Category Archives: Thomas

About the Thomas Family

JOHN THOMAS: A STARTING POINT IN VIRGINIA (PT. 2)

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Porto Bello, photograph taken approximately 1900

A recent post introduced the lands of John Thomas on Queen’s Creek in York County VA. It was described in a 1649 patent as being adjoined

“on the north by west upon the land of Joseph Croshaw, south by east upon Queen’s creek, west by south upon a little creek and swamp leading to the Indian cabin and east upon the by north land of M. Jernew, three hundred acres of the said land being granted formerly unto John Broach and by the said Broach assigned to Anthony Barckhurst and purchased of the said Barkurst by the said John Thomas and fifty acres the residue being deed unto ye sd John Thomas by and for the transportation of one person into the Colony”.

Without substantiated proof, this has been considered by many to be the earliest known lands upon which lived John Thomas who is believed to be my family’s emigrant ancestor. This belief may or may not be true as new finds are leading us down a path to a much greater understanding of this piece of land and what it means to our family.

Remember from an earlier post that our family has traditionally located John Thomas’ 1649 patent to be on the north side of Hwy 132 near Williamsburg. Wrong. Remember that Mark Kostro, Project Archaeologist for Colonial Williamsburg, stated that “John Thomas’ land is highly unlikely to be the location previously portrayed. However, [he firmly stated], it does lie somewhere along the north side of the short run of Queen’s Creek. And from a previous study aimed at connecting original land holdings, it’s highly likely that John Thomas’ 350 acres does indeed lie on the grounds of the secretive base known as Camp Peary” [a CIA training camp which immediately made us exclaim …. we’ll never step foot on that land!]. Mark Kostro was clear in that he had no certain information other than knowing the land could not be where we thought. He did though, give us an idea of where land may be located based on a past project carried out by a trusted intern.

 

Just as I was about to roll out this stuff, we received word from Mark that he had contacted other researchers who both validated his beliefs while offering significant changes. Instead of being where the intern’s study had placed it, the 1649 patent is closer to the mouth of Queen’s Creek near the York River. It’s now seen as adjoining Queen’s Creek near the present-day docks of Camp Peary.

So, what’s the scoop on this new angle of information? As it turns out, Camp Peary, like many government installations, is keenly interested in its own history. And to that end, the highly-respected James River Institute for Archeology was contracted to research the history of a site on Camp Peary known as Porto Bello. Traced back to John Thomas’ 1649 patent, the lands upon which Porto Bello stood are historically significant.

The next few posts will connect Porto Bello with the land of John Thomas while giving us the opportunity to take a little side-trip into John’s day and time. Courtesy of the James River Institute for Archeology, pertinent information abstracted from their report will be offered (with discussion) in hopes that we’ll understand more clearly the title history for the land of John Thomas. Wanting to be as thorough as able and realizing my own limitations, future posts will delve into the report one or two paragraphs at a time.

As we move forward it’s important for you to know that there is nothing yet known connecting this land on Queen’s Creek to our North Carolina descendancy as is traditionally believed. And, just as with the prior post, now, new information from noted York County historian Martha McCartney leads us to believe that there were at least three early arrivals with the name John Thomas. Their lives are distinguished in Martha’s book of biographical sketches titled Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers 1607-1635.

As originally stated, our goal is to establish a clear starting point for our family history. It’s all we want for now. Many others have offered their take on the lands of John Thomas. And, once again, let’s take a close look at yet another “new research” in hopes of establishing a starting point from which to study our Thomas family. Let’s begin with paragraph two of the “History of Porto Bello Plantation.” (See next post)

BANGOR-HOUSE ON QUEEN’S

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It was just months ago, when I posted about a Quaker named Thomas Story. I have a copy of his 1st edition autobiography in my possession. Little did I know then, that our family’s starting point, believed to be the lands of John Thomas in York County Virginia, is documented to be Thomas Story’s first stop and the location of his first sermon in America. Information on Thomas Story from Wikipedia: “In November 1698 Story sailed for Pennsylvania, where, at the request of Penn, …was chosen the first recorder of Philadelphia by a charter of 25 Oct. 1701, was a member of the council of state, keeper of the great seal, master of the rolls, and in 1706 elected mayor of Philadelphia, but paid a fine of £20 for declining to serve.”

