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The Thomas Boys

The Thomas family was among the early pioneers in Orange County, Indiana. Their arrival date from North Carolina and what happened to them can only be extrapolated from the limited facts available to us one hundred and seventy years later. 


In the fall of 1821 three young boys with the Thomas surname were indentured in Orange County. William B. Thomas, "son of Lucy Thomas and about six and one-half years old," was apprenticed on September 14, 1821, to a Thomas F. Chapman, white. In the legal agreement signed with the mother's mark, William was to serve the Chapmans until reaching 21 years of age. When the term of service expired, William was to receive 40 acres of land, a colt worth thirty dollars, a plain saddle and bridle, and a "freedom suit [of clothes]." Chapman agreed also to provide the boy "a good common school education." One "Bryant Thomas" witnessed the agreement. 

A few weeks later, Lucy Thomas, indentured her 13-year-old son, Mathew Thomas, to Zachariah Lindley, white, on October 6, 1821. He was apprenticed for eight years or until reaching the full age of twenty-one years to learn the art of farming. At the expiration of the term of service, Mathew was to be given 80 acres of land, a colt worth twenty dollars, a "freedom suit... [and] six months schooling."  

One year later, the third indenture was completed by a Bryant Thomas on October 5, 1822, for a "child by the name of Jordon Thomas" to serve Lewis Byram, white, for a term of fifteen years, five months and thirteen days. When the term of service was completed, Jordon was to receive forty acres of land." There are no doubts that William B. and Mathew Thomas were brothers and Sons of Lucy Thomas, a free woman of color. Probably, Jordon was also a brother and son whose indenture was delayed for more than a year due to family dire circumstances at the time.


Bryant Thomas, who witnessed the first indenture and completed the third indenture in 1822, was the only free person of color with the Thomas surname enumerated in the 1820 Census for Orange County, Indiana. We concluded that he was not the father of  these three boys as evidenced by the absence of any references to such parent within the three indentures. Instead, we believed he was a paternal relative, perhaps an uncle, to them. 

After studying these documents carefully, we conjectured the following scenario of events: 

  • Bryant Thomas, his wife and two children, arrived in Orange County, Indiana before 1820. For some reason, his brother and family who were also enroute from North Carolina were delayed perhaps due to illness. Possibly, Lucy's husband and father of her three sons died before the family group reached Indiana or soon afterwards. Lucy and the boys continued the trip, perhaps with the aid of sympathetic travelers. They arrived sometime between 1820 and 1821. 

  • Lucy, herself, was also ill. Without a husband’s protection in the wilderness, she felt there was no way she could raise the boys by herself. Neighbors advised her to apprentice them to nearby farmers who would provide them with a place to live until they were old enough to care for themselves. The mother could not, however, give up her boys all at one time. First, she chose to bind out William, her middle son, in 1821 wanting to keep Mathew a while longer to help her and to care for his younger brother, Jordon.

  • We conjecture further that Mathew Thomas's indenture within the month after his brother's was prompted by the mother's failing health, and that she probably died soon after his apprenticeship was executed. Her brother-in-law, Bryant Thomas, assumed the care of his nephew, Jordon, over the next year or so before he finally made arrangements in 1822 for the boy to also be apprenticed as his older brothers. 

The Bryant Thomas family left no further records in Orange County. The same was true also for the boy, William B, Thomas, whose name as an adult did not appear in the later census reports or public documents. Maybe he died before achieving adulthood. On the other hand, both Mathew and Jordon completed their terms of service, and received the land acreages as promised in their indentures. 

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Mathew and Mary Thomas Family 

Mathew's gravestone inscription shows that he was born on October 8, 1808. He was twenty-six years old and held title to 40 acres of land when he married Mary "Polly" Roberts on December 10, 1834 in Orange County, Indiana. The bride was seventeen years old.

Prior to his marriage, Mathew took the precaution to obtain a certificate of freedom to save him "from the molestation of those who might probably apprehend him as a slave." The paper, dated October 19, 1833, was signed by sixteen white, Orange County residents who affirmed that he was "a free man." Oddly enough, Mathew waited nearly twenty, years before having this document recorded at the court house. 

