Select Thomas Miscellany

Here are some Thomas stories and accounts over the years:

Thomas at Wenvoe

The Thomas family inherited the Wenvoe estate in Glamorgan in 1560 when Jevan ap Harpway of Tresimont in Hertfordshire married Catherine, the only daughter and heiress of Thomas ap Thomas.  But it was Edmund Thomas, his son by a second wife, who had a swift rise in fortune and was responsible for building the mansion at Wenvoe. 

Wenvoe was occupied by several generations of the Thomas family.  A later Edmund Thomas was a staunch Parliamentarian during the Civil War and was made a peer by Cromwell.  A later still Edmund embarked on a major landscaping of the estate in the 1750’s.  Lord Verulam who visited Wenvoe in 1769 wrote: 

“Wenvoe is not at all worth seeing; the grounds about it being laid out in the modern taste are rather pleasing and show the genius of the father of the present possessor, who, fired with the zeal of electioneering and improving his place, spent here more than the income of his estate would allow; the ill consequences of which the son now experiences in such a manner that he is obliged to pay off the debts his father contracted by parting with his inheritance.” 

Unfortunately, all these improvements had been more ambitious than the available finances.  Sir Edmund died heavily in debt in 1767 and seven years later the estate was sold.

Samuel Thomas at Ysguborwen

It was said that the Thomas family had held land around Aberdare in the Rhondda valley since 1477. However, this family was in no way grand. 

John Thomas, born around 1770, had married into a yeoman family in Merthyr Vale and became a haulage contractor to the Crawshay family.  He and his wife had four children.  Of these the eldest, Samuel, initially became a merchant in Merthyr Tydfil; the youngest, David, was a minister at Clifton. 

There was something about Samuel that suggested he would succeed: 

“Samuel Thomas started out as a shopkeeper in Merthyr Tydfil who later turned his hand to prospecting for coal.  He was a hard man, perhaps the secret of his business success, and his tastes were simple.  He could never forget the hardships through which he had to pass and was unable to shake off the fear of failure.  A Welsh Baptist, he managed his household according to the Protestant work ethic.”

He was prudent, sometimes miserly. 

He started the Ysguborwen colliery near Aberdare in 1849 and he built his home, Ysguborwen House, in the years between 1852 and 1855.  At first, only the Welsh language was spoken in the home, both Samuel and his wife Rachel being Welsh speakers. However, they realized that the language of the business world was English and they engaged an English nurse to get their children used to speaking English.

John Thomas, from Wales to Pennsylvania

John J. Thomas was born in 1823 at a time when Brynmawr (meaning “big hill”) in Breconshire was just a small collection of farms and cottages.  However, during his childhood he witnessed a population explosion as the iron and coal industries transformed the region.  By 1841 both he and his father John were working at local coal mines. 

John saw a better life for himself and his family in America.  Wages in the coal mines there were reported to be double what they were in Wales and word of mouth encouraged a migration.  In 1848 John and his wife Elizabeth, plus other members of the Thomas family, set off for America from Liverpool on the Ivanhoe.  Their numbers did not include John’s father who may well have died by this time. 

Although the Thomas family first set foot in New York, their real destination was the coal-mining district of what would become Lackawanna county, Pennsylvania.  By the time of the 1850 census, John had found work there as a miner and the Thomases had settled in Providence township.   John, illiterate, had marked his form with an “X.”

John prospered as a miner and was able to buy property in Scranton.  He died in 1876

Thomases in Wales in the 1891 Census

Thomas (000's)

The largest numbers at that time in Glamorgan were recorded in Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil, and Ystradyfodwg, all places in the Rhondda valley.

Cornish Thomases who Emigrated to Australia

The following table lists some Thomases from Cornwall who came to South Australia as miners during the 1850’s and 1860’s:

Alexander Thomas
Kapunda, SA
William Thomas
Wallaroo, SA
William Thomas
Glenburn, SA
Richard Thomas

Kapunda, SA
Abraham Thomas
Moonta, SA
Thomas Thomas

Moonta, SA

William Thomas from Sithney above had come with his family to South Australia on the Utopia in 1858. Joseph Thomas from Camborne had first followed his family as a child to Mexico and then came to Australia in the 1880’s.  He entered politics in 1894 on behalf of the Broken Hill mining district in NSW. 

Not Only in Stone by Phyllis Somerville was the fictional story of an emigrant Cornishwoman, Polly Thomas, who faced many trials and tribulations in the pioneering era of South Australia.  The book won the South Australian Centenary novel award in 1936.

The Glenowen Farm

The Rev. Owen Thomas who came to Pennsylvania from Wales in 1707 was the forebear of the Thomases of Glenowen Farm in Loudoun county, Virginia.  Owen appears in Glenowen and also as the first name of descendants through the generations.  

The family presence began there when David Thomas purchased the Cherry Grove property adjacent to the current farm in 1778.   Their son Owen, on return from the Revolutionary War, then acquired another adjacent property in 1784.  It was his son Joseph who in 1820 bought land where the current farmhouse sits.  

Since that time, as the Thomas family has remarked:

“We have witnessed Quaker settlement, Civil War construction of the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, and rapid urbanization of DC through the years at Glenowen.”  

It was Owen Thomas who in 1947 purchased the original registered Angus herd at Glenowen.  The Thomas cattle have recently been recognized by the American Angus Association as a historic herd.   The farm today is owned by three generations of the Thomas family.

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