The following passages are from A Journal of the Life of Thomas Story:

Page 152. HAVING sailed through many and great Storms, variable and uncomfortable Weather, over most of the great Western Ocean, under the Protection of the divine Providence; and all the Ship’s Reckonings being out, on the 7th Day of the Twelfth Month, the next Day, about Four in the Evening, we Struck Ground with the Lead at nineteen Fathom Water.

THIS was glad Tidings to us all: and being in our Latitude we stood in towards the Land all Night, and the next Morning we saw the Capes on either Side of the Bay of Chesapeak, and were standing right in as could have desired; and that Afternoon we came to Anchor in Mockjack Bay, a little above Point Comfort.

ON the 11th of the Twelfth Month, about Sunrising, (the Seventh Day of the Week, and exceeding cold) we set sail in the Long-boat for Queen’s Creek in York River; but the Wind coming contrary, we, with one of the Men, went on Shore about two Miles below Gloucester, and went up thither on Foot, and Soon after went on board our Friend William Dowell’s Ship, lying at Anchor in that River, to write Letters for England; after which he sent some Hands in his Boat with us to Queen’s Creek, being about twenty Miles; and setting out about Eleven in the Night, and very cold, (being a hard Frost and Snow) it was troublesome to find the Entrance of the Creek; and, often running upon Oyster Banks and other Shoals, it proved very fatiguing and dangerous.

BUT thither at length we got, about Five in the Morning, vz. To the House of our Friend Edward Thomas at Bangor-house, but with some Difficulty after we landed; for our Men not knowing the Place, we went to Several other Plantations in the Woods before we found it. When we came to the House and called, Edward arose out of his Bed and came to us, concluding before, that we were Friends from England, (for he had had some Apprehension that Way in himself, a little before, but knew not who in particular) and he and all his Family made us kindly welcome; and having a good Bed provided, we rested comfortably till about Nine in the Morning. And our Friend Edward, being zealous for Truth, and the Good of his Neighbors, gave Notice of us, and of a Meeting to there that Day; where the Lord owned us, and gave us very comfortable Season of his Goodness with the Family and a few of the Neighborhood; who, though not Friends, were, Several of them, much tendered: which was the first Fruits of our Ministry in that County, and good Encouragement.

HERE we remained to refresh ourselves, and put out Things in Order till the 15th Day of the Month, and then had a Meeting about sixteen Miles off, at Daniel Akeburst’s, at Warwick River; which was a good Meeting, but small.

Page 164. THAT Evening we arrived at the Dock where the Ship was building, and lodged that Night with Captain Clayborn; and, next Day, had a Meeting at the Dock, near the Place; which was small, but comfortable; And, being weary with hard Travel, (but especially our Horses, for want of Food, or Forage) we determined to stay there till the First Day; and, intending another Meeting at the Dock, we gave notice of it to the Country.

WE had a Meeting accordingly, which was large and well; the People being generally sober, and several tendered, and after the Meeting, expressed their satisfaction; and some of Note among them said, “That since we had so good Things to publish, they were in hopes we would not finally leave those Parts “without more Meetings thereaway”; several of them adding, “That we should be welcome to their Houses, and the best Entertainment they had, though we had laid open their Priests to the lowest Capacities, and especially their Pseudo Baptism.

THE next Day, accompanied by Edward Thomas of Bangor-House, on Queen’s Creek, and his son, and some other Friends, who had come up, and given us their Company Some Days, we set forward for Queen’s Creek; but, in our Way, had much Thunder and Rain; and, though it was very dark in the Night in the Woods through the good Providence of God, we got well to that Journey’s End.

Edward was son of John Thomas who left a last will and testament in 1665 York County Virginia. From Thomas Story’s memoir, we know that John’s son, Edward Thomas, was prominently Quaker.

This took place at a time when there were very few Quaker ministers and meeting houses. Filling the void, Quakers met at the homes of respected elders where meetings were led by those called by God to do so.

The land owned by Edward Thomas can be traced back to John Thomas and his 1649 patent for 350 acres. This realization is credited to research contracted by Camp Peary. Expect much more in future posts.