Mathew took his farming seriously and steadily increased his land holdings throughout the marriage. At the time of his death on December 10, 1870, he held title to 322 acres in the Lick Creek Settlement area. No doubt, in addition to being a hard worker, he received considerable help with the farm chores from his younger wife and maturing children. 


Matthew Thomas Gravestone 
as seen in Lick Creek Settlement cemetery
Matthew Thomas

Their Children Between 1835 and 1853

Mathew and Mary Thomas had thirteen children, but so far we have located the names and records for only eleven of them." 

  1. Joseph N. Thomas, born September 26, 1835, and died May 3, 1866. On October 17, 1860, he married Jane Lee in Orange County. No record found of any children in this marriage. 

  2. Mary A. Thomas, bora ca. 1839. She married Monroe Bond, son of Penelope Bond, on October 29, 1863. They had five children: Penelope Bond (1865), William Bond (1868), Austin Bond (1870), Annie Bond (1873), and Alonzo Bond (1875).

  3.  Sarah D. Thomas, born ca. 1841. She died sometime between 1850 - 1860 and was buried in the Lick Creek Settlement Cemetery. 

  4.  Jeremiah Thomas, born ca. 1844. He left the family between 1860-1870. When his father's estate was settled in the 1880's, Jeremiah and his wife, Letitia, were listed as residents of Coles County, Illinois. 

  5.  William Thomas, born April 4, 1847, and grew to adulthood on the farm where he was born. He married the first time to Delilah Burnett, daughter of Aaron and Charlotte Burnett, on December 19, 1880. They had six children: Bertha Thomas (1881-1909), Dessie Thomas (1884-), Addie Thomas (1886-), Killian Leslie (1889-), Xary Ellen (1891-) and Samuel Ernest, who died in infancy, Delila died on April 15, 1897 and was buried at Sewberry Friends Church cemetery, west of Paoli. The following year William married a second time to Mrs. Susan Terrell, Mitchell, Indiana on October 16, 1898. For 46 years before his death William Thomas lived on and managed the Amos Stout farm south of Paoli. He died on June 17, 1928 survived by his wife, three daughters, Mrs. Dessie Stevenson, Mrs. Mary Finney, and Miss Addie Thomas, a son, and four grandchildren.

  6.  John H. Thomas, born ca, 1849 and died between 1860 - 1870. 

  7.  Adaline K. Thomas, (1851-1905) married John E. Walls of Paoli, on June 24, 1871. They had two sons before the Walls were divorced. Adaline married a second time to John T. Wilson (1840 1907), who was a barber in Spencer (Owen County), Indiana. Wilson, originally from Vigo County, had four children from his previous marriage. Adaline had one child in her second marriage, Sarah Ollie Wilson, who was born in Spencer on June 10, 1878. Sarah Olliie Wilson married Preston Eagleson of Bloomington (Monroe County, Indiana). At one time Rev. Preston Eagleson was a minister in the Spencer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Spencer, and he also taught in the "colored" school located nearby. Preston and Sarah Wilson Eagleson had three children:  (1) Wilson Vashon Eagleson[MOU1]  (1898-1921), who was a chemistry professor at West Virginia State University prior to his death; (2) John Newlin Eagleson (1907), who died in infancy; and (3) Buena Mae Elizabeth Eagleson, who was born in Bloomington on June 4, 1908. Elizabeth Eagleson Bridgwaters (Mrs. Albert), lived in Bloomington and passed away in 1999, and has descendants including great-grandchildren who live in Indiana, Massachusetts, Texas, and California.  

  8. ​George Etta Thomas, born ca. 1853. During the land transactions after her father's death, George Etta Thomas Wade was mentioned initially in 1870. However, by 1880-1885 transactions, she and her husband, Daniel Cole, were residents of Barber County, Kansas.

