Sitting here on a buggery cold and snow laden Sunday evening listening to Simon and Garfunkel on folkalley.com, I’m sure if the remaining children of the Stephen Thomas from Anson County were up and walking, they’d feel right at home. And to that end, it’s time to share a little of my journey tracing the lives of Stephen’s remaining sons James, and then John and Lewis. All of them were peace lovers by faith, Quaker.
On 13 Oct 1774, James Thomas formally chose to live with his brother John following the death of their father Stephen. James acquired a grant in Anson County (now Richmond) along the west side of the Gum Swamp on the waters of Bear Branch. Located between present day Tatum and McColl SC, James lived not far from and attended Piney Grove, a small preparatory Quaker meeting.
This was a time of war and as sentiment stiffened against Lord Cornwallis’ control of South Carolina, brothers James, John and Lewis sought safety in Guilford County around 1780. Quakers held to a strong peace ethic and many either camped nearby or bought land close to the larger monthly meetings. It really was a difficult time. General Nathaniel Greene, himself born a Quaker, witnessed the many who, living in and amongst New Garden, would not fight for the cause. Correspondence between Greene and the Quaker ministers was to no avail. It was in this time and atmosphere that young James Thomas courted Milly Clark, the sister of his brother John’s wife Molly.
James Thomas and Milly Clark married at the close of the war on 26 Mar 1785 in Guilford County NC. James’ brother Lewis was bondsman. Following the marriage, Milly’s parents Francis and Christian Stone Clark deeded to James Thomas land adjoining John Clark’s mill on the Haw River. Things were going well, but this union would not last as in 1788 James Thomas penned his last will and testament. His brother John and John’s son Isaac along with Milly were named Executors. The will was witnessed by Laban Tharp and Thomas Willcutts. And as you read James’ will below, note several things about this traditional Quaker format: (1) The date is written “the sixteenth of the ninth month in the year of our Lord 1788,” as Quakers did not believe that months of the year should be named after pagan gods; and (2) James does not evoke the name of God. Being Quaker, who is he to speak for God.
Quaker records indicate James’ widow Milly married second to Thomas Willcutts sometime prior to 1797 when James’ named children were identified in church records as Thomas’ stepsons. The couple returned to Piney Grove in Marlborough County SC where they raised 8 more children.
Times again became difficult for Quakers as numbers of large plantations with slaves grew along the fertile lands east of the Pee Dee River. They voted against slavery and eventually felt the need to remove themselves in order to find a place to live peacefully without the wrongs they saw around them daily. Can you imagine James having to live near his brothers Tristram, Robert, Benjamin, and William who all held slaves? And it’s known that some of this extended Thomas family held hundreds of slaves.
Recorded in 1802, Jonathan Marine and John Mendenhall released “unto the overseers and their successors of Pine Grove Monthly Meeting a certain parcel of land containing four acres including the said Meeting House.” The deed was witnessed by Thomas Morris and James Thomas’ nephew Francis Thomas. The Meeting House closed its doors and its members chose to either stay or to remove themselves to Indiana where slavery was not allowed. Dated 25 Mar 1833, “Piney Grove Meeting House” was deeded to the Methodist Church. Today, south of McColl SC, Pine Grove Methodist stands on this old meeting house site.
In the 1990’s, I made a two-week trip to Indiana to get in touch with my Quaker heritage. This was before learning I was not a part of the family. I spent time at Earlham Quaker College, delved into the underground railroad and walked away with a respect for the Quaker faith that I’ll carry for life. As you’ll see in the following posts, the experience was a life changer for me and one I’ve always wanted to share.