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Journal of the Life of Thomas Story

 

JOHN THOMAS: A STARTING POINT IN VIRGINIA (PT. 1)

Just prior to posting, we received information that will likely change the whole scenario of this post. It may also change our history in ways you’d never believe. However, so that you’re aware that this is an evolving storyline, I’ve decided to post the following in belief that your understanding now will go a long way in helping you to comprehend upcoming posts. The posts may not happen immediately and there may be other posts prior. This is because there are other leads that must be chased and verified. Their use must also be approved. So, please read, enjoy, and know that what you’re reading now may or may not apply at all to our THOMAS family. Know that the story WILL get much deeper. And, know that, unlike in the past, there’s a HUGE AMOUNT of research professionally completed pertaining to the lands of John Thomas 1649.

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We could start writing about John Thomas and his arrival in Virginia from any of many perspectives. But, as good fortune would have it, my first venture into this cause was initiated by David Queen whose knowledge and determination enabled a visit with Mark Kostro, Project Archaeologist for Colonial Williamsburg. Mark is likely the best qualified person in the region to address one of the top Thomas family mysteries.

But before moving forward, it should be pointed out that many questions can be asked about John Thomas ….when was he born, when did he arrive in the new world, and on board what ship did he sail? Was he one person, two different people, a father and son, man and cousin or nephew? And when did he marry and what was his life like following his sail to the new world? Did he make the trip once or many times? There is also question of his land holdings. Where did he first live and what later transactions are related to our ancestor versus the possibility of being confused with others of same name. And ultimately, what was the route of our ancestor out of Virginia into North Carolina where more modern records are increasingly available to search. Despite what anyone may say, the records on John Thomas do not collectively paint a clear picture. Much of what we know will be revisited in years to come and with that said, let’s now look at what’s traditionally believed to be the starting point for John Thomas in America.

Arriving sometime in the early years of the 17th century, it wasn’t until 1649 that a person by name of John Thomas is recorded as being granted land. A general location for the tract has been suggested for years by various family historians. Seeking clarity, and wanting to lay our eyes and hands on something tangible, arrangements were made for David and myself to meet with Mark who was well prepared. You’ll hear from Mark in a bit, but first look at the grant and transcription:

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To all & c. whereas & c. Now know ye that I, the said Sir William Berkely do with the consent of the council of State – accordingly give and grant unto John Thomas three hundred and fifty acres of land lying on the north side of Queen’s Creek and in the County of Yorke bounded vizt: north by west upon the land of Joseph Croshaw south by east upon Queen’s creek, west by south upon a little creek and swamp leading to the Indian cabin and east upon the by north land of M. Jernew, three hundred acres of the said land being granted formerly unto John Broach and by the said Broach assigned to Anthony Barckhurst and purchased of the said Barkurst by the said John Thomas and fifty acres the residue being deed unto ye sd John Thomas by and for the transportation of one person into the Colony whose name is in records mentioned under this patent to have and to hold & c yielding of which payment is to be made seven years after ye first ex. grant or sealing of the same & dated ye 4th 8ber 1649                                                    Dorothy Wife

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I cannot begin to write in detail about methodology and of how the above land was physically located. But, Edison H Thomas himself offers the following rationale and photo in his book “The Thomas and Bridges Story 1540-1840”:

“John Thomas and wife Dorothy settled on his 350 acres of land which was located near what is now the city of Williamsburg, Virginia. Today, it is a part of a military reservation and not accessible to the public. However, the general area can be plainly seen from a concrete bridge that carries State Road No. 132 across Queen’s Creek. The area lies on the east or right side of the creek as one looks upstream.”Thomas-Bridges story-59

This site is easily located on today’s landscape using an updated photo, a Google based map and Google interactive street view. And one note, of all the places on Queen’s creek to take a photo, the bridge crossing Hwy 132 offers the most representative view with the least amount of modern visual obstruction. As pointed out by David Queen, from any other vantage point, the appearance of a bridge upstream or down would detract from the image’s background.

Did Edison Thomas choose the photo location because he wanted readers to imagine the creek in John Thomas’ day and time …in the 1600’s? Was it a simple mistake or was there some other reason he located land in the secretive governmental base as being north of Hwy. 132?

Williamsburg archaeologist Mark Kostro, offered the following that both confirms and yet diverges from Edison Thomas’ take on the land. His assistance was very helpful in providing both historical context along with specific information pointing to another physical location. The impromptu presentation is in two parts, Make sure to see both!

