Attorney General of New York, 1710-1712
May Bickley was born in England and is believed to have been well educated and admitted to practice as a solicitor. He arrived in New York around the year 1701 and was admitted to the New York bar on October 7, 1701. He soon had a thriving practice with many matters before the Supreme Court and the Court of Chancery.
Upon the death of Attorney General Sampson Shelton Broughton, Bickley was appointed Attorney General of the Province by the Governor, Lord Cornbury. The Board of Trade in London appointed John Rayner to the post, but when Rayner returned to England a year later, the Governor again commissioned Bickley as Attorney General. Bickley also served as Recorder of the City of New York and Advocate General of the Court of Vice-Admiralty.
May Bickley, as Attorney General, was prosecutor in the alleged “Negro Plot of 1712.” Of the 28 people tried without a jury in New York City Hall, 21 were sentenced to barbaric deaths — 20 were burned to death, some were hung in chains to starve to death and one was executed on a breaking wheel. The severity of punishments indicates the white population’s fear and suspicion of blacks, the same fear underlying the hysteria that led to the New York Slave Insurrection of 1741. Bickley was replaced as Attorney General on June 10, 1712.
Bickley also served as a judge of the Court of General Sessions in New York City and in 1709 was one of the founding members of the New York Bar Association.
May Bickley died at his home in the Bowery on April 2, 1724.
Paul Mahlon Hamlin, Charles Edwin Baker. Supreme Court of Judicature of the Province of New York, 1691-1704 (1959)
Thomas J. Davis. A Rumor of Revolt: The “Great Negro Plot” in Colonial New York (1990).