Biography of Rev. T. R. Thomas
Calpella Township, Mendocino County, CA Biographies





Rev. T. R. Thomas, D. D., LL. D. Dr. J. R. Thomas is a native of Hancock county, Georgia, born May 10, 1812. He is the eldest of fourteen children by the marriage of Micajah Thomas with Eliza A., daughter of James Turner, of Clarke county, Georgia. His only surviving brother, Dr. F. A. Thomas, at the present date resides in his native State in the town of Sparta, Hancock county, having devoted his life successfully to the profession of medicine. The two brothers were classmates at Randolph Macon College in the State of Virginia. The elder brother, who is the subject of this brief sketch, when at about the age of eight years entered the communion of the Methodist Episcopal Church, of which both parents were life long members, the father being an ordained local minister of that denomination. From early boyhood James was trained to manual labor on the farm, not so much for the material compensation, as for the purpose of healthful physical development. His early education was spasmodic, being an alternation between farm labor and going to school, the former element predominating in the mixture. Finally, when in the sixteenth year of his age, he was placed at old Mount Zion in the classical school of Dr. Beman, who prepared him for college. At nineteen he was chosen to assist Dr. Beman in his school for one year, at the expiration of which time he had intended to enter college, but declined doing so in consequence of a slight reverse in his father's business affairs. Therefore, concluding to teach school at least for a year or two longer, he accepted an invitation to take the principal charge of White Plains Academy, in Greene county, Georgia. This position he held for three years. During the last of these years, in 1834, after a severe struggle with his long cherished predilection for the legal profession, he consented to take holy orders, as a local minister of the gospel in the church to which he belonged. He embarked in this sacred calling with the settled purpose of making his ministerial labors a voluntary and a gratuitous contribution to the church, and of relying upon the business of teaching school for his material support. In early manhood he had symptoms of a pulmonary weakness which deterred him from making the ministry a specialty, with a view of giving his life exclusively. to it as a profession. In 1835 he entered the sophomore class at Randolph Macon College, Virginia, and in 1838 graduated with some distinction. The well known Stephen Olin and L. C. Garland; now Chancellor of Vanderbilt University, the former for one and the latter two years presided over this institution, during the period of Dr. Thomas' pupilage. Dr. Wightman, now one of the bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, was professor of Moral Philosophy and Belles lettres. Dr. Duncan, late of Wofford College, filled the chair of Ancient Languages. The year following his graduation he was called to preside over Collinsworth Institute, near Talbottom, Georgia, a manual labor school which had been founded by the liberality of Josiah Journey, of Putnam county, in that State. This institution,like all schools of its class, proved to be a failure. While he occupied his position in the above institution it was his happiness to instruct several young men of very bright promise. Foremost among these was Holland N. McTyeire, by nativity a South Carolinean. At the time of his pupilage now spoken of, his father, a wealthy planter, resided in the State of Alabama. In this model boy, Dr. Thomas discerned the embryo of a model man. Young McTyeire's father was undecided as to what direction he would give to his son's future education. About the time that he had brought up his studies to the point of preparation for college, an incident occurred, which, no doubt more or less influenced the entire future history of this rarely gifted youth. Dr. Thomas had been selected by the Alumni of Randolph Macon College to deliver their annual address in the summer of 1840 on the commencement occasion for that year. Dr. Thomas proposed to the father that he would take his son Holland under his immediate charge and deliver him safely to the Faculty at Randolph Macon College with favorable expression of opinion, in the meantime assisting him to a settlement in a good boarding house, if the old gentleman would consent to send him to college under such circumstances. This proposal, with a little persuasion, settled the question of doubt and the young man in due time was landed on the College Campus ready for matriculation at the opening of the fall session. This bright youth graduated with honor, entered the Christian ministry, and he is now one of the bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. The year following, 1841, Dr. Thomas had charge of a school for girls in the village of Culloden, Monroe county, Georgia. At the end of this year occurred an episode in the Doctor's life. The still habits of the school room had superinduced a dyspeptic habit which made it necessary that he should suspend teaching for awhile. Having married Sarah A., daughter of Jno. Wimberly, of Alabama, during the last year of his connection with Collinsworth Institute, he obtained his wife's consent to accompany him to the mountain region of Georgia as an expedient for the restoration of his health. For three years he led a rough life in this mountain retreat, making a material support in the meantime by operating in the gold mines of north Georgia, near Dahlonega, Lumpkin county. This experiment resulted in the restoration of his health, attended with an overflowing exuberance of animal spirits. He remembers no period of his life when the pleasure of physical existence was more exquisite. With the pure air and water of that mountain region; the activity of a miner's life; and the inspiration of hope a miner's birthright life's functions were stimulated into healthful play, and it's every pulsation a throb of delight. At the end of three years, spent in this retreat, the Doctor accepted the invitation to a professorship in the Wesleyan Female College at Macon, Georgia. Soon after this date he was called to mourn the loss of his wife, to whom he was tenderly devoted. The duties of his new position bore upon him with a heavy pressure His official labors were largely supplemented by remarkable coincidences. The congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church requested him to deliver a course of lectures on " Christian Evidences," which he engaged to undertake. While this course of lectures was in progress, Dr. Askew, editor and proprietor of the Southern Pulpit, a monthly, published in the city of Macon, sickened and died. He made a dying request that Dr. Thomas should conduct the above journal up to the end of the year on behalf of his dependent family. This task also the Doctor agreed to undertake. In the meantime, Dr. Ellison, president of the college, was stricken down with fever, and a part of the labor of the mathematical department devolved, temporarily, on Dr. Thomas. These