So, as Mark Kostro clearly points out, archaeological research supported by historic record locates an early poor house on the land in question north and east of the Hwy 132 bridge. As Mark put it, John Thomas’ land is highly likely to not be the location previously portrayed. However, it does lie somewhere along the north side of the short run of Queen’s Creek. And from a previous study aimed at connecting original land holdings, it’s highly likely that John Thomas’s 350 acres does indeed lie on the grounds of the secretive base known as “The Farm” or officially, Camp Peary.

As offered in the presentation, and as based upon independent research from the past, John Thomas’ ca. 1649 grant of 350 acres is located within or near the green shaded area on the image below. Following the meeting at the Colonial Williamsburg Department of Archaeological Research, David Queen did not waste time and drove us to a public marina on W. Queen’s Drive. That location offered the best view north across Queen’s Creek towards Camp Peary and the lands once owned by John Thomas.

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(top) Google image locating the John Thomas lands (in green) on Camp Peary along with location of marina and direction of viewpoint of the (bottom) photo looking across Queen’s Creek towards Camp Peary and the John Thomas lands.

 

In closing, I’d like to again express admiration and a sincere thanks to the efforts of both David Queen and Mark Kostro. I’d also like to express admiration for researchers such as Edison Thomas who made so much happen in a time when records were much more difficult to access. The takeaway for me is to tell the whole story. The background of how a story comes together is often as valuable and appreciated as much as the story itself. And with the same critical eye, we’ll need to move from this point to ask more questions. And for each one, we’ll need to base the answers from a large circle of possibilities, making sure to tell it all.

As for John Thomas’ land, was this the starting point for our many generations in America? Or, was this but a point along his journey south. Was this the land of our John Thomas or could it be the makings of history for someone else’s family? Our goal was to establish a clear starting point which we now have. It’s time to move forward and know that these are the challenges we will face. And please realize that new information will likely change your perspective of what you’ve just read.   Stay tuned!

GOING BACK TO OLD VIRGINIA

Filled with a curious hunger to fully understand our Thomas family, once again we come together to review and build upon prior efforts of telling our story. Some of us have seemingly clear paths through northern tier counties of North Carolina back to Virginia where records become fewer and therefore more difficult to link. There are others, like myself, whose only connection lies in DNA and the educated guess that somehow, we will someday clear a more perfect path into this family.

For us all, there is John Thomas who appears in 1620’s ship lists, a census/muster list, and a later land record near Jamestown VA. And, then there’s the story of Sea Venture, a storm, and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Of all the possibilities, the connection to this place and time is nothing less than magical. It’s a great challenge! We’re talking John Rolfe and Pocahontas, the formative years prior to Colonial Williamsburg, the opening chapter of our American story.

Much has been written about this earliest of American Thomas families. Published 1984, there’s Edison H. Thomas and his “Thomas and Bridges Story 1540 –1840.” And in 1977, Robert E Thomas wrote “The Thomas family in 300 years of American history.” There’s the writings of notable researchers like historian Hugh Buckner Johnston whose mother was Ruth Thomas born in Wilson County NC. And, there’s also indispensable research materials such as “Cavaliers and Pioneers. Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants” dealing specifically with records sourced in early Virginia.

As we move forward, we’ll need to work with others in the family who have differing viewpoints. There will be differences with what was believed and written in the past. There will be disagreements both with the traditionally accepted story as well as among ourselves in deciphering the meaning of new finds. Yes, there will be new finds and new stories to tell. Some will merely add to the story while others may figuratively shake the ground from where we believed our beloved ancestors once lived.

For many years I’ve looked towards Virginia with fear and an anxious internalized kicking and screaming of Noooooo….. don’t drag me there!!! It’s a big leap going back through records I have little knowledge. It expands the tree exponentially and with that is a much larger circle of information that’ll need to be verified. There’s much written on this stuff and until now (ha-ha), I was not part of the history. But things have changed, like myself, there is a growing crop of cousins who’ll be paying us a visit in the years to come. We’ll learn of each other through DNA and by improved understanding of the records. We’ll know each other and the story of each other’s family. So, if any THOMAS finds a kinship and is interested in learning more, please don’t be shy. Join us, share, and most importantly, participate in the painless Y DNA testing. We need more participants across the far-reaching spectrum of our Thomas family.

