Month: November 2014

Weekly Writing Challenge: Digging For Roots

The Challenge:
Back to the future

Whether your journey of self-discovery is more of a metaphorical one or if you’ve traveled far and wide to find out more about who you are, let that influence you in this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge.
• Where do you come from? …
• Finding your roots often means exploring the past. …
If you could speak with anyone from your past, who would it be and why? When were they alive and what were they like?
• Dig a bit deeper and postulate on the idea of genealogy. …

I am writing a book for my family about one branch of my family, that of my father’s mother, and have been doing research on my ancestors’ lives and times during which they lived (late 18th to 19th centuries). So far, I have completed a chapter on my 3-greats grandfather and am finishing a chapter on my 3-greats grandmother.

I would like to talk to my 3-greats grandparents, Thomas & Elizabeth Thomas, because of the incredible lives they lived, and ask them questions about matters I can only speculate about.

I would like to talk to my 3-greats grandparents, Thomas & Elizabeth Thomas, because of the incredible lives they lived.

Thomas Thomas, drawing by his son, Thomas E. Thomas. This is the only known portrait of him.
Thomas Thomas, drawing by his son, Thomas E. Thomas. This is the only known portrait of him.

Thomas Thomas (1775-1831) went from being a motherless coal miner to a successful minister and immigrant to the United States. Elizabeth Robinson (1782-1864) was born into a wealthy family, her father being a successful tallow merchant. Why she decided to marry a man like Thomas – lower in status, short in stature and only average looking, offering her and their future children the life and income of a minister and moving often – is somewhat of a mystery but I believe it was his strong religious piety and convictions that swayed her, since she did have other suitors. For his part, Thomas was mostly illiterate until he entered a theological academy at age 26. He was interested in many things and thirsted for knowledge, so he ended up with a solid knowledge of music, history, theology (of course), etc. He also was somewhat of a rebel, but a very righteous one.

They had seven children, one of whom (my 2-greats grandfather, Thomas Ebenezer

Thomas Ebenezer Thomas, my great-great grandfather, son of Thomas Thomas and Elizabeth R. Thomas.
Thomas Ebenezer Thomas, my great-great grandfather, son of Thomas Thomas and Elizabeth R. Thomas.

Thomas) became well-known as an abolitionist and controversial speaker on matters of the church and the issue of slavery. He was a Presbyterian minister with very strong opinions which come out in his letters to his children (preserved in a book complied and published by his son) as well as his anti-slavery speeches and religious sermons. His chosen profession was largely influenced by his mother, who had promised God that if He gave her a son, she would prepare him for service to Him.
The most amazing thing about their lives, to me, was their long journey from Baltimore to Cincinnati, most of it during the winter. They arrived in Baltimore where they dealt with a few customs issues and did other business transactions, including purchasing a Conestoga wagon. During those days in Baltimore, Thomas witnessed a slave whipping, which affected him deeply and his abhorrence of slavery all of his life. Once in Pittsburgh, Thomas obtained a flatboat and on it the family – including six children – journeyed down the Ohio River to Cincinnati during the months of January and February. They got stuck by ice at one point, and had to lay over in a small town, where they rented a house for a month until the ice melted.

When they arrived in Cincinnati in late February, Thomas went in search of a house to purchase, while meanwhile, the rest of the family had to continue living on the boat!

Elizabeth Robinson Thomas in her later years.
Elizabeth Robinson Thomas in her later years.

I would like to ask Elizabeth several questions:
1. Elizabeth, what motivated you to cut your hair in 1808? How short was it?
2. Why didn’t you accept Thomas’ proposal at first? Did you have another suitor with better prospects?
3. What attracted you to Thomas Thomas that led you to finally accept his proposal?
4. Did your father influence you in your choice to accept Thomas’ proposal? If so, in what way?
5. Did your father help you financially at the time and after you got married?
6. You and your family made an incredible journey across the ocean to America and then in precarious circumstances during the winter. What was that like for you? What adjustments did you have to make? What did you have to provide for your children’s comfort during the journey?
7. What subjects did you teach at Thomas Select School? Did you ever teach again? How did you make a living after your husband’s death?

I would ask Thomas the following:
1. Where did you get the spelling book that you used to study while working as a shepherd?
2. Were you self-taught in reading, writing and music? How did you do that and how long did it take?
3. You say in your journal that upon entering Hoxton Academy, you could barely write your own name. Was that embarrassing for you? How did the other students react? Did any of them tease you or look down on you?
4. What was your reaction to the slave whipping you saw in Baltimore? How did it affect you?
5. What was the value of the pins and needles you brought over from England and why did you bring them?
6. Where did you get the knowledge and the tools you needed to make the journey from Baltimore, via Pittsburgh, to Cincinnati? Why did you decide to take a flatboat in the winter? Were you concerned about the discomfort of your wife and children? How did you deal with that? How did you make enough money to support them all that time?
Did you have contacts in the U.S. on whom you could rely for support and hospitality during the journey? How did you find the communities that welcomed you to preach?

John Hampden Thomas, my great-grandfather (son of Thomas E. Thomas & Lydia Fisher Thomas)
John Hampden Thomas, my great-grandfather (son of Thomas E. Thomas & Lydia Fisher Thomas)
Young Isabel Carr Thomas, who became Isabel T. Lovejoy, my grandmother (my father's mother).
Young Isabel Carr Thomas, who became Isabel T. Lovejoy, my grandmother (my father’s mother).