History of the Thomas Family
While researching my family tree on a recent trip to New Brunswick, I met a very charming lady named Rena Thomas. As our great grandmothers were sisters, we must be second cousins. She gave me an excellent article on her Family History which was written by George Ernest Morrison. I found the article to be very interesting.and informative and have included it here.
Near the beginning of the year 1820
when George IV became King of Great Britain a fifth son was born to Joseph
Thomas and his wife Harriott Brown. This event took
place at Pwllypant, a little farming settlement near Caerphilly, Wales, on January 27th. They named their son
In those days Pwllypant was well known because of it's tollgate where fees were collected from travellers passing that way. Nearby was a blacksmith's shop that was later turned into a Post Office in 1875. The most imposing house in the hamlet was that of the Bute Estate. For many years the Bute Family held a prominent place in the area and Mrs Corbett, a descendent , was still in possession of the house and property in 1957.
Joseph Thomas was a native of Wales. It is possible that his wife had originally come from England, as they were married in London on June 19, 1810. However, the family seems to have travelled back and forth across the border often since they lived in the area lying in the southeastern part of Wales and the southwestern part of England. As a commercial traveller, Joseph was obliged to go from place to place and the family did not call any town "home" for long.
The first child born to Joseph and Harriott was Joseph Charles. At that time, May 14, 1811, the were living at Truro in Cornwall, England. A year and a half later when Richard Edward arrived on September 13, 1913, they were at Caerphilly, home of the famous Caerphilly Castle. Caerphilly was a town of 300 inhabitants and 90 homes. Yet it had an importance that exceeded its size, for in addition to the Castle it could justly claim the proud distinction of being called the "home of the Harps", as it had produced more eminent harpists than anywhere else in the British Isles. It was also the scene of Eisteddfod each year on Whit Monday. At this annual music festival there was an opportunity for the Welsh to express themselves in one of their most characteristic ways.
George William, the third son, was also born at Caerphilly. That was on January 25th, 1814. Sometime before the arrival of John Benson on May 21, 1815, Joseph had taken his family to Bromyard, a small town several miles north of Caerphilly. Probably they had gone there only temporarily because they were back near Caerphilly when Alfred was born in 1820.
It was at Caerphilly that Alfred spent the first twelve or thirteen years of his childhood. There in the midst of a farming community, he grew up surrounded by the green fields which were separated then as now, no doubt, by bushes and trees rather than fences. The coal industry was still a thing of the future and the smoke that now fills the air of Caerphilly did not come until 1850. Nevertheless, this idyllic environment was not without its problems. Police order was almost lacking, in fact, criminals sometimes served as the police. This continued until 1829 when the bluecoated corps was established to promote order and safety.
Even though Alfred was at Pwllypant, he must have had the occasion to visit Caerphilly. "The presiding spirit of Caerphilly frowns from the castle, which thrusts its will upon the half-acquiescent town, dominating the stuccoed houses of the market-domed Caerphilly Mountains." As a young boy he probably walked through this castle and heard of its history that goes back to 1270 and even earlier. Maybe his parents took him to the Fair of Caerphilly that was held annually on November 11th, St Martins Day.
There was evidently a good deal of travel through Caerphilly and Pwllypant for there were 3000 coaches by the year of 1836. The several turnpike acts had improved the roads considerably and the tolls helped to keep them in repair. Many times Alfred must have watched the coaches as they came to a stop at the Pwllypant tollgate. And in addition to this there were the pack horses and carts that transported goods. All this, plus the fact that his father travelled often, kept him from living an isolated life.
In 1822 the lower classes were
experiencing severe economic distress in England, but the following year saw
the Liberal opposition becoming more successful. By 1825 the act was repealed
that had forbidden trade unions. Conditions began to improve.
Alfred's eldest brother had died six years before Alfred/s birth and the others were several years older than he. Therefore it is doubtful whether he had much close fellowship with his brothers. It is almost certain that they received a fairly good education in their youth. The methodists revival had spread throughout Wales and with it had come schools and education. Not far from Pwllypant was Watford Chapel, a center of the Non-conformist movement. In the time of Alfreds boyhood the pastor of this Chapel was Rev. David Williams, a native of Pwllypant. He conducted a boy's school in addition to his pastoral duties and was especially anxious that his pupils learn to read the Bible. It may well have been this very school which Alfred and his brothers attended, although it was probably only one of several schools in the area. Prior to 1818, Pwllypant had a school for poor girls.
