There’s always good and bad. And, sometimes in our studies of family history we’ll uncover extreme examples of both. I’m not a believer that just because something is true it’s wise to tell. Sometimes things evil in nature are best left unsaid. But then again, even out of the worst of us can be found goodness or at least some rationale commanding us to do good. Lessons can be found in both good and bad.
In this three-part series of posts, I’ll write about John Yerby Thomas and of his despicable acts of hatred during the post-civil war period of reconstruction. I’ll also write about his family and what I know of their connection to ours. Does Yerby carry our blood and is he of our Thomas family? Ultimately that’s not as important as his crimes and the lessons we all must learn. And as for his doings, hopefully Yerby Thomas was condemned by the highest standard.
As has been outlined in prior posts, DNA shows that my Thomas family in Anson County NC somehow connects to a line out of early Wake County. We are family. That other part of our family first settled in Wake about 1772 and later moved across the county line into eastern Chatham into what’s now Lee County. Joseph Thomas [III] owned land along Bush Creek where at the turn of 1800 free people of color also settled. I hope the relations were good since we know there were numerous land transactions between our family and those who were of color. The families of Ishmael Roberts and others even purchased from the 1819 estate of Joseph Thomas. All appeared well until in the 1830’s the families of color removed themselves to Indiana. A great wave in politics and the resulting change in social landscape drove them from their homes in North Carolina.
Much of Joseph Thomas’ children drifted a bit south out of Chatham across the old Moore County line and settled near the present day loop road known as Buckhorn Road. Circling out to near the Cape Fear River, land records in the area show that Joseph’s son John must have lived and died there. This belief is supported by the burial of John’s son Tillman Thomas at Baptist Chapel Church. And less than three miles west on Buckhorn Road is more of Tillman’s family buried at Juniper Springs Baptist Church. Along with members of Tillman’s family, descendants of Grisham Thomas can also be found at Juniper Springs. And less than a half mile further west off of Buckhorn Road is the Broadway Town Cemetery where Grisham Thomas is buried. You’d think for sure by location that Grisham Thomas would be blood kin to our family? However, according to the 1850 census, Grissom was born ca. 1783 in “Virginia.” At a time when Joseph Thomas was firmly in place in Wake County, Grisham Thomas was born much further north across the Virginia state line. From this it’s rightfully considered that Grisham Thomas is not related by blood to Joseph Thomas [III]. However, there’s still scenarios in which this assumption could be made wrong. It’s important that you learn there’s a great need for some direct line male descendant of Grisham Thomas to be Y DNA tested. Y tests are the best for proving patriarchal lineages.
Grave of Grisham Thomas at Broadway Town Cemetery
Grave of Tillman Thomas at Baptist Chapel Church
Grisham Thomas had five male sons: John Yerby Thomas, Wesley Thomas, Anderson Thomas, Lorenzo Dow Thomas, and William Otis Thomas. I have no information on the meaning of William Otis’ naming though his older brother Lorenzo is quite different. Like many in his time, Lorenzo Thomas was named for the eccentric travelling Methodist evangelist Lorenzo Dow (1777-1834). It is said preacher Lorenzo Dow could quiet a turbulent camp meeting with “the sound of his voice or at the sight of his fragile but awe-inspiring presence.” Dow’s audiences often exhibited unusual physical manifestations under the influence of his impassioned preaching.
Grisham Thomas also had son Wesley Thomas whose naming further shows that Grisham Thomas was influenced by the Methodist church. There’s also son Anderson Thomas; his naming is of little noteworthy. However, and as relates to this this post, it must be said that census records indicate Anderson was the owner of slaves. This is important in that following the American Civil War, Anderson Thomas applied for Southern Loyalist Claim. He was both a slave owner and Union sympathizer.
