Where did you come from, John Thomas?

This weeks prompt on #52ancestors is “nature” and who would be closer to nature than a farmer?  When I research ancestors in the 1800s, most of their occupations are farmers farmer 1700 001with an occasional blacksmith, merchant or iron worker.  The wives are “keeping house” according to the census records.  This week, I would like to focus on John Thomas, a farmer, who really challenges my research skills!  For one thing, he had a common name and I had no idea that there were so many John Thomas’s out there in the records – born in every time period!  It took me a while just to determine which John Thomas was my 6th Great-grandfather but I found him and his wife, Mary Robinett.  They were parents of my 5th great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Thomas, who you can read about here.  Searching for “FREELOVE”

Thomas, john and mary 001

John Thomas was born on 16 October 1733 according to family Bible records which were recorded but the original Bible’s whereabouts are unknown.  John’s place of birth is not yet proven and I have found sources that list him being born in Massachusetts or Connecticut but these definitely were not our John Thomas.  Another source listed him as being born in Southampton County, Virginia.  According to the book about his grandson, “Abijah Thomas & His Octagonal House,” by Mack H Sturgill, “a thorough search of vital records and deeds of that county in the county seat at Courtland failed to reveal a trace of John Thomas and his family there.  That leaves the origin and provenance of John Thomas in limbo.” (See also: Abijah Thomas and His Octagon House)  Another story had John as a great-grandson of the orphan, also named John Thomas, who came to the Plymouth Colony at age 14 with Governor Winthrop.  There is no documentary evidence that this story is true!  In order to find more information on his birthplace, I started by researching the children of John Thomas and Mary Robinett.

Research on their children revealed that their son Thomas Jefferson Thomas was born in either Virginia or Pennsylvania.  However, the 1880 U. S. Census of Thomas Thomas’s daughter, Mary Polly Thomas Porter, shows her father was born in Pennsylvania and her mother was born in New York.  Since Thomas Thomas was born in 1766 and was the third child, the John Thomas family most likely was living in Pennsylvania in 1766 – my guess is that they lived in Southampton, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Southampton, PA 001 It is possible that the Southampton referred to in the book was really the Southampton in Pennsylvania, not the Southampton County in Virginia.  There is a Southampton township in Bucks County PA and Southampton was a seaport through which Quakers such as William Penn entered as well as many immigrants of Scots-Irish descent.  Now our John Thomas was not only of Scots-Irish descent, he was also associated with Quakers.   John Thomas and other Baptists joined with a group of dissident Quakers and members of the Pennepek Baptist Church to form the Southampton Baptist Church.  For now, my best assumption is that John Thomas certainly could have been born in Pennsylvania.  However, the names of his parents are still a mystery!

Historically, the Scots-Irish were Scots, mostly farmers, who settled in Northern Ireland in the province of Ulster after 1600 to escape religious persecution under English rule.  They started migration to Virginia in 1715 and many sailed into the ports of Philadelphia and Southampton and eventually settled in the mid and southern counties of the Shenandoah Valley.  The Scots-Irish soon became the dominant culture of the Appalachians in Pennsylvania and Virginia.  This could help explain how John Thomas may have come from Pennsylvania and eventually settle in the Washington/Smyth County area on the Holston River.  John Thomas and Mary Robinett acquired quite a large tract of land along both sides of the South Fork of the Holston River in 1773.  This was part of the St. Clair Land grant is and is still known as St. Clair’s Bottom (also called Sinclairs Bottom) and was in Washington County, Virginia.  This area was first Augusta County, then Fincastle County until Washington County was formed in about 1777.  Later it became Smyth County but not until 1832.  Sinclairs Bottom was a tract of 996 acres patented by Charles Sinclair in 1753 who lived on it until the French and Indian War massacres of 1755 drove him out.

John Thomas married Mary Robinett on 26 March 1761, the daughter of Samuel Robinett and Ann Osborne.  Mary was born in 1740 in Southampton – I assume Southampton, Pennsylvania.  Mary’s gravestone indicated she was the daughter of Samuel and Samuel could have been related to an early immigrant named Alan (Allen) Robinett.  Alan came to Pennsylvania at the time of its settlement by William Penn.  According to Rootsweb, John Thomas and Mary were married in Augusta County, Virginia. (At that time, Augusta County covered a huge area from the middle of Virginia and westward.)  They started their family with two daughters, Sarah in 1762 and Martha in 1764.  Thomas was born in 1766, Mary in 1769 and, lastly, Abijah in 1776.

John and Mary were quite possibly living in New Britain, Bucks County, PA up to about 1766 and moved to Black Swamp, Cameron Parish, Loudoun County, Virginia.  On 18 July 1767, John Thomas was one of nine organizing members of a newly formed New Valley Baptist Church in Loudoun County, Virginia.  John and Mary were baptized by Rev. Joseph Thomas (possible relative) along with 6 or 7 others.  In October 1768, the Loudoun County Tithable (tax) list for the South Fork of the Holston River, listed John Thomas and his neighbor, Thomas John (2 different men).  Somehow Thomas John was related to John Thomas.  When Thomas John died in 1806, our John Thomas signed his will as a witness and Thomas John left his entire estate to John Thomas’ children!

Holston River 001
John Thomas owned land on both sides of the South Fork of the Holston River.

On March 1774, John Thomas obtained 404 acres and had the land surveyed.  It was on the north side of the South Fork of the Holston River in Sinclair Bottom.   The land adjoined the land of William Lewis who, interestingly, was also his neighbor in Loudoun County!  John was also a neighbor of Joseph and Hugh Cole who are also our ancestors!

