A rugged Scotsman by the name of James McKay played an important role in the history of Tampa Bay. He was born on the Northern Coast of Scotland in May 1808, and became a master mariner. Captain McKay met Matilda Alexander, an Edinburgh native, and married her in 1837. Soon after, they moved to Mobile and Captain McKay became involved in various shipping and mercantile enterprises. In 1846, the McKays along with their four children and Matilda’s mother, set sail for Tampa. They were shipwrecked near the mouth of the Chassahowitzka River, where their fifth child was born. They proceeded to Tampa in covered wagons, arriving in October 1846.
Upon arrival the family purchased property, including blocks of what is now downtown Tampa and Ballast Point, and the family became a cornerstone of the community. Captain McKay established a line of schooners that plied the waters between Tampa and New Orleans. He built a sawmill, the first courthouse, and the First Baptist Church. He carried the mail from Tampa to Gainesville, established a merchandising and trading business in Fort Myers and served as the third mayor of Tampa. By the time of the Civil War, his fleet was substantial. He discovered a profitable new market for Florida cattle in Cuba, where cattle had been destroyed by uprisings. He also established a salt works in Tampa Bay.
After the War he continued his shipping activities until his death in 1876, at 68 years of age. His heirs and successors followed in his footsteps, with succeeding generations producing both sea captains and mayors. One of the McKay sons, Captain James McKay, captained the S/S Mascotte, which now appears on our City’s seal. His youngest daughter, Almeria, married Dr. Howell T Lykes, and was mother of the seven Lykes brothers who perpetuated the family business. Many streets and landmarks in Tampa have been named after various members of the McKay clan. McKay Bay, just east of the Port’s main peninsula, is one such location. People like Captain McKay are rare. He was a man of the sea, but one who knew the value of real estate and land-bound enterprises. He was a man with true vision. He set an example of entrepreneurship that many have tried to follow, but that few could emulate. He was determined, competent, and respected. We have created an award in his honor, for those few who have made significant contributions to this great port of ours, Port Tampa Bay.