History of Bucks
County, Pa Volume 3 by William H. Davis
OLIVER M. THOMAS,
of Hilltown township, Bucks county, Pennsylvania, near Line Lexington, is
the sole survivor, of the paternal name, of a family that was once very
numerous in Hilltown, and whose members were among the largest landowners
and most influential people in the township.
He also resides on land taken up and improved by his ancestors
nearly two centuries ago.
Rev. William THOMAS, or as he was more familiarly know,
“Elder THOMAS,” the paternal ancestor of the THOMAS
family of Bucks county, was born in the year 1678, in Lanwenarth,
Merionethshire, Wales, on the borders of England.
He belonged to a family that possessed considerable means, being
freeholders of a considerable estate.
His parents were members of a Baptist church in Merioneth, and he
was reared in the tenets of that faith, and receiving a superior education
for his time, and being of a studious and pious disposition, he became a
speaker in religious meetings of his sect when still a young man, and
though never an ordained minister, continued to administer to the
spiritual needs of his neighbors through his entire life.
Rev. Abel MORGAN, for many years pastor of the Baptist
church at Pennypack, and the founder of the Montgomery Baptist church, and
also a native of Merioneth, was his acquaintance and friend.
Prior to his coming to America his parents located on a farm called
Blassaw of Wyn, in the parish of Bedwildy, some distance from the place of
his nativity. At the death of
his parents he sold the patrimonial estate, and being possessed of
sufficient means to settle himself comfortably in a new country where land
was cheap, he made his preparations to embark for Pennsylvania.
He had married in 1710 Ann (maiden name not recorded), born in
1680, and his eldest child Thomas was born in Wales in 1711.
In January, 1711-12, he transported his household goods and his
wife and infant child to Bristol, England, and, having engaged passage on
a ship lying there bound for Philadelphia, had his goods, clothing and the
greater part of his cash taken aboard.
Being informed that the ship would not sail for several days, he
took his family to the country to await the day of sailing.
Though he returned before the appointed time, the ship had already
sailed, though still in sight. After
an ineffectual attempt to overtake her he was forced to await the sailing
of a later vessel. He and his
family arrived in Philadelphia on February 14, 1712, and, though he found
the vessel there in which his goods had been transported, the dishonest
master had absconded with everything of value he could lay his hands on,
and he had the mortification of seeing some of his own clothes on the
backs of persons who had bought them of the dishonest master.
Wholly without funds or any worldly posessions, (sic) he was
forced to look about for means of obtaining a livelihood.
Fortunately, he had learned the useful craft of a cooper, and
meeting with a family by the name of Watkins, whom he had known in the old
country, he obtained sufficient funds to pay for his passage and to equip
him in a modest way to follow his trade.
In the latter part of the year 1713 he located in Radnor township,
now Delaware county, where he followed the trade of a cedar cooper for
some time, returning later to the east side of the Schuylkill and locating
in the Northern Liberties. By
industry and shrewd business tact in the course of five years he
accumulated sufficient funds to repay his benefactors and to warrant him
in fulfilling his original intention of becoming a freeholder.
At that time the township of Hilltown, though already surveyed, was
held in large tracts of one thousand to three thousand acres by a few
residents of Philadelphia and vicinity.
Among these was Jeremiah LANGHORNE, of Bucks county, then
chief justice of Pennsylvania. Of
him Mr. Thomas purchased 440 acres lying along the county line between
Line Lexington and Telford, for eighty-eight pounds.
The purchase, being consummated February 12, 1718, William THOMAS
removed his growing family to his new purchase, which was entirely
unimproved. He soon erected a
substantial though modest house which continued to shelter him and some of
his descendants until nearly a century later, being demolished in 1812.
Continuing his lifelong habits of industry and thrift he was able
five years later to purchase another tract of three hundred acres one and
h half miles further north, part of which is still in possession of the
subject of this sketch. In
1725 he purchased 406 acres in two tract, one of them adjoining his first
purchase, and the other adjoining the New Britain line, where he later
erected a Baptist church and gave to the township, with land sufficient
for a graveyard. In 1728 he
purchased another fifty acres, making in all 1258 acres, whose total cost
was 361 pounds.
