Thomas Family

“among the early settlers of Amherstburg” – The Thomas Family – Part 1

This month we will be connecting the dots in the Thomas family tree, beginning with Maria/Mariah Buckner and George Thomas. George was born in Covington, Kentucky in 1843, while there are several possibilities for where Maria was born: her son George Alexander’s death certificate lists her as being born in Evansville, Indiana, and her marriage record states that she was born in Kentucky, while her obituary in the Amherstburg Echo states that she was born in Malden and lived there her whole life, except for the few years that she lived in Battle Creek, Michigan, following the passage of her husband, George in May 1922.  Her obituary also states that she had three brothers: William, Elliott and David Buckner.  According to George and Maria’s marriage record from the Wesleyan Methodist Church, George and Maria were married on July 25, 1861.  George’s father’s name is not mentioned in this record, but his mother’s name was Clarissa Thomas.  Maria’s parents were Berrel and Eliza Buckner.  In a booklet describing the Fifteenth Annual Thomas Family Reunion, it states that “Members of our family have achieved prominence in many fields of endeavor and we are scattered through twelve states in the U.S.A. and the Province of Ontario, Canada … We are a family traditionally motivated to the highest ideas of Christian living and citizenship, and wherever we live, members of the family have played and continue to assume leading roles in the religious, civic, and political life of their communities.”  This booklet also says that “George and Mariah Thomas were among the early settlers of Amherstburg, Ontario and were the parents of four sons and one daughter – indeed, a lovely family.” These five children were George Alexander, Philip, Daniel, Robert W. and Mary Almede.

George Alexander Thomas was born in Amherstburg on May 28, 1864 and is listed as a cook in his 1945 death certificate and an Affidavit for License to Marry.  He retired in 1935.  George Alexander married Frances Jones on December 21, 1896 in Detroit, Michigan, although he is listed under his middle name, “Alexander.” His death certificate also lists a second marriage to Lydia Lott. George Alexander and Lydia had several children: Juanita Vivian, Robert S., George Leslie, Lydia Opal and Harry N.  Juanita Vivian was born on January 6, 1899, and later married Charles W. Mason, a chauffeur and son of Charles E. Mason and Florence Smith, in 1938 in Cuyahoga, Ohio. Robert S. was born on September 30, 1901 and later married a woman named Dorothea.  George Leslie was born on October 1, 1903, and in September 1925, married Helen M. Anderson, who was born in Jacksonville, Florida and was the daughter of Henry and Maude (Smith) Anderson. In their marriage record, George Leslie is also listed as a musician.  Lydia Opal who was born on March 27, 1906, sadly died on March 3, 1940.  Her death certificate states that she was a “recreation teacher” and the wife of Harold Gaines. Finally, Harry N. was born on May 17, 1908 in Lorain, Ohio, and according to his death certificate he worked for the U.S. Postal Service.  He also married a woman named Anne. Stay tuned for next week.

