Preston Thomas

Taken from original journals typed by his son, Daniel H. Thomas.  Condensed in 1970 and published by Annette Taylor,
a great, great granddaughter.

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.

His 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 my possession.

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.


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 married.

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 state."

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 Claiborne Thomas.

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, Mississippi.

Preston 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 children died:
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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  Pedigree Sheet - Family Group 1 - Family Group 2 - Family Group 3