He continued his religious labors from the time of his arrival in
Pennsylvania, and on locating in Hilltown united himself and his family
with Montgomery Baptist church which had been founded in 1714.
This church being, however, over three miles away, he began to
minister to the Welsh Baptist settlers in Hilltown, located still farther
away from the church, first at his and their houses and in the open air,
and later at the little meeting house erected on land donated by him as
before stated. He also
assisted the Rev. Benjamin GRIFFITH in his pastorate of Montgomery
church. The meeting house
erected by him in 1737 stood for forty-four years, being demolished in
1771, and a more commodious building erected in its place.
Death closed the earthly career of this pious Welsh pioneer on
October 6, 1757, and a large flat marble slab marks his last resting place
in the shadow of the church his earnest labors had helped to establish, on
which is inscribed the date of his death and age, and the following
singularly appropriate and unique epitaph, composed by himself:
“In yonder Meeting
House I spent my breath;
mouldering here I lie in death.
These silent lips
shall wake and yet declare,
A dread Amen to
truths they published there.”
His wife preceded him, dying November 5, 1752, at the age of
seventy-two years. By his will
dated December 11, 1753, he devised to the inhabitants of Hilltown forever
the meeting house erected by himself, and the graveyard in which to bury
their dead, both to be for the use of the people of whatever religious
creed, “Papists and those who refuse to take the oath of allegiance to a
Protestant king excepted,” and, in reference to the graveyard, “those
guilty of self-murder only excepted.”
The house was also to be used for school purposes.
A considerable sum was also devised for the use of the Baptist
church. His large real estate
holdings were divided among his children, most of whom were already
settled on the lands then devised to them.
Elder William THOMAS and Ann his wife, were the parents of
Thomas, born in Wales in 1711, died in Hilltown, January, 1780.
John, born in Radnor, Delaware county, December, 1713, married Sarah JAMES,
and was for many years paster of the Montgomery and Hilltown Baptist
churches and has left numerous descendants.
Gwently, born 1716, married Morris MORRIS.
She inherited from her father the farm near the meeting house, and
she and her husband are the ancestors of the MORRIS family of that
section, and many others scattered all over the country..
Anna, born 1719, married Stephen ROWLAND, some of whose descendants
still reside in Hilltown.
Manasseh, born 1721, died in Hilltown, February 7, 1802.
William, born 1723, married Abigail DAY, and died in Hilltown in
Ephraim, a twin of Anna, born 1719, married Eleanor BATES, and died
All these children
left families and spent their lives in or near Hilltown.
Thomas THOMAS, the eldest son of Elder William THOMAS,
was the direct ancestor of the subject of this sketch.
He married in 1735, Margaret BATES, and settled in a house
erected for him by his father on the tract purchased in 1725, of Rowland ELLIS,
and this tract and fifty acres of the first purchase of his father was
devised to him later. In
addition to this he purchased in 1735 seventy-nine acres, and in 1750 he
purchased a tract of five hundred acres, but immediately conveyed one
hundred acres, each to his brothers Manasseh and John.
With the 250 acres received from his father he was therefore the
owner of 629 acres. He was a
member of the Montgomery Baptist church, but attended the Hilltown Baptist
church and became a member there on its acquiring a separate existence.
He died in January. 1780. His
first wife, Margaret BATES, died prior to 1750, leaving three
children, Morgan, born 1736, removed to New Jersey, where he died
unmarried: Ann, who married (first) John CUSTARD, and late in life
Jacob APPENZELLER: and Alice, born 1746, married John MATHIAS,
and died in Hilltown, October 25, 1810, leaving a large family.
Thomas THOMAS married a second time prior to 1750, Mary WILLIAMS,
who bore him ten children, viz.: Elizabeth, married Henry GODSHALK;
Esther, married William WILLIAMS; Job, born 1751, married
Rebecca BATES, daughter of Thomas and Sarah; Amos, born 1752,
married Ruth BATES, sister to Rebecca, removed to Virginia, where
he was a captain in the Revolution.
