Some of Stephen’s children remained in the Pee Dee region of North Carolina while others moved to Tennessee or Indiana. In this post, I’d like to share some highlights of this family and of those who did not move far from their upbringing along the river.
ROBERT THOMAS I have no pictures to illustrate Robert Thomas’ life, so let me begin to paint with words. Robert Thomas, likely the oldest son of Stephen is recorded in Maryland records as being involved in the settlement of his grandfather’s estate in that location. We know Robert grew to be a believer and preacher in the Baptist tradition. Though no records tell it as so, I think Robert Thomas’ walk began at an early age when in the late 1760’s, he purchased land along Hitchcock’s Creek in now Richmond County. From Rev. Morgan Edwards’ notebook, the following 1772 entry about a Baptist meeting house on Hitchcock Creek is gleaned:
In the county of Anson, 200 — from Newburn and — miles from Phila. No meeting house. Const. March 28, 1772, at the house of William Morris. Families 8, Memb. 14, Minister
REV. HENRY EASTERLING Born May 24, 1733, at the mouth of Nuse river. Bred a churchman. Embraced the principles of the Baptists in 1760 in Dobbs County by Rev. George Graham. Called to the ministry in 1762. Ordained March 29, 1772, when he took care of the church. He married Eliz. Bennett by whom he had children Sherdock, Henry, Bennett, John, James, Elizabeth, William, Mary, Martha, Joel. Came here in 1764, and preached in 1770. Baptized the following pursons: Jonathan Lewelin, Wm. Moody, Thomas Summerlin, Wm. Leggate, Wm. Smith, Nathaniel Williams. Mary Smith, Fanny Williams. Constituted March 28, 1772 by Mess. Edwards and Brown.
This is a vital passage as it connects by location the lives of Robert Thomas and Henry Easterling who both moved about the same time into South Carolina. The passage also tells of William Morris whose life traces back through early Wayne, Dobbs, and Bertie Counties where the said Morris or family may have interacted with my newly found Thomas family in northeast North Carolina. If that’s not enough, a likely descendant named William Morris settled just a bit later in Upper Anson County on the waters of Bare Branch. This William, if not the same as in the 1772 entry, had a son who preached at Rocky River and whose name is honored in the children of my own family. Much more will be said on this at a later date, but for now, paths do cross ….get the picture?
Now, back to Robert Thomas. A farmer by trade, Robert Thomas was instrumental in laying down a spiritual foundation for the generations to come. He was a respected Baptist preacher and founder of several churches. Traveling the region during the American Revolution, he preached to the troops and gave moral support to the cause. From Henry Easterling and his wife Elizabeth (446, Mar. Co., S.C.), dated 4 Feb 1794, Robert purchased several tracts totaling 1017 acres. Situated about eight miles south of the present town of Tatum, the land included “the greater part of the plantation whereon the Sd. Robert Thomas now liveth on a pond called the Ocean”.
On 18 Apr 1807, William Beasley deeded one acre “including the meeting house called Daniel’s Meeting house” to “Robert Thomas, minister, and James Bolton and John David, deacons of the Baptist Church of Christ called the Three Creek Church”. Founded on 12 Oct 1793, the name was changed to Salem Baptist church in 1822. Originally located on the Cashway road near the Pee Dee, the church is now located about six miles south of Bennetsville. In a log church with a straw floor, Robert Thomas and William Bennett were the first to preach at Catfish Baptist Church. Located in neighboring Marion County, Catfish Baptist was founded in 1802. While on a preaching tour, Robert Thomas died in 1816 at Britton’s Neck in Marion County.
TRISTRAM THOMAS I’ve not previously written much on Tristram as learning that I was no longer related had already put a stop to such efforts. But, of all in this family, Tristram was a man of leadership. Active in the American Revolution, he was commissioned in 1775 as a sergeant and later served as a captain and major. He commanded a party which captured a British expedition at Hunt’s Bluff on the Pee Dee. Following the War he held the rank of brigadier general of the Ninth South Carolina Brigade.
In 1785 Tristram conveyed two acres for the construction of publick buildings in the newly created Marlborough County. He hired his brother Benjamin to build the jail. Known as the town of Carlisle, the county seat was moved away from the mosquito infested banks of the Pee Dee to land in the county center (present day Bennettsville) deeded in 1820 by John S. Thomas. Tristram died in 1817 and is buried at Sawmill Baptist in Bennettsville. Much more on Tristram can be found at a well written Find-a-Grave entry.
WILLIAM “RAM BILLY” THOMAS Like his brother Tristram, William was a man of leadership. In 1774-5, he represented Anson County in the Continental Congress. He was a whig and soldier in the Revolutionary War whose involvement in the torment of Tory James Cotton is colorfully told in deposition on board His Majesty’s sloop cruiser at the mouth of the Cape Fear river.
William Thomas was also a learned teacher. He wrote one of North Carolina’s first Almanacs and created a school of “Geography, Natural Philosophy, and Astronomy” at his home in Richmond County. William was involved with the founding of the University of North Carolina where his application to teach astronomy was tabled by the committee. William likely attended Cartledge Creek Baptist Church which hosted a conference founding Wake Forest University. Divided, some of William Thomas’ children remained in North Carolina while some moved to Alabama and to Tennessee where they lived near their uncle Benjamin (more on these in the next post). William Thomas wrote a last will and testament and died in Richmond County.
PHILEMON and STEPHEN JR THOMAS. I’ve researched little on these two as I had already learned that my ancestry to this family was in error. They are two lines I wish to know more about and welcome any guest writer to tell it on this site.
Beyond the family who remained in the Pee Dee Region are JAMES (who died in North Carolina), JOHN, and LEWIS who as Quakers chose to leave the state in the name of peace. Their truly wonderful stories carried me on a journey of discovery that significantly changed my worldly view. More on this story later but first I’d like to pay a visit to BENJAMIN and the children of WILLIAM who removed to the state of Tennessee.