Family history is often unpredictable in how it comes together. Around 2000 Dr. Pelham Thomas paid me a visit at NC State University, my place of employment. Born in Alabama, he taught statistics and mathematics at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. Furthermore, his first cousin had once been the chancellor at NC State where I served in the student arts program. Pelham’s Y-DNA matched mine, and therefore his lineage through his earliest known ancestor, “Joseph Thomas,” was somehow tied to mine. First appearing in Russell County, Joseph Thomas can be traced forward through Coosa and Bibb Counties in Alabama. My interest in this person has always piqued as Joseph had a son Micajah for which you are about to learn more.
There has recently been a match to a person named Henry Thomas, who, as a child actor, played Elliott in the movie ET. His family also went back to Alabama to Henry J Thomas in Elmore County, who first appeared as the son of a person named Andrew Thomas. This family is enumerated in the 1850 Montgomery County census, with Andrew born in North Carolina. Andrew is first found a few years earlier in Lowndes County, Alabama, though Henry’s heritage quietly ends there in Alabama, as does Pelham’s.
Lastly is “Cousin Dan,” a retired Lt. Col. whose father was born among a large family of Thomas in Lee, once Moore County in North Carolina. This family holds dearly to the belief this branch of the family goes back to Bertie County by way of a person named Joseph Thomas, who moved to Wake County and having children including John, Micajah, Benjamin, Joseph, Allen, and Aaron. Though buying into the belief, I have yet to find the singular smoking gun emphatically connecting our collective family narrative to that of early Bertie County.
Like many, ours is a motley crew, a ragtag of family whose disjointed record spans the southeast. For more than 15 years, I have been unable to find any leads connecting us though that has recently changed, at least in part. This post tells of new directions and exciting findings requiring deeper study.
Pelham shared with me a written family history he created though much to his consternation was whether he was on the correct path. Pelham’s history weakly supported documentation of beginnings in a person known as John Thomas, a powerful preacher whose family members removed to Hancock County, Georgia. Leaps of faith are necessary for pondering one’s family history, and concerning Pelham, he told me that clues gleaned from estate records introduced doubt in his proposed ancestry. In addition, collective wisdom for my family now connected to the Moore County branch should rightfully not link by Y-DNA to Pelham’s proposed Edgecombe family. And yet, there must be an error among all the findings as Pelham is undoubtedly related to me and others believed to have migrated west to Wake directly from Bertie County. And in recently reading through Pelham’s paper once more, I found something I had not previously seen. Projecting heritage beyond proven ancestry, carrying Pelham’s family back to Russell County, Alabama, Pelham wrote:
“Joseph and at least one other brother, Michael, and one sister, Lydia (Aunt Liddy), were raised in North Carolina …In 1825 the western counties of Georgia, around what is now Columbus, became available for settlement by virtue of a treaty of session of Indian lands. Joseph found some land available in Muskogee County, Georgia. He and his family, and probably a brother called Michael (see note 4), settled there. They were there and my great grandfather, Micajah Thomas, was one year old when rumors of a pending uprising of the Creeks caused the family to rush to the Fort in Columbus in 1834.
The uprising never actually occurred, the Creeks went west rather quietly, but the family remained in or near the Fort for about a year. Congress passed the Creek Removal Act in 1832. This act made the ten southeast Alabama counties available for settlement, so Joseph and his family (and probably his brother Michael) moved into Russell County, Alabama.”
Pelham’s ancestor, Joseph Thomas, first appears in the 1840 Russell County census as 30 to 40 years, while Michael is enumerated as 40 to 50 in the same county. Earlier, across the Chattahoochee River in Muscogee County, Georgia, Joseph and Michael appear to be living beside each other, and both are 30 to 40 years of age. From deeds in Muscogee County, Michael Thomas purchased 202 acres in 1834 that were sold in 1835 by Michael Thomas of Russell County, Alabama. Michael Thomas died ca. 1846 per his last will and testament probated in Russell County. As for his brother Joseph, he moved to Coosa County before 1850, at which point he is enumerated as:
Michael Thomas of Russell County, Alabama is credited as building the first mill on Little Uchee Creek and he was a Freewill Baptist minister as appears in a 1953 issue of Alabama Historical Quarterly:
“This one among the first preachers who penetrated the primeval forests of Russell county—Rev. Michael Thomas—was born about 1795, Ware county, North Carolina, and settled in Russell county in the winter of 1834 and 1835, when he was about forty years old. The family was composed of six brothers and four sisters, nearly all of whom settled in Russell county about the same time. He had seven children: William Thomas, died before the war; Caroline, wife of Mr. Benj. Singleton; Mr. Joseph Thomas; Harriet J., wife of Mr. George Prewitt; Mr. John Thomas—all of Elmore county; Millenden, died before the war; Mr. Blake Thomas Jr., died in the Confederate army; Sarah, wife of Mr. William Pitman, died some years ago; and Ciscillia, wife of Rev. Wheeler Cooper—lately settled on a part of the estate left by their father. Mr. Thomas died in 1846, aged about fifty years. His wife died in 1881.