Jonah, born 1754 or 1755, married Sarah FREEMAN, daughter of
Richard; Catherine married Charles MILLER, and settled in
Northampton county; Asa, born February, 1758, married Martha JAMES,
daughter of Abel and Mary (HOWELL) JAMES, of New Britain, was a
soldier in the Revoluton; (sic) Sarah, born 1760, married Patrick MAITLAND,
and settled in Buffalo Valley, (Union county, Pennsylvania); Abel, born
1762, married Mary JAMES, another daughter of Abel and Mary (HOWELL)
JAMES and settled in Shenandoah Valley; Anna, twin of Abel, married
Job THOMAS, eldest son of Thomas and Mary (WILLIAMS) THOMAS,
was born on the old homestead in 1751.
Though two of his brothers were soldiers in the Revolutionary army,
he held aloof from the patriot cause, and had little faith in its ultimate
success. In 1774 his father
and mother conveyed to him 150 acres of the 500 acres tract purchased in
1750, and he later heired fifty acres additional, and lived thereon until
1793, when he sold it and removed to the Buffalo Valley with a part of his
family, and later to Shamokin, where he was killed by a falling tree in
June, 1798. His widow and
family returned to Hilltown, where the former died June 30, 1819.
Job and Rebecca BATES were the parents of eight children, as
follows: 1. Thomas, married
Mary MATHIAS. 2. Abiah,
married Sarah ASHTON. 3.
Ruth, never married: 4. Adin, married Morgan CUSTARD. 5. Zillah,
married Eber THOMAS, son of Manasseh.
6. Sarah, married Richard HEACOCK.
7. Mary, married Owen ROWLAND.
8. Ann, married Issachar THOMAS, son of Elias and grandson
of Ephraim THOMAS, third son of Elder William Thomas.
Ephraim had heired from his father a portion of the 300 acres
purchased by Elder William THOMAS in 1723, and upon which his
father had erected him a house in 1740, and this tract descended to his
son Elias, and through him to Issachar, and from him to his son Levi, who
lived thereon until his death in 1886, being then the last survivor of his
name as a landowner in Hilltown. Levi
THOMAS devised the old plantation for life to Oliver M. THOMAS,
the subject of this sketch, he being the grandson of his mother’s
brother Abiah THOMAS.
Abiah THOMAS, second son of Job and Rebecca (BATES) THOMAS,
married Sarah ASHTON. He
was a farmer for many years in Montgomery township, Montgomery county, and
had two sons, Alfred and Hiram, the former of whom died in Philadelphia in
second son of Abiah, was born in Hilltown, Bucks county, but was reared in
Montgomery county. He was for
several years a school teacher in Hatfield and other parts of Montgomery
county, and later a farmer in Montgomery township.
He died in Lower Providence township, Montgomery county.
His wife was Prudence ROBERTS, daughter of John ROBERTS,
and of Welsh descent, and they were the parents of six
children, as follows: Eliza, Kate; Oliver M., Alfred, Sarah J.,
wife of Nathan R. WAMSHER; and Robert.
Oliver M. THOMAS,
eldest son of Hiram and Prudence (ROBERTS) THOMAS, was born in
Montgomery county, July 25, 1836, and was educated at the public schools
of Gwynedd township. Early in
life he learned the trade of a blacksmith, which he followed for
thirty-two years. In 1886 he
was devised the farm on which he now resides in Hilltown, for life, by his
cousin Levi THOMAS, and has since resided thereon.
In religious matters he holds to the faith of his ancestors for
many generations, and is a member of the Baptist church.
In politics he is a Democrat. Mr.
THOMAS married November 25. 1860, Elizabeth FENSTERMACHER,
of Lower Providence township, Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, and they
have been the parents of three children: Samuel, who died at the age of
three years; Hiram Brook, who died at the age of ten months; and Eliza
Katherine, who died at the age of nine years.
Test taken from page
Davis, William W.
H., A.M., History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania [New York-Chicago: The
Lewis Publishing Company, 1905] Volume III
2004, Joan Lollis, as part of the Bucks Co., Pa., Early Family Project,
2004 on the Bucks County, Pa., USGenWeb pages at www.rootsweb.com/~pabucks/