by Daniel Thomas, his son (1940)
The causes which have impelled me
to do this work are: first , the memory of and a love for
my father, whom I scarcely knew; secondly, the feeling
that his devotion to his family merited some kind of recognition
by them; thirdly, his prominence and leadership in this
community as a pioneer, colonizer, legislator and early-time
judge, his leadership in his church and his education, which was
far beyond that of his contemporaries.
Father was large in stature.
He was six feet, 4 inches tall with large bones and physically
very strong. His health was always good with the exception
possibly of a little dyspepsia now and then and he was capable
of hard physical labor. He was a good walker and his power
of endurance was surprising.
complexion was light; eyes blue and hair, brown; skin - clean
and smooth. In his later life he wore a beard. He
was keen of sight, and a good judge of human character. He
had hosts of friends.
Father was a great frontiersman and an expert rifleman. He
loved the great outdoors, and to commune with nature, her
mountains, streams and forests. He knew how to build a
wilderness into a settlement of homes.
He loved the land of Dixie where he was born and loved to dwell
upon the memories of childhood, but he also, loved the golden
west - the land of his adoption. He became a loyal son of
the west. To him it was the land of promises--the land
"choice above all other lands." -education provided by the
state. Education for the poor as well as the rich.
He met much opposition in his efforts in this behalf, for many
were opposed to paying taxes to educating the children of those
not paying taxes.
He spoke well with the language of the Indians, and mingled much
with them, and made them his friends. They called him
"Bishop Thomas." He named one fine red man, "Alma."
This man visited him almost every year until father's death.
He loved God's word, and knew well the Bible from beginning to
end. He was a friend and forceful speaker and writer, a
shrewd and resourceful debater. His record of baptisms
shows him to have been convincing and a converter. He
loved the restored gospel and was a profound student of it.
To him it was worth everything and any sacrifices.
There may be errors in this record, no doubt, there are.
There are many omissions because I had no knowledge of the
things which I have omitted, but what I have written will
preserve many things connected with father's life. He kept
a fairly complete journal of his missionary travels. These
are written in his own hand and for some time I have had them in
Be the impelling cause whatever it may be, I have felt a closer
association with my father than ever I had before. My
study of him and his progenitors and people has endeared me to
him and them, and has made me to realize their worth and
significance and that they were not less noble or able than the
best of their time. I am not ashamed of my father or his
ancestors, but believe them worthy of my highest respect and
admiration. I have found that my father was one of the
leaders in every place he was called to go, and in every cause
in which he participated. Any yet his strength of
character did not destroy his wonderful devotion to the
religious cause he had espoused, for he was obedient to every
call, in a measure, kept him in the trenches and on the firing
lines, devoting his attention to the general cause often to the
detriment of his family and affairs.
I do not expect many to read this record, and still fewer to
become greatly interested in it. To many it will be just
another book telling the story of a man who has gone, written by
his son. but if any who may read this record shall be
inspired by it to higher ideals, my time and effort shall not
have been spent in vain.
CHAPTER 1 - HERE IS A MAN....
Here is a man that no doubt would have become a lawyer, a
prominent southern community leader. His life would have
been one of comparable ease. He has land, prestige, and
many slaves - yet he heard and believed. He joined the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints.
A man that did the things he did, endured so many hardships, led
so many wagon trains across this nation, baptized so many
people, helped shape and from so many communities, and changed
the lives of so many people is remembered by few.
This man---the rugged, tall (6'4"), strong, handsome man with
the kindest eyes deserved to be known. His story like so
many others of his day is most interesting.
First let's take a look at his ancestors.....................
The pedigree of the Thomas family can be historically traced for
twelve centuries. Sir Rysap Thomas in the reign of Henry
VIII, created Knight of the Garter in 1507, was one of the four
Knights who accompanied the King to the Field of Cloth of Gold,
and was the ancestor of numerous branches bearing his name in
both England and America at the present time. He was
descended from Urien Rhaged, a British prince, who lived in the
early part of the Sixth Century.
