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Captain at sea, cattle baron too

Capt. James McKay, a Tampa landowner and mayor, is thought to have been the first to bring Florida cattle to Cuba.

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 22, 2002


Few people seem to know where McKay Bay is (on the east side of town, surrounded by Palm River, Palmetto Beach and Port of Tampa), or exactly which famous McKay it's named after (not the late Buccaneers coach John).

Records from the Tampa Bay History Center indicate that Capt. James McKay arrived in Tampa in 1846. The Scottish native was a master sailor, but he acknowledged his inner landlubber when he and his wife, Matilda Cail, bought lots of real estate at Ballast Point and what is now downtown.

Before long, he was operating cargo schooners to Cuba and Central and South America. During the Seminole War of 1850-58 he ran a sutler's store, selling goods to soldiers, at Fort Myers.

After the war, he successfully branched into the cattle business, selling herds to Cuba. He's credited with being the first to bring Florida cattle to the Havana market. He was elected mayor of Tampa in 1858.

During the Civil War, McKay ran supplies for the Confederacy, breaching the Union's naval blockade of Tampa Bay several times. McKay was also believed to have surreptitiously supplied the Union with beef, via Cuba.

McKay expanded his cattle and shipping business after the war. He fathered eight children and died in 1876 at age 68.

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