  9. Samuel A. Thomas (1853-1856), died in early childhood.

  10. Frances. L. Thomas (1857-1858), died in infancy.

  11. Malinda A. Thomas (1860), died in early childhood.

Children of Mathew Thomas and Mary Ann Roberts

Mathew Thomas
1808 -1870

Mary Ann Roberts
1817 - 1867

Joseph N. Thomas
1835 -1866

Jane Lee

Sarah A. Thomas
1841 -1850-60

Mary Ann (Jr.) Thomas
1839 - after 1900

Monroe Bond

Francis, Penelope, William, Austin, Anna, Mary, Ann, Alonzo

Jeremiah (Jerry) Thomas
1844 -1879

Joice A. Thomas
died after 1869

William Thomas
1847 - 1928

Delilah Burnett [1]    Susan Terrell [2]

Bertha, Dessie, Adaline (Addie), William Leslie, Mary Ellen, Samuel Ernest 

Adaline K. (Addie) Thomas
1851 -1905

John E. Walls, Jr. [1]    John T. Wilson [2]

[1] Austin Walls, John Walls Jr. , [2] Sarah Ollie Wilson 

John H. Thomas
1849 - 1869-73

George Esther (Etta) Thomas
1853 - after 1885

Daniel Cole [1]  Mr. Wade [2]

Samuel A. Thomas
1853 - 1856

Frances L. Thomas
1857 - 1858

Malinda A. Thomas
1860 -
early childhood

 Jordon and Candiss Thomas Family

After completing his apprenticeship, Jordon, like his older brother, Mathew, remained in Orange County. On January 11, 1838, he married Candiss Roberts, the daughter of Elias and Nancy Roberts. She was born in Chatham County, North Carolina ca. 1819, and neither she nor her parents were ever enslaved. Jordon purchased a total of 150 acres of land in the Lick Creek Settlement, but ended upholding title to only 70 acres when he died in 1853. He and Candiss had at least nine children:  Samira, Nancy, Mary Ellen, Benjamin, Elias W., William A., Helen M., and Jordon T. Upon Jordon's death, Mathew was appointed guardian for seven minor children and the 70 acres farm was sold on February 16, 1854, to Jordon's father-in-law, Elias Roberts. 

Candiss Roberts Thomas and her children did not appear in subsequent Orange County population censuses. When her mother, Nancy Roberts' estate was divided in 1876, Candiss Thomas was listed as living in Boone County, Indiana. 


(as recalled on February 16, 1992 by Coy D. Robbins Bloomington, IN 47404-1809) 

1. Orange County, Indiana, Deed Book A, p. 363. 
2. Deed Book A, p. 365. 3. Deed Book B, p. 2. 
4. 1820 Census: Bryant Thomas, Male, Age range 26-44 years, with . four persons in the household. 
5. Matthew Thomas acquired 80 acres in Section 14, Township 1 North, Range 1 East from Zachariah and Margaret Lindley on June 18, 1831. Two years later, he sold the real estate to William F. Bracy on December 14, 1833. 
Jordon Thomas purchased his first land from the United States Land Office, 40 acres in Section 22, Township 1 North, Range 1 East. Recorded date of tract book entry was February 1, 1836. 
6. Marriage license was issued on this date, but there was no record of the minister's return. Mathew and Polly Thomas may have done as many other young couples in the pioneer days and accepted that obtaining the "license" meant they were married. On the other hand, preachers were in short supply and served on circuits covering large distances. They availability was severely limited during wintery months, so by the time a preacher did arrive, they "forgo" the need to become married legally. 
7. Deed Record Book 15, p. 471. Mathew Thomas filed the certificate for record on August 23, 1853. 
8. In The obituary for William Thomas which appeared in the Paoli News Wednesday June 27, m1928 , it was reported that William was seventh of thirteen children, all of whom preceded him in death.
9.  William Thomas obituary, The Paoli News, June 27, 1928
10. Marriage records, Orange County, Indiana: land transactions and estate records for her father, Matthew Thomas, 1870-1888. m  Also 1880 U.S. census ,Owen County, Washington Township, Town of Spencer:  p. 17, dwelling 164.  Gravestone, Wilson (colored) Cemetery, two miles west of Spencer. John M. Walls (1852 -1891), Adelaide’s first husband, is also buried in this cemetery
11.  Personal interviews conducted with Mrs. Elizabeth Bridgewaters in Bloomington between October 1911 and February 1992.
12.  Elias Roberts certificate of freedom, Orange County Deed Record Book D, pp. 432-433.  Marriage Records, Book C-2, p.82.

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