The troops of William Tecumseh Sherman camped not far from Anderson Thomas’ neighborhood during their passage following the battle of Bentonville. Anderson sought compensation for damages in response to the troops stealing of his buggy, livestock, and crops. And within his case documentation is the following brief:
Claimant was 53 years in age in 1861 and was at his home in Moore Co. at the surrender and not say that he was there all the time and was there all during the war – farming – farm consisted of 174 acres – cultivated 40. Had nothing to do with the rebel army – had 5 sons conscripted – I did not furnish them with anything – was always opposed to the war and if he would have been younger he would have gone to the Yankees – always thought the Yankees would whip and tried to keep his sons out of the rebel army as long as possible. Belonged to the Red Strings and attended Union meetings mostly private – don’t think he ever received a pass – voted for Union men all the time – voted for Holden for governor against Vance and not change one bit during the war.
Elias Cox, 38 in 1861, farmer, Moore County N. C. lived within 3 miles of claimant during the war and saw him about once or twice a month – often heard him talk he always expressed himself against the war – said it would ruin the gov’t – the union men used to meet at the public school about once a month to hold meetings but the rebels threatened them and they had to stop – saw the claim’t there once or twice and he said he was ready for any union principles – never heard anybody say anything but that he was a religious man – he said it was a rich man’s war heard him talk this in public to 5 or 6 persons several times-
Absolum Kelly in 1861 was ——-old and lived 2 miles from claimant during the war – saw him once a week and heard each other’s resentments- he voted the union ticket all the time and have seen him do it- he was a Jackson Democrat but left them in 1861 as he said they made the war and he would not vote with them anymore- was punctual in attending union meetings at witness’ house- everybody in the neighborhood knew him as a union man- heard the —– curse him for a d-d union man- heard some of the neighbors cursing him for voting for Holden during the war instead of Vance.
Mule $50, Mare $75, 25 Bus of Corn $25,
200 lb of Bacon $40, 100 lbs Fodder $5, Buggy $50
The clamant files two claims: the original amounts to $147.75 –the amended to $345-Claimant says that Sherman’s army at the surrender went into camp at the Cape Fear River 5 miles from his house and remained two weeks – two soldiers came to his house and asked him where his horses were- he told them in the stable and they put ropes around their necks and led them off towards camp …
And lastly there’s John Yerby Thomas, the subject of this post. Born ca. 1811, in 1840 Yerby was living in Cumberland County beside his brother Wesley. The 1850 and 1860 census enumerates Yerby, wife Delany and son John W. (Wesley?) as living first in Cumberland and then nearby in Harnett County. In 1870, the 66 year old Yerby Thomas and wife Delany are again listed as farmers living in Harnett County. At that time a black person named Green Judd is enumerated in the household as “farm hand.”
1850 Moore County Census
Another person who’s critically important in this post is named Henderson Judd. In 1850, Henderson Judd is listed as 44 years of age and living in Moore County. The only other person living with him is his 74 year old mother Elizabeth (Solomon) Judd. And for that year and enumerated on both sides of Henderson Judd are the families of Priscilla and Green Thomas. Living with Green Thomas is 50 year old Penelope Thomas, the widow of Martin Thomas who is the grandson of Joseph Thomas [III]. And, living with Priscilla (Brown) Thomas are William Brown and Elizabeth Dickens. These folk somehow relate to the family and story of Joseph Thomas [III] but there’s little connection to Grisham Thomas except through his son Yerby Thomas.
1870 Moore County Census
In 1870, and being during the harsh reconstruction period following the civil war, the census reveals that Henderson Judd is enumerated as head of household of a biracial family. To the right you’ll see Henderson as being white, his wife/partner or housekeeper as being black, and his 9 children as being mulatto. Also living in the household is Henderson’s nephew James Womack.
As you can see, the family of Henderson Judd was different from others in the neighborhood. In protest of this family dynamic arose a response of hatred, intolerance, and retribution. Not long after 1870, the lives of Henderson and Mary Judd crossed paths with John Yerby Thomas who as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, also lived not far away. And, just as Henderson Judd had social views we might perceive as well ahead of his day, the family of Yerby Thomas was also socially divided. It sounds absurdly crazy, but on one hand there’s Yerby Thomas whose crimes and involvement in the Ku Klu Klan will be made clear. And then there’s also Yerby’s brother Anderson Thomas who as a religious man, supported the Union during the civil war. I wonder what that family Thanksgiving dinner looked like? And with that, it’s all about to change. Let’s turn the page and begin to look closely at recorded events and testimony heard in 1871 by the United States Congress.