The entire backrun of the New York Times is now available online, if you belong to an institution that has licensed it (check your public library!). I’ve been pulling out a number of family-related stories, including this about first cousin five times removed, Henry Kent McCay (1820-1886):
JUDGE M’CAY’S UNHAPPY CONDITION.
Judge H. Kent McCay, of the United States District Court of Atlanta, Ga., whose mind has become deranged, arrived in Baltimore Tuesday evening with his nephew, and was taken to the home of his brother, Prof. Charles F. McCay, 232 North Charles-street. It was hoped that rest and a change of scene would bring him around all right. He, however, did not seem to improve, and at times was rather violent. He may be sent to Philadelphia for treatment. Judge McCay suffered greatly before his mental derangement showed iteself. He used to complain that his feet burned like fire, and once had a tub of ice brought into court and kept his feet in it as he sat on the bench. The resignation of Judge Erkskine [sic], of the Southern Georgia district, increased his labors, and overwork produced sleeplessness. Then Judge McCay had an unhappy experience in his domestic arrairs. Twenty-five years ago he and his wife adopted little twin sisters. They were bright, interesting girls, and the Judge educated and brought them up to be refined, beautiful young ladies. They married, and after rather unhappy experiences both died not long ago. One left eight children and the other one. The Judge brought them all to his home in Atlanta, cared for them, and placed those of them who were old enough at school. The death of their mothers was a hard blow to him. An impression that the Judge’s trouble was caused by drink seems to be without foundation. He was always averse to liquor, and would not allow any intoxicating liquor in his house. Once on finding a bottle of whisky in his house he threw it into the yard. He was a very benevolent man, and his misfortune is deeply deplored by everybody.NYT, Dec. 21, 1884, p. 4 – copied from the Baltimore Sun, Dec. 19
McCay was born in Northumberland Co., PA, and was a cousin of our Wheatley ancestors. He moved to Georgia to pursue a legal career in Americus around 1840, and was no doubt the inspiration for John, Charles and Israel Thornton Wheatley to move there a few years later. All these transplanted Pennsylvanians served in the Confederate army or the Georgia Militia in the Civil War. After the war McCay made himself unpopular among his friends by joining the Republican party, participating in the reconstruction state constitutional convention, and accepting an appointment to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Judge McCay evidently did go on to Philadelphia, for a month later the Times noted:
THE CASE OF JUDGE M’KAY.
PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 21. – No witnesses were examined to-day in connection with the application of Judge Henry K. McKay [sic], of Georgia, to Judge Butler for a writ of habeas corpus in a proceeding for his discharge from the asylum for the insane, where he has been since Dec. 24 last. Rufus E. Shapley, who has been retained by Judge McKay, said that he did not think the Federal court had jurisdiction in such matters. He will, he added, withdraw the petition and make an application for a writ to Judge Finletter in the Quarter Sessions Court. Judge McKay can converse rationally. His manner, however, is one of intense excitement. He takes a profound interest in the proceeding that he has instituted, and to-day spent more than an hour in discussing the law on the subject with United States District Attorney Valentine. His friends still hope to prevail on him to give up the proceedings for his discharge from the hospital altogether and voluntarily remain in the institution until he shall be completely well. It is feared, however, that if he were not permitted to have his way the effect upon his mind would be bad.NYT, Jan. 22, 1885, p.2
And the following day:
THE CASE OF JUDGE M’KAY.
PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 22. – An application was made to Judge Finletter, in the Quarter Sessions Court to-day, for a writ of habeas corpus for Judge McKay, of Georgia, who wishes to be discharged from the Pennsylvania Hospital for the insane, where has been since Dec. 24. The petition, which is similar to the one filed the other day in the United States District Court, set out that the Judge was illegally restrained of his liberty. Later in the day Rufus E. Shapley, counsel for Judge McKay, was visited by his client and informed that the autohrities [sic] of the hospital had given the Judge leave to come and go, and had furnished him with a pass key. Under these circumstances the writ will be withdrawn to-day. Mr. Shapley says that Judge McKay has become quite well, and acts and talks rationally. The Judge declares that the evidences of mental unsoundness in him had been greatly magnified. He explained the fact tht he had sat with his feet in a bucket of water by saying that he suffered from bodily pains, and that the treatment that he had devised for himself had alleviated his sufferings. His relatives, being old people, had become frightened, and sent him to this city for treatment. It is expected that the Judge will shortly go back to his court in Georgia.NYT, Jan. 23, 1885, p.1
Judge McCay returned to the bench, but evidently did not entirely recover his faculties, or at least his socal graces. A little more than a year later, the Times carried this item:
A WRIT OF LUNACY.
ATLANTA, Ga., April 2. – Col. George T. Fry, a leading attorney, was interrupted in what he conceived to be an offensive manner, in an argument before Judge McCay, of the Federal court, yesterday. To-day Col. Fry swore out a writ of lunacy against Judge McCay. He says he is in earnest in his effort to end the scenes which have taken place in the Federal courts here for a year past.NYT, Apr. 3, 1886, p.2
A few days later this appeared:
A FEDERAL JUDGE ASSAULTED
ATLANTA, Ga., April 21. – While Marshal Nelms was conversing with Judge McCoy [sic] in the room of the latter in the United States Court House to-day, Dr. Nathaniel Pratt, State Chemist, stepped in. He attempted to talk with the Judge on a case in court, when Judge McCay was overheard to say:
“You are drinking now and had better wait till some other time.”
“You are a liar,” exclaimed the doctor, “and had better be sure you are right before you make such assertions.”
Marshal Nelms interfered, when Pratt apologized. A few minutes later Marshal Nelms, who had retired to his own room, was alarmed by the announcement that Pratt had caught hold of the Judge and was shaking him back against the wall. All parties had made strenuous efforts to suppress the matter.NYT, Apr. 22, 1886, p.1
McCay died, still in office, three months later. I haven’t been able to find out anything about McCay’s adopted daughters, except their initials: C.E. and T.R. (from the 1860 census, Sumter Co., GA). C.E. seems to have been known as Callie, after her mother. They were 13 years old in 1860.
H.K. McCay’s brother Charles, to whose house he was taken in Baltimore, was at that time an insurance executive but formerly a professor of mathematics and civil engineering. His remarkable career merits an entry of his own in this blog.