John Wesley visited Caerphilly at least twice in his lifetime and George Whitefield was married there. It remains a strong religious center. In addition to Watford chapel there were other churches, both Church of England and non-conformist Chapels. There was St Martins Church which had been rebuilt in 1822, Groewser Chapel and Tonyfelin Chapel of the Baptists and several others, no doubt the religious atmosphere helped to mould Alfred's life. He was a devout Christian and a man who loved God's word.
In 1830 when Alfred was 10 years old, William IV ascended the British throne. During his seven year reign the reform bill was passed, slavery was abolished and a bill concerning factory was enacted. All of these were passed against the King's wishes, but they proved to be good for the country.
The Thomas family had moved to Bristol, England, by 1833. This city, too, had been a center of the Methodist revival. At that time it was described as "small, densely populated and dirty, with dark narrow streets." In the years 1753, 1767 and then again in 1831, just before the Thomas' went there, the mobs had taken over with violence, probably due to poor conditions. In 1823 the Chamber of Commerce had been founded. The prosperity of Bristol had been gradually diminishing, but the Municipal Reform Act which was passed in 1835 helped to check this. A very important person of Bristol was the famous George Mueller. He established a series of homes for orphans as a result of answered prayers.
It was while the family was living at Bristol that the eighteen year old son, John Benson, died on May 22, 1833. Alfred was then 13 years old.
The next we know of the family takes us to the year 1840. This was three years after the beginning of Queen Victoria's long and successful reign. Alfred's mother, Harriott, died on December 2, 1840 of dropsy, at the age of 56. She died at the home of her son, Richard Edward, (he was called by his second name) at 9 Bathwick Street, Bath. Since Bath is only thirteen miles from Bristol, she may have been visiting her son at the time, although it is possible that the whole family had moved there. Edward had evidently married by that time and set up his own household. George, too, had married and his only child, Frances, was born on October 30, 1841.
Joseph Thomas had at least one brother. He had three children, two sons and one daughter. Richard Thomas, one of the sons, died on January 7, 1844. The other son, Fred, was a lawyer. Fred's son, Edward, was a Solicitor in Scrosbury; his unmarried daughter , Amelia, remained at home with her family. Richard and Fred had a sister named Letitia. She married a Mr. Brown and lived at Bristol or nearby. He must have been quite well acquainted with these cousins. He kept up correspondence with his relatives in England until the time of his death.
Following his mother/s death Alfred was left without a settled home. Both of his brothers had their homes and his father was often travelling about in his business. At that time he was nearly 21 years of age.
Sometime during the next few years
he went to sea and may have served as a sailor for a while. A story related by
his grandson, Fred Embelton, says that during a storm
at sea Alfred's hair turned white overnight. Whether this is true or not, it is
quite certain that his red hair did turn white very early in life, as has
happened to several of his descendants. The red hair, too, has appeared more
than once among his grandchildren.
It is hard to determine what factors led this young man to leave his home and country of his birth. Was it economic conditions in England at the time? Did the Act of Union which introduced primogeniture (whereby the eldest son inherited everything) have some influence upon his decision? Or was it because he was without a home? Maybe all these things had something to do with it. Yet, as a Christian, Alfred may well have had a call of God as Abraham did to go out into the country that he would show him, there to bless and prosper him. I believe that there is no doubt that, whatever the circumstances were at the moment, he had his steps ordered by the overruling providence of God when he left Britain.
About the year 1849, Alfred Thomas stepped ashore in the New World at St John, New Brunswick. St John was then as now the chief port of the Province and Alfred was only one of the many emigrants from Great Britain to enter America through her gate. For more than sixty years streams of British subjects had left their native shores to begin a new life in New Brunswick which became a part of the Dominion of Canada in 1867.
St John had been a ship-building center for nearly 70 years, but in the 1840's "this type of enterprise was to grow to boom proportions in New Brunswick", according to Lowell thomas. It was a busy city. Ships came and went on the famous tides of the Bay of Fundy. In 1850 the "Marco Polo" was launched at St John. Although the launching was not too successful, the ship "established a world record and was justly entitled to the pennant that read, 'The Fastest Ship in the World'."
About the time that the "Marco Polo" was starting out
on her adventures important events were also taking place in the life of the
young white-haired Welshman. It is quite possible that he first found work in
the shipyards when he arrived; however, that is mere conjecture. We do know he
found a boarding-house run by a lady from North Ireland. One day he came into
the house saying, "I have seen my future wife today." He told his
landlady about seeing a young woman scrubbing the front steps of a house while
he was walking. She had her head tied up in a large handkerchief or cloth and
was down on her hands and knees. Something about her attracted him and from
that moment he had decided that she was the one to be his wife. As he explained
where the young lady lived, his landlady discovered that it was her niece, Margaret
Dundas. At that time she was about 18 years of age.