Rev. Michael Thomas was a disciple and follower of the late Cyrus White, of whom notice will be given hereafter. The denomination is known in church history as The Free-Will Baptists, and as Mr. White was the most prominent leader and zealous in planting churches, his followers are more generally known in this country as Whiteite Baptists. Mr. Thomas was a man whose life was pure, a minister of the plain, honest, unvarnished primitive sort, a farmer of the old fashioned short and a miller and lumberman of the water-power, upright-saw period. He, his brothers and sons built the first mills of any kind ever erected on Little Uchee creek. He located and built up a congregation of his faithful followers at a point on the north side of Little Uchee creek on section 21, township 18 and range 28, near the centre of the section. Here Mr. Thomas and Rev. James Dixon had a monthly appointment, occasionally interspersed by a sermon from Rev. Cyrus White, when the weather and the Indians permitted, under the trees, until 1836, when a log church was built. This served until Macedonia, near the Maynor place, was built. The first mill on Little Uchee stood where McKinnon’s mill now stands. His sons built another set of mills three quarters of a mile above, which were destroyed by fire and rebuilt by his brother. The exact dates of these various mill erections are lost.
Mr. Thomas was acknowledged as a man of God, and as such, was respected, honored and loved until his death. He introduced the peculiar tenets of the Free-Will Baptist faith in his neighborhood, in advance of all others, the fruits of his labor being still apparent, and the little church, Macedonia, which stands near where he lived and died, and where his body and that of his wife lie buried, is his fit monument and perpetuates his memory.
A brother of the above is closely identified with the same period, and though never emerging from the private walks of life, has exerted a quiet activity which has resulted in retaining him on the stage of action as one of the old landmarks of the days of “lang syne” of Russell county. A B. Thomas, Sr, was born in North Carolina, Oct. 19th, 1809; the youngest son of a family of ten children of Michael Thomas, Sr. This latter was a Revolutionary soldier and merits a passing notice in this history. In 1812, when his son, Blake, was three years old, this patriarch moved to York District, S. C., and settled on Fishing creek, where he lived until 1818.”
I am almost certain there is a mistake in the family tree of Michael Thomas Senior as outlined above. Back in time the good folks of Alabama claimed that his son, the Rev. Michael Thomas Jr. was born 1795 in Ware County, North Carolina. There is no Ware County, but instead there is a Wake County. And, in 1790, the census in that county lists only one Michael Thomas who happened to live in southern Wake County not far from Joseph Thomas who is commonly believed to be the patriarch of family there. This Joseph is mentioned in the 1758 last will and testament of yet an earlier Joseph Thomas living in Bertie County. It is my believe that Michael Thomas Sr in this writing is the same person as “Micajah” who is shown in records as being the son of Joseph Thomas who moved to Wake County from earlier in Bertie.
Beginning in 1794, “Micajah Thomas” is named in road orders leading from Terrible Creek to Braswell’s Ferry. Joseph Thomas and family moved across the river to the Buckhorn area of Chatham County where Micajah Thomas became first to acquire land. Dated 13 May 1796, “Cage Thomas” planter of “Weak” county purchased 250 acres from Phil Johnston of Moore County. The deed was witnessed by brothers Benjamin Thomas, Joseph Thomas and neighbor John Shephard. About this land, it originated as a land grant issued in 1780 to Voluntine Braswell, whose father Richard lived earlier near the Thomas family on Roquist Creek in Bertie County. Following the war, Voluntine and brother Byrd moved to Georgia after which Voluntine’s land fell into the hands of John Shephard before being sold to Micajah Thomas.
Moving a mile or so south into Moore County, Micajah sold his land in 1804 to Ishmael Roberts, a Revolutionary War Veteran and man of color. Micajah appears in the 1810 census as 26-44 years of age with three sons under 10 and two being 10-15 years of age. One of the children listed could easily be the future Rev. Michael Thomas, Junior. Not appearing in any census going forward, at this point I have always wondered if he remained in the area. Because of this uncertainty and knowing that Chester and York Counties were a popular stop for people moving out of Chatham County, it makes sense that Michael [Micajah]Thomas Senior moved to and died in early York District, South Carolina before 1820. Furthermore, concerning Rev. Michael Thomas Jr, and his brother Joseph, being Pelham Thomas’ ancestor, I believe they are the two sons 10-15 years of age from the 1810 Moore County census. At this point to further make the case, I strongly urge any male descendants of Rev. Michael Thomas to be Y-DNA tested with familytreedna.com. Your DNA is key in making the case and in that I believe we will someday become family.