“among the early settlers of Amherstburg” – The Thomas Family – Part 2

George and Maria’s second son, Philip Thomas, married Beatrice Lillian Crawford on April 4, 1894.  Beatrice was born in Amherstburg on July 28, 1872 and was the daughter of George M. and Laura J. Crawford, who were mentioned in last month’s Alexander family essay, while discussing Annie (Crawford) Alexander. It was mentioned that Annie and Beatrice’s father George was “of Cherokee Indian descent and came north from the Southern States when a young man.  He was a master carpenter and many of the houses he built in Amherstburg of timbers and lumber that had to be hewn and dressed in the bush are still standing as proof of their sturdy construction.  The First Baptist Church is one of them.”  Beatrice’s mother Laura escaped enslavement in Covington, Kentucky at the age of 15 and journeyed via the Underground Railroad through Oberlin, Ohio and found freedom in Amherstburg.  It was in Amherstburg that George and Laura met and married.  In an article discussing Beatrice, it mentions that her mother Laura’s escape is documented in the book, “Reminiscences of Levi Coffin,” but she may have used a different name or was nameless because, upon review, there is no Laura mentioned in the book. Beatrice was an active member of Mount Zion Baptist Church since her arrival at Oberlin, Ohio in 1912.  In a write-up discussing her life, it was said that “The main interest of Mrs. Thomas in life besides her family, was church work; her devoted husband and children are thankful for her unfailing trust in God and her sublime faith in the Christian way of life.” This quote is very accurate considering she was involved with most of the church’s organizations including the Senior Choir, Missionary Society, Sunday School and BYPU, which may have stood for Baptist Young Peoples Union.  She also served as a deaconess for 25 years and after her failing health no longer allowed her to be active in this work; she was made an honorary deaconess.  Outside of the church she was involved in several other organizations, including the Martha Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, a member of the Women’s Progressive Club and a Girl Scout leader. Beatrice and Philip had seven children: Thelma, who married a labourer, Rollin Clyde Godette, the son of Henry Godette and Etta Fields, in February 1928; Annie married a teacher, William Frederick Hardgraves, the son of Hammond Arthur Hardgraves and Anna Dere Langford, in June 1930; Linny (Leach); Philip M. (m. Betty); Wilbur C. (m. Marie); Gladys (Wallace) and Mary who married Clinton Ward.  Philip and Beatrice also had a daughter named Beatrice Virginia, but she sadly died in infancy.

Interestingly, Mary Ward was a celebrated resident of Lorain, Ohio, and was described as “one of the ‘richest women of the locality in friendship and respect.’”  She gave her time and talent to both civic and humanitarian causes, and on March 2, 1971 the community honoured and thanked her with a civic testimonial dinner that had 250 people in attendance.  Sadly, Mary passed away the next day at the age of 68. She had two children: Clinton Jr. and Marion (m. John Marshall). There’s still more to come.  See you next week.

“among the early settlers of Amherstburg” – The Thomas Family – Part 3

George and Maria’s third son, Daniel Wallace Thomas was a mariner and on December 27, 1893 in Amherstburg, he married Anna Permelia Stevens, the daughter of M.J. and Mary Stevens.  According to the 1910 Census they had three children: Viola (or Viva), Granville and Burrel/Burl.  Graville was born on December 6, 1895, while Viola (or Viva) was born the year before on December 27, 1894, and later worked as a housewife and married Edwin Gray Cowan. Daniel and Anna’s third child, Burrel (Burl) Buckner Thomas, was born on January 18, 1898 and later married Helen L. Divelle, who was born in South Carolina and the daughter of George Divelle and a mother with the last name Cummings.  They married on June 27, 1923 in Detroit, Michigan.  By 1920, the census for Ashtabula, Ohio, states that Daniel was no longer a mariner, but now a machinist in a factory.  It also lists Granville and Burl still living at home at this point (before their marriages) and the census lists Granville working as an “oiler” at a steel mill, while Burl worked as a chauffeur for a private family.  Interestingly, in the 1910 Census, the Thomas family is listed as “white,” but in the next Census for 1920, they are listed as “mulatto.”  It is certainly possible that the census taker assumed that the family was white if they had a lighter complexion or the family may have passed for white during that time considering the racial climate.

George and Maria’s fourth son was Robert W. Thomas and he was a cook. On December 20, 1901, he married Lulu Adams in Amherstburg at the age of 22; Lulu was 23 and her parents are listed as William Adams and Laura Holton. Lulu was also active in the community, joining several organizations in Amherstburg.  As a young girl, she was a member of the Buisy [sic] Glenors which was an educational group for young people.  She was also a member of the Frederic [sic] Douglass Self-Improvement Club, which focused on education and etiquette, in addition to joining the Oxford Club which hosted socials and other entertainment at the A.M.E. Church.  Robert and Lulu had three daughters and one son: Roberta, who married a musician, Harold W. Coleman (son of Stephen and Mamie Duger Coleman), in July 1926; Fern (Georges); Lola, who married Elmer Hamlin and on the 1940 census for Lorain, Ohio, is listed as a maid at Oberlin College.  Their last child, Orville was born on February 2, 1911 and is listed as an undertaker’s assistant in the 1940 Ohio census and he married a woman named Ethel. See you next week for another installment of the Thomas Family History.

Lorene BridgenThomas Family