Thursday, June 27, 2013

175 Years Ago: The start of the Thomas family in America

Wait, I thought as I looked at that ship's register transcription on USGenWeb by Pat Thomas, that's 175 years ago! This week! My Thomas ancestors sailed on the Barque Tiberius from Newport (or New Port) Harbor in Wales headed for Baltimore exactly 175 years ago this Sunday. At 109 feet long, it carried 76 passengers and took 46 days to reach Baltimore, Maryland, which they did on 11 Sept 1838.

When I visited Mom last fall we went to the Frostburg Museum in lovely little Frostburg, Allegany, Maryland, and I took a photo of their replica of the ship's passenger list. When I got back home and looked very carefully at it, it jumped to life. Imagine what their journey was like!

Benjamin Thomas, my 3rd great grandfather, head of the family and 45 years old at the sailing, had been recruited out of the coal mines of South Wales by the George's Creek Coal company, which is referenced on the manifest, as you can see below. He came with wife Hannah (Evans), and eight children ranging from an infant, Jane, to four boys who were colliers (William, Benjamin, James, and John) as well as my 2nd great grandmother, Diane (or Diana) age six. Joseph, age three, and Phillip, age two, were also listed. That's a family of 10 people.

George's Creek Coal Company had its headquarters in London and Baltimore and was the owner and operator of their mine in Western Maryland, near Frostburg. They recruited skilled miners from Wales and then paid for their passage with the proviso that the cost was to be deducted from wages. There were 29 "colliers" on that ship and that would mean 29 good and strong men who were immediately available, well trained and experienced, who could go to work in the coal mines. And that strong work force would be tied to the company for however long it took to pay off the cost of the passage.

There were two Thomas families on that ship who came and worked in the mines and prospered. Lewis, Watkins, Reese, two Williams families, two Davis families and a Treasure family were there as well. I'd love to find out more about them all, especially that other Thomas family. Were they related?

The legacy of our Benjamin Thomas is broad and deep, and there are many avid genealogists amongst their descendants. And all of my Thomas cousins are the nicest folks! Benjamin and Hannah would be proud, I think, to know that here we are 175 years later, scattered from coast to coast, all communicating and sharing what we know of them... and wishing we knew much more!

I recently was enticed to find out more about the South Wales coal mines, especially those of the Rhondda Valley, when I came across a web page by one of the descendants of the Lewis family, also on the Barque Tiberius sailing, Debbie Lewis Allen. You can see her blog here. Debbie's posts about the Lewis surname, the preponderance of Welsh surnames amongst African-Americas, and especially the coal region of South Wales got me thinking and googling around. Debbie has some nice information about where her Lewis people lived and maybe worked and I got to thinking that all of the coal mining families who were on the Barque Tiberius were likely recruited out of close-by mines. And, that I should probably know more about where exactly that was if I ever hoped to make any progress in finding locations for my Thomas ancestors. More on that in a later post:)

Here's what Debbie posted about her ancestor on the Tiberius, and note that she has a birthplace for him:
John F. Lewis, Born October 31, 1802 - Died November 7, 1885, He was born in Merthyr-Tidwil Wales.

Hey, what's a "barque" anyway? Off to Google. It's a three masted sailing ship. Interestingly, the barque was also used as a collier or coal ship. Now I'm wondering if the Georges Creek Coal company owned it? The barque was faster and required a smaller crew than other vessels of the day. There were even four-masted barques and they were faster still. San Diego's own Star of India was a full-rigged ship converted into a barque.

File:Unidentified sailing ship - LoC 4a25817u.jpg
Typical three-masted barque.
Star of India, the oldest active sailing vessel in the world.
(Both images above, Wikimedia Commons.)
So today I'm imagining my Thomas ancestors of 175 years ago, saying their goodbyes to family and friends knowing that they would never see them again. Leaving loved ones behind, that would be the hardest part. Then packing up what they could in trunks, gathering the children, little Diane and baby Jane, too. The older boys hoisting the trunks to start the journey. Did they take a rest in Newport before the journey? I do not know. There is too much that we do not know. But we do know that on the last day of June 1838 the Thomas family sailed out of Newport Harbor set for Baltimore and a brand new life in the coal mines of Western Maryland. And Mom still lives there, and Aunt Betty and Cousin Daniel, and all the rest! Ahhh-mazing!

Here are two other posts about the Thomas Family. This first is mostly about the Barque Tiberius and the second is a Surname Saturday post tracing back from me to this Thomas family.
UPDATE: Next blog post about the Thomas family in America here:

In the Frostburg Museum, The ship's register of the Barque Tiberius!
(Here's a link to the transcribed version of the manifest on the Imigrant Ships Transcribers Guild.)

The heading for the ship's register mentioning the George's Creek Coal company.

My Thomas ancestors on the ship's list.

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