This story gives some insight into John Thomas’s beliefs.  On 21 November 1781, our John Thomas who acknowledged himself  “indebted to the Commonwealth of Virginia in the Sum of Four Hundred Pounds Specie,” would not swear allegiance to the United States of America government most likely because of religious beliefs.  His Baptist neighbor, William Lewis and his sons who were old enough to fight in the Revolution were also found indebted to the Commonwealth for not swearing allegiance or serving in the military.  John and William Lewis were members of the Baptist church which incorporated some Quaker beliefs in pacifism and swearing allegiance “Only to God.”  Of course, the county records do not reveal why they were indebted but the Virginia Assembly did pass a law in May 1777 requiring all adult males to swear an oath of allegiance.  The penalty for not doing so was loss of the right to vote, hold office and serve on juries.  In addition, an added penalty of double taxation was passed in October of that year.  As far as I can determine from later county records, John Thomas paid his penalty and was allowed to reside in the county.

In 1792, James Cole (another ancestor of ours) sells one acre and 100 poles of land for building a new Baptist meeting house (church) in the Holston River area for just 20 primitive baptist church pic 001shillings to the Acting Trustees of the Congregation of Sinclair Bottom.   John Thomas was one of the Acting Trustees.  This Primitive Baptist Church was built about 1775.  Primitive Baptists are the same as Hard Shell Baptists believing in following scripture and adult baptism among other ideas.

In 1795, John was able to obtain more land from the Commonwealth of Virginia on the Waters Redstone which is a tributary of the South Fork of the Holston River.  He gained 230 acres.  In 1804, their daughter Anna Thomas Martin died and in 1806, daughter Mary Thomas also died.    On 3 February 1816, John’s wife, Mary Robinett Thomas, died in Sinclair Bottom, Washington/Smyth County and she was buried in the Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Sinclair Bottom.  Three years later in 1819, their son Abijah Thomas died and was buried in the same cemetery.   John was not listed in the 1820 census and was possibly living with his son, Thomas Thomas and his wife, Freelove Cole Thomas.

On 21 January, 1820, John Thomas sells to his son Thomas Jefferson Thomas, 315 acres of

South fork of Holston R 001
South Fork of the Holston River,  Smyth Co., Virginia

land for one dollar out of “natural love and affection for his son.”   Also “of natural love and affection” for his grand-children and one dollar, John deeds 275 acres of the South side of the Holston River to Sally Allen, John Thomas, Polly Thomas, Betsey Thomas, Martha Thomas, Sam Thomas, Anna Thomas and David Thomas who are all children of his deceased son Abijah Thomas.

On 9 July 1821, John Thomas died in Sinclair Bottom, Washington/Smyth County, Virginia and he is laid to rest next to his wife, Mary, in the Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery.

prim Baptist church cemetery 001
Cemetery of the Primitive Baptist Church, Chilhowie, Smyth Co., Virginia


  • Sturgill, Mack H; Abijah Thomas & His Octagonal House, Tucker Printing, Marion, Virginia, 1990.
  • Year: 1880; Census Place: St Clair, Smyth, Virginia; Roll: 1390; Page: 112A; Enumeration District: 085.
  • Wikipedia: Southampton, Pennsylvania/history.
  • Rootsweb WorldConnect Project Genealogy – History, On Going Research (Owner: Don Martin Thomas) on Samuel Robinett.
  • https://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=thomas1560&id=120
  • Sturgill, Mack & Kenneth, Smyth County, Virginia Cemeteries, Volume 1; P. 150.
  • Loudoun County, Virginia, Tithable List; October 1768, South Fork of the Holston River; Loudoun County Virginia Courthouse; Leesburg, Loudoun, Virginia.
  • Edwards, Morgan; A History of the Baptists, Vol. 2, 1770-1792; Prepared for publication by Eve B Weeks and Mary B Warren.  Heritage Papers, Danielsville, GA 30633: Copywrite by Mary B Warren, 1984, p. 42.
  • Montgomery County, Virginia, Plat Book A, p. 33.
  • Wilson, Goodridge, Smyth County, history and traditions. Kingsport, Tenn,; Kingsport Press, 1932; p. 121.
  • Summers, Lewis Preston, Annals of Southwest Virginia, 1769-1800; 1 Volume in 2 Parts; Part 2; Pgs. 1294-1295. (Referencing Washington County, Virginia; p. 260).
  • http://www.newrivernotes.com/va/washsurv.htm (land surveys of John Thomas).
  • Find A Grave; findagrave.com; citing John Thomas, Memorial 45539287; and citing Mary Robinett Thomas, Memorial 45538411.

5 thoughts on “Where did you come from, John Thomas?

  1. An interesting post with lots of detail, must have taken you ages! Most of my ancestors here in England were miners or navvies but I’ve just found a line who were farmers in Kent. I’m starting to research them plus the social issues about farming in 1700s and 1800s England, a new area for me. Probably very different from the US because of land ownership?


  2. Hi Dr B!
    Glad you enjoyed the post – yes it took me a long time to find John Thomas and now I need to search for parents! I am thinking that land ownership in England if passed down thru the families in the 1700s and 1800s? Here we have to find land grants or bounty land records that were awarded for service in the military. However, sometimes we can find court records and deeds of land bought and sold but sometime records were destroyed during the Civil War of 1861-5, especially in Virginia and other states where a lot of battles were fought. But I love a good challenge! Have a great week! Marilyn


  3. Look at the Sussex Co Delaware records and you will see that aJohn Thomas was kicked off some land. Could be your John. It was early.


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