THAT OTHER THOMAS FAMILY: Part 5

 

 

img_20170106_0006_new  History of Wayne County Indiana -1872       …a son of John Thomas, from South Carolina to New Garden in 1811. He not only encountered the unavoidable hardships of pioneer life in general, and among others, that of going on horseback thirty miles to get bread-stuff, but was obliged, with others, to flee for safety during the Indian troubles. Notwithstanding his fear of attacks from Indians, he held his peace principles too dear not to be preserved at any hazard, even of life. He took his lock from his gun, and hid the gun at a distance from his house, lest, in case of an attack, he might be tempted to harm the Indians.   …He was liberal and charitable; and was during his life a member of the society of Friends.       

Francis returned with his parents to Piney Grove Meeting along the NC/SC border following time spent in Guilford County during the Revolutionary War. Francis requested transfer to the Great Contentnea Monthly Meeting in Wayne County North Carolina where in 1807 he married Lydia Woodard and took up a life as farmer. Eventually being honored as the father of the Indiana Yearly Conference, the following was said many years later in memoriam: [while in Wayne County NC] “Francis was visited by an aged Quaker minister named Abel Thomas. After staying the night, the minister got up early and took a walk over the farm. When he returned, he told his host that he had an impression from the Lord, that it would be right for him to sell the farm and move to the territory of Indiana.”

By way of recent contact after seeing this post, a friend of this family has passed on to me a copy of the original land grant Francis Thomas received in 1835. I can imagine the document in his hands and of its journey ending up on this page.  Thank you to those who appreciate and share our history.

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Beginning in the summer of 1811, Francis, his parents, and family moved to Richmond Indiana where they were received into membership at Whitewater Monthly Meeting. Also, removing to the same area was Thomas Willcutts and the family Francis’ late uncle James. Shortly upon getting settled, Stephen’s father John died and is buried at nearby New Garden Meeting where most of the family attended. Note that Wayne County Indiana got its name from the Quakers in Wayne County, North Carolina. And, New Garden Meeting (located in Newport, now Fountain City about 10 miles north of Richmond) was named for New Garden meeting in Guilford County North Carolina.molly

I remember calling and arranging to meet the Quaker minister at New Garden Meeting. I drove up from North Carolina in torrential rains that began to subside as I reached my destination. The minister did not make it as he was only helping in interim as the congregation was in decline and the church was without a regular minister. I instead was gladly met by the piano player who had served the church for many years. She gave me a program, told of old traditions including how in the olden days, men and women sat on opposite sides of the little church and the minister did not offer sermons as such. Instead, each and all were called to speak as so moved by God.

Seeking more, I was led to a tiny corner room that served as library. Musty and damp, opening the door we were greeted with water running down the walls and over the few shelves filled with books. As it’s likely they would not survive much longer, my guide told me to please take any books I believed may pertain to my family. It was her concern, and mine, to get the books to a safe home where they would be loved and cared for. Thinking I had found the holy grail of all Thomas history, I later realized that the one catching my attention was actually an ancient leather bound book titled A Journal of the Life and Times of Thomas Story.” I also was given Clarkson and Sarah Jane Thomas’ Union Bible. My immediate family knows why I would choose this book. That’s all! After learning that I am not blood kin to this family, I’ve tried repeatedly to get the books back to the rightful families.

I spent the next week in the area scouring through books at Earlham School of Religion (a Quaker College) and taking in the sites. I toured the home of Levi Coffin, father of the Underground Railroad. It was there I overheard who I believe to be some of his descendants in deep discussion about a possible movie. Apparently, Levi and wife separated and ultimately divorced due to his work and being away from home. The church ordered a period of separation during which time Levi’s wife became pregnant. At a time when National Geographic’s had just completed an amazing article on Levi Coffin, a believed descendant of this child was apparently preparing to make a movie from the child’s viewpoint.

I’d like to tell more about my trip and of the story of this Thomas family. It’s an amazing place, a vacation for the soul, and trip I’ll always hold dear. After leaving Fountain City I traveled across Indiana to the town of Paoli where John’s brother Lewis settled and died. That story will be next, but for now, I’d like to end with a slideshow of images followed by a few excerpts from a memorial: “Incidents in the Life of JOHN THOMAS in connection with the Underground Railroad, as remembered by his sons.”