His prophecy marriage came true on May 25, 1850 when the Rev. Mr Grey married them at St. John.
Margaret had come from North Ireland (the County of Fermanaugh) with and older sister, Barbara, and a younger brother and sister, Thomas and Elizabeth. Their eldest brother, William, had remained in North Ireland with his family and his sister, Anne. It was their intention to join the others at a later date. Evidently, their parents were dead. Nothing is known of their father, but their mothers name was Mary. She had previously been married to a man named Robinson by whom she had at least one son, John Robinson, who remained in his native land.
At the time Alfred and Margaret were married, Thomas was only 12 years old and Elizabeth was only 10. Margaret herself had been born on July 1, 1830. The elder brother was 22 years her senior but he survived his sister by five years, living to the advanced age of 101 years. To the end of his life, he remained active, even able to shave himself. Barbara and Anne were six and five years older respectively.
Until 1857 or 1858, they continued to live at St John where their first four children were born. Their eldest was Harriet, born on January 24, 1852. She was named for Alfred's mother. Joseph Edward followed on May 25th, 1853, their third wedding anniversary. Joseph and Edward were the names of his father and brother with whom they corresponded in England. William John arrived August 28, 1855. No doubt he had been named for her brother in the old country. The fourth child was named for his own father, Alfred. He was born May 14, 1857.
Sometime during the latter part of 1857 or in 1858, the family decided to move to a new home. Either at the same time or thereabouts, Margaret's sister Barbara and her husband, John Reynolds, a native of Prussia, had moved to a place near the village of Harvey, about 70 miles north-west of St John. Alfred took his family and settled not far away. Thomas and Elizabeth went too. About 1859 Thomas married Janet Marshall. Her home had been with an Aunt and Uncle, Mary and Thomas Gass, at Harvey. She was born in Scotland and had come to New Brunswick with the Gasses as a small child. At the time of her marriage she was not much more than 16.
Elizabeth Dundas never married. She was affectionately know as Aunt Bessie and lived in Harvey near the rest of the family until her death. As far as it is known, she was a School teacher.
By the time their second daughter, Mary Elizabeth, was born Alfred and Margaret were settled at Harvey. She was born March 18, 1858. Alfred had bought land at the spot which has since been named for him - Thomaston. There he began to clear the fields, build his home, and plant crops. His house stood at the corner of two roads, one going from Harvey to McAdam and the other one to St Stephen. John Reynolds and Thomas Dundas built their homes a little to the North of Alfred's but within sight. At first the place was known as Thomas' Corner, later changed to Thomaston.
Thomas and Janet had their first child, Mary (no doubt named for his mother and her aunt), on May 9, 1860. On September 27th of the same year Richard was born to the Thomases. This name seems to have been a common one in the Thomas family. It is not unlikely that this was the name of Alfred's grandfather.
Life was not easy in those days. there was much hard work and few conveniences. When sickness came, it often took a high toll, especially among children. During August of 1861 two of Alfred's children died only a week apart; Harriet on the 3rd and William John on the 10th. Along with the sorrow of losing these two children there must have been the fear that the other children might become ill whit the same disease. Harriet was 3 1/2 years old when she died and William would have been six in less that three weeks.
Two years later another child was given to them. Barbara was born Sept 4, 1863. Disappointment came with the birth of Catherine on Richard's fifth birthday, Sept 27, 1865. She died the same day. Their last child was Margaret, born February 9, 1869. Word has also come to them from across the Atlantic that Alfred's only niece, Frances, had married John Newton Stevenson and that their first child, Newton, was born April 12, 1867. Their second son, Charles Wade, arrived a month before Margaret on January 2, 1869. They lived in London.
Alfred lost his left eye sometime during this period and his grandchildren think he wore a patch over the bad eye. In his photograph it is touched up.
As the years passed his farm prospered. Harvey was not far away and they went there for provisions from time to time. Friends and relatives came to visit their house on the corner in which they took real pride. Alfred and Margaret had a beautiful flower garden enclosed with a picket fence. The house also became a place of worship. When they could not attend church services, they held meetings in their home and invited others to join them. Alfred had been influenced from his youth by the independents and seems to have held to that persuasion all his life. He loved the Bible and Moody's sermons. One of the memories of his grandchildren is of the times when he held them on his knee and read to them from the Bible. His daughter Margaret had, among other things, a hymnbook with his signature on the inside cover. She also owned a painting of Joseph Thomas as a young man. He had it sent as a gift to his youngest son. Because of having to ship it so far, it was a smaller painting than those received by his sons in Britain. They received full length portraits. This painting of his father was on the walls of the house at Thomas' Corner along with a framed Valentine that Alfred had sent to Margaret. It, too, came into the possession of their youngest daughter with whom they spent their last days.