At this point I would like for this post to end, however, it must not as others in the family and community moved to Georgia. Following retreat from the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, General Charles, Lord Cornwallis crossed the Deep River before making way to Wilmington on Ramsey’s Road. The road changed names as it crossed into Cumberland County, later Moore, becoming Sheppard’s Road. The family owned much land in that area. Note to the right the old county line (red) and the 250-acre Voluntine Braswell tract that passed through John Shepard’s hands before passing down to Micajah Thomas in 1796 (purple). Below is 300 acres granted to John Shepard (yellow). Land colored deep green was acquired by Andrew Sheppard, the father of John Sheppard. Andrew owned more land with much of it lying to the west along the run of Lick Creek.
With the family of Micajah Thomas Sr. now in South Carolina and considering their move to Georgia, the urge to move was felt by Micajah’s family. In March of 1838, William Judd wrote his last will and testament bequeathing land to wife Elizabeth and then to her son Henderson upon her death. One of the tracts was situated northeast of the land platted below. The other, at that time, was identified as the “Thomas Place” which I believe is the land where upon lived William Thomas, son of Micajah’s brother John. The deeded land, below, filed in Chatham County, shows the William “Thomas Place” which would no longer be owned by the said William Thomas following a move to Georgia. Furthermore, William Thomas’ land was originally granted to Neil McLeod after which it passed to Andrew Shepard. The name Andrew will later become important for generations of Thomas as I believe there were marriages between the families of Thomas and Sheppard. Note too that the deeded land shown below nicely adjoins the northeast side of the green colored diamond shape in the illustration above.
John Shephard and the families of Micajah Baggett (husband of Catherine Thomas) and William B. Thomas moved to Georgia shortly after the 1830 census. Catherine may be the sister or maybe a niece of Michael [Micajah] Thomas Senior. William B. is believed to be Michael’s nephew, the son of John Thomas. As for John Shepard, whose land in Chatham was acquired by Micajah Thomas, he wrote his last will and testament in 1842 Marion County mentioning daughter “Mary Thomas.” Mary Thomas appears in the 1850 census as a widow living in the home of Osborne and wife Mary Blair who is John Sheppard’s granddaughter. Earlier, in 1839, a person by the name of Henry Thomas died, leaving an estate in Marion County with buyers including John Shepard and M. Baggett. However, missing is William B. Thomas. Likely related, who is this Henry Thomas and how does he relate? Could he be William B. Thomas’ brother, or maybe a son of Micajah [Michael] Thomas?
In 1854 Muscogee County to the west of Marion County was divided with Chattahoochee County being formed from its southern half. Today, much of Chattahoochee serves as home to the US Army’s Fort Benning military post. In their later years the families of Baggett and Thomas lived in Chattahoochee County and are interred at County Line Primitive Baptist Church in the Pine Knot community east of Buena Vista. Known burials in the cemetery include William Thomas and John Shepard’s son Andrew M. Sheppard. One will encounter roads named “Helmet Trail and “Division 1 Road” if heading due west from cemetery into the grounds of Fort Benning. Continue may fifteen more miles through Chattahoochee County and your trip will pass over the state line, being the namesake Chattahoochee River, at which place Uchee Creek enters from the Alabama side of the river. Rev. Michael Thomas Jr lived nearby as he built a mill nearby which was operable into the 1970’s. Much like the land these folks left in Chatham Counties in North Carolina, note that Russell County was divided following war’s end with the northern half being named Lee County in honor of the Confederate General. Much of Rev. Michael Thomas’ family can be found in Lee County. From there family trees online show movement of the families through Coosa, Elmore, and Montgomery Counties before heading to points further west in Louisiana and Texas.
Furthermore, knowing of Thomas family in Elmore County Alabama rooted ancestrally through names Henry Jackson Thomas and his father Andrew, and knowing Henry was born in Georgia while Andrew was born in North Carolina, we can now discuss the likelihood that family descends from an earlier Henry, being the son-in-law of John Sheppard. At this point more work is needed to learn of any later ties between this Thomas family and that of Sheppard.
I believe emphatically that we are close to the endgame of discovery and to any male descendants of Rev. Michael Thomas and William B. Thomas reading this, I make two simple requests. First, please have your Y-DNA tested at familytreedna.com which may undeniably connect your tree to a vibrant trunk that is deeply rooted in North Carolina. Also, feel free to join our Facebook group titled THOMAS FAMILY from Northeast North Carolina. We would love to hear from you, sharing with you all we have while learning from what you may offer.