accumulated labors called forth a morbid activity of brain, producing undue excitement of the entire nervous system, which brought him to the verge of cerebral inflammation before he or his friends suspected that he was in danger At this crisis, fortunately, brain congestion was relieved by an attack of pulmonary hemorrhage, which no doubt arrested inflammation in the more vital organ and precluded a fatal catastrophe. Dr. Thomas immediately resigned his position in. the college. At the suggestion of his father who was also bereaved, the two emigrated to Jorida and settled on a farm near Micanopy, in Marion county. Here, with a corps of strong, able bodied negroes, they engaged in growing sea island cotton, tobacco, arrowroot and sugar cane. The father undertook the conduct of the farm, and to the son was committed the care of the stock, which ran at large upon the wild public lands. This duty necessitated a habit of activity which added to the pleasant excitement of rural sports, for which he had a hereditary fondness, and made at once a decidedly favorable impression upon his health. When he first entered upon this rough mode of life he was in a very feeble condition; emaciated and almost bloodless, with a constant cough attended with semi purulent expectorations. His cough left him before the end of three months, and in less time than one year he became robust and vigorous, being able to compete with the sturdiest native hunters and cattle drivers of the peninsula At the end of three years the Doctor's health being re established so firmly that he never had afterwards a recurrence of hemorrhage, he accepted an invitation to take the presidency of Emory College located at Oxford, Georgia Immediately before entering upon the duties of this position he married his second wife, formerly Miss A. L. Hudson, daughter of William Hudson, of Hancock county, Georgia, between whose family and his own there had been an intimate friendship of many years standing. His connection with Emory College dates from the beginning of the year 1855. Here he spent some of the happiest and most useful years of his life. While here he was honored by the State University with the degree of D. D., by the Medical College at Augusta, Georgia, with the honorary degree of M. D., and by the trustees of Emory with the degree of LL D On this occasion it was, that the Doctor said to the Board, that it had committed a very great blunder but that the world should not detect the mistake if he could prevent it by the best efforts that he could make in that direction Many gifted and promising young men graduated at Emory College during Dr. Thomas' administration. We will name as prominent among these: Young Allen, for a long time, and now missionary in China; Dr. Haygood, now president of Emory College; Chancellor Lewis, of the University of Alabama, and many others who have risen to prominence both in Church and in State. Dr. Thomas' official connection with Emory College lasted for twelve years, interrupted for a short period during our unfortunate civil war. At the commencement of the war it was hoped that a suspension of the college would not become a necessity. This hope, however, was not realized. During two years before the end of the war it became necessary to close the Institution. The Doctor, while he believed that secession is the proper remedy for grievous wrongs, as a last resort, yet denied that it was a wise or proper remedy for the evil complained of by the Southern States in 1860, and therefore he opposed that movement with all his influence, until he saw that the adoption of the expedient by his own State was a foregone conclusion, after which he acquiesced in the movement and placed everything upon the altar. He shared the fate of war, losing his estate which, though not very large, was ample for the wants of a growing family. He lost his eldest son, and his second son, now living near him in California, was twice wounded during the war. After the close of the war Dr. Thomas was called to preside over Pacific Methodist College, located at Vacaville, Solano county, California. The climate of this locality proved to be very unfavorable to his health, and after two and a half years of service he resigned and retreated to the mountain region of Mendocino county, where he resides at the present date. Having taught school one year he purchased a farm and stock ranch in Redwood valley, and has devoted his attention exclusively to rural pursuits, with the frequent exercise of his ministerial functions, excepting short intervals of teaching school, in all about two and a half years. For six years there was a desire generally expressed, that Dr. Thomas should serve Mendocino county, as School Superintendent. For reasons that need not be stated here, he declined the invitation. He has always felt an uncompromising aversion to any step that would give him even the semblance of being mixed up with politics. On two different occasions in his life, he resisted the most vigorous and persistent efforts of his friends to draw him out as a candidate for the office of delegate to a Constitutional convention once in his native State and once in California. In the fall of 1879, both of the party conventions in the County of Mendocino, by acclamation and on the same day, nominated him as a candidate for County Superintendent of Schools. As a matter of course, he was elected by almost a solid vote of the county. At the date of this sketch he is discharging the functions of this office under the New Constitution; his incumbency runs for three years from the time of his entering upon the duties of the office. Dr. Thomas has been frequently heard to express his grateful appreciation of the friendship manifested for him personally, and the unvarying confidence reposed in him under all the shifting phases of his life. Unstable health has superinduced many episodes in the history of his public life, presenting it under irregular and spasmodic phases. As a general rule, these, fitful vicissitudes in the life of a man, when the cause is unexplained, are apt to create some prejudice in the public mind. The Doctor deems himself fortunate in being an exception to the operation of this general law. He has a moderate opinion of his personal claims, and he feels the more grateful in proportion, as the tokens of favor and friendship transcend his deserts and his expectations. This brief sketch will hardly be considered to be complete unless we add, that the subject of this biography is now in the sixty ninth year of his age. He has sevens living children, two married, and the other five still living with him on his ranch in Redwood valley. Those who have some right to express an opinion on the subject, say that the Doctor ought to be very happy in his home circle, and if he is not so, it is his fault, inasmuch as his wife and children, it is believed, are not backward in making their personal contributions in that direction.

From:
History of Mendocino County, California
Alley, Bowen & Co., Publishers
San Francisco, California 1880


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