We definitely know of his ancestors back to 1580 when Tristram
Thomas was born in Sundridge, Kent, England. Three
generations went by and another Tristram Thomas, the first's
great grandson, left England and went to Talbot County, MD
between the years 1666 when he was born and 1690 when he was
Preston Thomas was a "southerner." That is, he was from
southern stock for generations back and was born in North
Carolina. His ancestors from their earliest arrival in
Maryland were southern planters and slave owners. His
father, Daniel Thomas, was what might have been styled - wealthy
in his day - owning a well equipped plantation with many negro
slaves. This grandfather, Reverend Daniel Thomas fought in
the Revolutionary War.
Pinckney Preston Thomas, grandson of Daniel, tells of the move
of his grandfather Thomas to Richmond County, North Carolina.
"When the company struck the old Yadkin River they built them a
raft and went on board with their effects and named her "The
Whippoorwill" and mounted a cannon on a pile of cobble rocks
found near by with which to shell Mr. "Injun" if perchance he
should make any war-like demonstrations from the shore.
Old Ned, one of grandfather's niggers, was much afraid of the
"Injuns," and when the sun went down and shades of night came
on, old Uncle Ned would get "powerful skeered" and would say, "Marsa,
I'se done seed an injun, don't you spect we better fire that
cannon?" All such stories when a boy, I listened to with
great interest when told by our father whom you never knew.
As I have understood, he helped to found that town, and found
his land about five miles out on the banks of the river, a tract
of 3,000 acres, and some islands in the river where he kept the
sheep. Aunty Betsy told me the land only cost $2.24 per
acre, plus the cost of surveying and for getting deeds from the
The plantation was on the east bank of the Yadkin River
about 8 miles northeast of Rockingham, North Carolina.
Their house was a large one. He had good orchards and cultivated
flowers and trees. He had a carpenter and blacksmith shop
on the place. He owned a cotton gin and had a shad fishery
near the Yadkin River. He owned some 20 negro slaves, one
of whom he purchased at a price of $1,000.
There they lived until Daniel's death which occurred when he was
54 years old. Preston was about 16 at that time and was
still in school. All of Daniels' and Nancy Ann Morehead
Thomas's children were born at Rockingham. They were: 1.
Joseph Morehead, 2. Elizabeth (known at Betsy or Aunty), 3.
Preston (about whom this book is written), and 4. Daniel
Preston was born February 16,
1814. We know nothing of his childhood, or school days
except that he was better educated than most people of that day.
After his father's death, November 7, 1830, he and his family
remained there for a comparatively short time, probably not more
than five years. He west to school in New Jersey for
a time. At that time the stream of population was wending
its way westward, Alabama, Mississippi, Western Tennessee,
Louisiana, and Texas, rich with opportunities for raising
cotton, beckoned to young men to come and acquire larger tracts
of land at lower prices and build up more extensive plantations.
Besides the lands were better and richer than those in the
Atlantic states. this offered an inducement to sell
our in the east and move westward. So the family
sold out their lands in North Carolina and moved into Tipton
County, Tennessee near the city of Memphis.
They took their personal
property including their negro slaves with them from Rockingham
into Tennessee. After remaining in Tennessee about one
year, Joseph, his oldest brother, who was married, moved on to
Somerville, Kemper County, Mississippi. Later he returned
to Tennessee and induced his mother, his sister, Elizabeth and
his brother, Daniel Claiborne to move to Somerville,
remained in Tennessee where he continued the pursuit of his
study of law. There he married Sarah Ann Jane Morehead,
May 10, 1838. And there their first three children were
born: Ann Elizabeth, February 19, 1839; Joseph Daniel,
March 13, 1841; and Jane Morehead, March 5, 1843.
