The majority of items within this collection are fragile and should be handled with care.

Physical access

Technical access

Conditions governing reproduction

Please contact the Cushing Memorial Library & Archives for further information.

Languages of the material

  • English

Scripts of the material

Language and script notes

Finding aids

Acquisition and appraisal elements

Custodial history

According to Between the Covers Rare Books, Inc., the collection was purchased from an antique dealer located in Waterbury, Connecticut. The original purchaser was unable to provide further documentation as to how or from whom the items were purchased other than they came from a private house or estate sale. At this time, the provenance of the materials in this collection remains unknown.

Immediate source of acquisition

Purchased from Between the Covers Rare Books, Inc., in 2015.


Related materials elements

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related archival materials

The Alclair Pleasant Papers, belonging to the Corpus Christi Public Library, contain items similar to those found in this collection. They include personal papers and documents of Mrs. Alclair Pleasant, the granddaughter of W. H. Mays, including numerous photographs of family members mentioned in The William Harrison Mays Family Collection. This collection may be accessed online at http://archives.cclibraries.com/cdm (Accessed on June 17, 2015)

Related descriptions

Notes element

Specialized notes

  • Conservation/Preservation: The majority of the items (mainly those dating from the 1860s to 1910) were received in fragile and deteriorating conditions. Some limited preservation work was performed on items in need of immediate attention (including repair of tears, broken edges, and the removal of rusted staples). The remaining materials are still in need of further preservation work to include the removal of adhesives (glue, tape), cleaning, repair of tears and holes, and flattening of creases.

Alternative identifier(s)

Description control element

Rules or conventions

Sources used

Archivist's note

Finding Aid Authors: Victoria Eastes.

Archivist's note

© Copyright 2015 Cushing Library. All rights reserved.

Access points

Place access points

Name access points

Accession area