Ten years had passed since the family sorrow over the loss of the two children in 1861. Then, 1871 brought more sadness and tragedy. Thomas Dundas died at the age of 33 on January 13th. As relatives and neighbours, Alfred and Margaret shared deeply in this loss to his wife and six little girls, of whom the eldest was not yet eleven. Later in the year, the baby of that family died also. The summer brought the news of the death of Alfreds father at Newport Wales. He died of natural decay on June 15, 1871, aged 91. He had been living with his son George at Hereford Place in Caerleon, Newport. It is not many miles from Caerphilly where he had lived earlier. The following year on February 18th, Alfred's elder brother, Richard Edward, died in London. That left only his brother George and George's daughter, Frances, of the immediate family. He continued to correspond with them until the end of his life. Frances and her family were living in London.
Mary Elizabeth was the first of their children to be married. Her marriage to Michael Embelton took place somewhere around the end of 1873 or the beginning of 1874. She could not have been more than about 15. Her son, Fred Embelton, was the first grandchild of the family and since they lived nearby the grandparents had opportunity to share in this new joy. In the next few years Mary had several other children. They lived in a house between Alfred's and the Reynolds' home. John Reynolds died in 1878.
Joseph Edward married his first cousin, Mary Dundas, the daughter of Thomas and Janet Dundas. Their first child, Albert, was born March 20, 1882 at Brockway where Joseph had settled. Brockway is a small settlement about sixteen miles south of Harvey. It became home not only for Joseph but also his brother Alfred and sister Margaret. Margaret had married Furber Rogerson on April 10, 1885. She was known as "Maggie". Her first child, Edna, was born August 28, 1886.
By then Thomas' widow, Janet, had remarried and gone to live in a place near Harvey. Her second husband was Nathan Moshier. It was several years later that a letter arrived at Harvey addressed to Thomas Dundas. It was delivered to his widow. The letter had been mailed years before by his brother, William Dundas, in North Ireland. In the letter William wrote of his plans for going to Canada and asked for directions about locating them. Because of this lost letter, William and his family along with his sister Anne lost contact with the other members of the family for several years. Instead of joining them in New Brunswick, they moved to Ontario and settled there. The first one to go to Ontario for a visit from New Brunswick was Elizabeth Dundas (Aunt Bessie). It must have been exciting for them to hear of these relatives.
Richard was the next to be married. He married Ellen Little on Feb 24, 1886, in St Stephen. She was from Harvey. Richard brought his wife home to live with his parents, but that arrangement did not last long. Difficulties arose and it was finally decided that the parents should go to Brockway and live with Maggie. Her husband had died at the age of 28 about 1869. She married again; this time to Warren Davis in December of 1882.
Elizabeth Dundas died in the year 1889. That year Alfred, Jr., married Myra Vail on December 11th and settled on a farm not far away from his brother Joseph. Barbara was the only one of the children not married by this time. It was after her father death that she married William Lister. She had more education that the others and became a school teacher. During the spring of 1881 (May 2) Barbara Reynolds died. Her son William John remained on the home place. He had married his cousin, also named Barbara Dundas, and brought her home to live with his father and mother. She had found her mother-in- law / aunt a difficult woman to live with,
At Brockway, Alfred and Margaret were in the midst of their increasing family, probably living to see about 30 grandchildren. Margaret saw a greater number as she survived her husband by five years. However, he left a more lasting impression upon the minds of his grandchildren than she did. They remember his kindly ways, his white hair, his Bible reading and the strange whistling sound he made through his teeth to entertain them.
Alfred departed this life on August 4, 1898 and entered into the presence of Christ whom he loved and whom he had served in his quiet way. He was 78 years old. Five years later in October of 1903 his wife followed him. Their bodies were laid to rest in the Harvey Cemetary beside Margaret's brother Thomas Dundas and his little daughter Agnes.
As is written on Thomas' gravestone they were:
Hurried form earth and scenes below
to brighter scenes above
To join with angels round the throne
and sing redeeming love
WRITTEN BY GEORGE ERNEST MORRISON DEC 6, 1921 - MAY 5, 1970
The text on the preceding pages was taken from a copy given to me by Rena Thomas. The copy was very dim in places therefore some of the dates were quite blurred and cannot be guaranteed as correct.
Alfred Thomas Family Tree