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From the Memorial of John Thomas published in 1913

“When the escaping slaves came to the Thomas farm they would be hidden in the field during the day and their meals furnished them. They traveled mostly in the fall when the weather was warm and sometimes they would live on roasting ears which they cook themselves …father had a rigid rule that no fleeing negro would be permitted to tell his name, or whence he came, or how his master had treated him before his escape. The purpose of this rule was that his own conscience might be clear so that should a slave owner arrive and inquire about the escaped slave, he could truthfully say he did not know ….Luke remembers one morning when he was a boy, he got up in the morning as usual and when he came down stairs to put his boots he discovered that the whole room was full of negroes, the escaping crowd being made up of men, women, and children. It was on a New Year’s morning when the party had arrived in the night from another station.”

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THAT OTHER THOMAS FAMILY: Part 4

newgardenmtgsmallSitting 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.tttt

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.

tttttRecorded 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.

 

 

THAT OTHER THOMAS FAMILY: Part 3

18North Carolina was a divided allegiance without the means of enforcing the tax needed to raise a standing army. To fund the Revolutionary War effort, soldiers were offered land beyond the mountains in varying amounts based on rank and length of service. It was in this reserve set aside for soldiers where in 1795, the town of Palmyra was laid off by Dr. Morgan Brown. The acting commissioners for the new town on the banks of the Cumberland River included Benjamin Thomas, son of Stephen. Note that Morgan Brown had earlier surveyed land in Anson County North Carolina including grants in the upper end of the county where my own Benjamin Thomas family were living at that time.tt

As there were no western points of entry into our young nation, in 1796, an act was passed by Congress to establish this new town of Palmyra as the only western port of entry. The only location allowed to receive imported goods, the act provided a federal officer to receive and manage all imported goods. For a brief two years, until Cincinnati came online, this was the northern most and primary point of entry on the Mississippi river chain. And, at the same time, the county of Montgomery was formed from Robertson and Tennessee was introduced as the 16 state in our Union in 1796.

This was the place in Tennessee where many veterans from North Carolina settled. It is where Stephen Thomas’ Benjamin lived for a period of time. It’s also an area of counties where several children of Benjamin’s brother William settled …John, Nathan, and Stephen. Local history and cemeteries are ripe with the stories of this Thomas family. This was a place I wanted to see. It was a place I needed to see to clarify my own Thomas family history as not what I was about to see in Tennessee.

Making my way to Montgomery County, I needed to also visit Stewart County to the west that had formed from Montgomery by 1806. And then to the south, Dickson County was formed and later Hickman was formed from Dickson. So, in the town of Dover in Stewart County, I remember seeing the below photograph of William H Thomas in the county office. Not far away, and from memory in 1997, I also photographed William’s grave monument with background probably of some electrical generation plant along the river.

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Running through the region was the Natchez Trail, an old Indian path that became the primary route transporting a burgeoning population to points south and west. Benjamin, son of Stephen moved a bit south along the trail to point where he built and operated a gristmill on Garner’s Branch of Piney River. Benjamin would later move again, this time following the trail further south to Pike County Alabama where he likely died. But, as for Benjamin’s mill tract, it was eventually sold and assigned to Jacob Humble whose family cemetery still survives. Seeking to locate evidence of the old mill, I made my way south to the Humble Cemetery in Hickman County.

The land bounced along and was green with hills and trees. It did not take long to find an 84 years old Mr. Yates who lived on the creek just up Hwy 48 from Piney River Road. In order to reach his house, I had to cross an old wooden bridge that spanned Garner Creek. Asking Mr. Yates about a mill, his eyes brightened as he began to tell me the story otherwise hinted at only in court records. While a little boy, Mr Yates’ mother told him she used to play on an old mill dam along the creek. Pointing in the direction of the old bridge, Mr. Yates continued to tell of the 1948 storm that revealed part of the mill remains. “Large white oak beams with pinion holes” were exposed and protruded from the cuts in the creek bank. Working with the tractor, he pulled out parts of a tub like water wheel that his wife later used as flower planters on their long front porch. Pointing across the creek to a distant field, Mr Yates pointed to the resting place of those who had purchased Benjamin’s land, the old Jacob Humble cemetery.

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Benjamin Thomas’ mill site on Garner’s Branch near the home of Mr. Yates.

Before leaving this loosely written history, I’d like to point out that Benjamin’s nephew Stephen left a last will and testament in Dickson County. He also applied for Revolutionary War pension in Montgomery County. Benjamin’s family is traced to Pike County, Mississippi where descendants applied for a Revolutionary War pension based on his service. And about Mr. Yates, I asked if he had ever heard of Wake County NC?  He answered “oh yes, that’s supposed to be where my family came from though I don’t know the details.”