The mother of Preston, Nancy Ann Morehead Thomas, died November
7, 1843, at Somerville, Mississippi. Upon her death, the
family in Mississippi sent for Preston to come where they were
to settle up the Thomas estate. Accordingly, he with his
wife and young children went to Somerville. There he built
a mill. Daniel Claiborne, the youngest had gone to
Texas where he married Jane Gaither.
At this point in their young lives (they were both 30), I am
sure that they thought that the main struggles of their lives
were over and they were well on their way to being settled.
Then in January 1844, Benjamin Clapp, then one of the First
Council of Seventy of the Mormon Church, came into the
Mississippi neighborhood preaching "Mormonism," and Preston
believed as others of the Thomas family did and was baptized.
From this point on their lives were never very easy again.
Put yourself in their places. Here they were with three
small children under the age 5 and little did they know of the
hardships that were to follow them.
One of the first people Preston
probably baptized was a colored boy who was 13 years old, Samuel
Davidson Chambers. His story is told by Daniel Thomas many
years later...."He came to Utah after the Civil War when the
slaves had been liberated. I became well acquainted with
him and knew him intimately for more than 10 years up the time
of his death." The story was told to me by him a
number of times. In substance he said he was born a slave
in Kemper Co, Mississippi in 1831. His father's name was
Davidson, who was a slave owned by a white master. His
mother, also a slave, was owned by a different master, a white
man named Chambers. Samuel took the names of both masters
and was known by the name of Samuel Davidson chambers.
According to the law of slavery where the husband and wife were
owned by different masters, the offspring at birth became the
property of the master of the mother. Hence, Samuel was
owned by Chambers.
Samuel said that in the spring of 1844, when he was 13 years
old, he was baptized into the Latter-Day-Saint Church by my
father in Kemper County, Mississippi. He said that our
father had just been baptized a few months before. He,
afterwards, told me that there were many people baptized about
that time at the same place including many of the Thomas family.
Incidentally, Samuel Chambers often said he "never heard a man
who could preach the Bible like Preston Thomas." He said,
"he just seemed to know the Bible from beginning to end."
Chambers has the greatest faith in the Church and the most
profound reverence for the man who baptized him. As
illustrating this reverence, I pause to narrate an
incident which occurred just prior to the death of Chambers.
I came into my office one morning and saw him sitting in the
reception room. He, then, attempted to rise to his feet to
shake my hand. I sought to dissuade him from the effort of
getting up, but he arose and took me by the hand and said with
great earnestness, "Your father baptized me, and I always
stand in the presence of his son."
In the spring of 1845 Preston
Thomas moved his family to Nauvoo where the center of the Church
was now located. He sold their negro slaves to his Uncle
Benjamin Thomas. When his uncle died, his estate was
probated in Mississippi and these slaves were sold by the estate
and bought by Abner W. Thomas. His oldest brother, Joseph,
went with him to Nauvoo and probably his sister, Elizabeth, who
married James Morehead. Upon going to Nauvoo, he selected
a farm out east of Nauvoo in the direction of Carthage, but
owing to the unsettled conditions did not build or live upon it.
Susan Catherine was born there in Nauvoo on June 6, 1845.
They remained at Nauvoo from the
time of his arrival there until after the city was burned by the
mob in 1846. At the time of the burning of that city, he
and his family fled from there and went back to Memphis,
Tennessee where his wife's mother and people lived. In the
course of the mobbing and hardships at Nauvoo three of their
Ann Elizabeth on Feb. 15, 1845; Joseph on March 5, 1845; and
Susan Catherine on Oct. 9, 1845. They lived in Memphis for
over a year where Martha (Grandmother Brunt's mother) was born
the 20th of September 1846.
Then in early spring of 1847, he and Sarah Ann Jane and their
two small children (Jane - 4 years old and Martha - 1 year old)
packed their belongings once again and moved to Winter Quarters.
They just had about six months together to get settled, etc. and
then in December 1847 Preston was called upon his first mission
to the southern states.
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