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Paternal Ancestors
Written March 2021


Here are my Grandfather and Grandmother Thomas with their six children at their golden wedding anniversary in 1957.  She was the former Lydia Morton, a granddaughter of a Scholl.  That's my father Vernon Morton Thomas standing directly behind her.

But the story of that side of my family goes back much further than that.  I've tinted the text about the Thomas line in sepia and the Scholl line in blue.

••• When Andrew Jackson fought the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, my ancestor Archibald Thomas was there.  Click on the highly retouched daguerrotype, and with animation by Deep Nostalgia, he'll check out your 21st-century surroundings and then even smile for you!

•• When the Alamo fell in 1836, among the defenders from Tennessee were Davy Crockett — and my great-granduncle B.A.M. Thomas.

••• When America entered World War I in 1917, one German-born American on the home front was another ancestor, George Frederick Scholl.

Yes, with the help of ancestry.com and family lore, I can trace my origins back more than two centuries!

I am the great-great-grandson of Dr. Archibald D. Thomas, born in 1780 near the end of the American Revolution in the new state of Virginia.  His father was Archibald White Thomas of Scotch-Welsh extraction, and he grew up to marry Tabitha H. Dixon, two years younger than himself.

Across the ocean at Mannheim, Germany, Adam Scholl and Mary Magdalina Pommert were each born in 1807.  I am their great-great-great-grandson.

Early in the 19th century, Archibald D. Thomas moved to Springfield, Tennessee, 25 miles north of Nashville in Robertson County.  He became only the third medical doctor in that city.

According to a history of Robertson County, “A few of the settlers brought slaves with them and a small contingent of free blacks lived in the county in the 1790s.  However, the majority of the region's inhabitants used no slave labor.”  Late in the 20th century, my uncle happened to mention the subject.  Had any of our ancestors been slaveholders?  “I don't think so,” Uncle Hubert told me; “I hope not.” 

During the War of 1812, a local man, Col. Archer Cheatham, commanded the 2nd Regiment of Tennessee Militia. Dr. Thomas enlisted on January 28, 1814, and served as a surgeon's mate during the “Creek War.”  Later he reportedly joined Gen. Andrew Jackson's forces for the Battle of New Orleans.

Returning to Springfield, Dr. Thomas joined Dr. E.H. Hicks in establishing a medical office on the west side of the courthouse square.  I've marked the spot with a flag in this modern view.  (Nowadays Springfield has a population of 17,000.)

A new Masonic Lodge at Springfield, to be called United Lodge No. 20, was approved in 1817.  Dr. Thomas was to be the Worshipful Master.  But the dispensation was surrendered when another lodge moved into the city from the western part of the county.

A boy was born to Archie and Tabitha in 1818, and they gave him a mouthful of a name:  Benjamin Archer Martin Thomas.  Back then many men were known by their initials (for example, the aforementioned E.H. Hicks).  Therefore young Ben, bearing two middle names, became known as B.A.M. Thomas.

A second child, Elizabeth, followed in 1819.  However, her mother Tabitha died in 1826.  That same July in neighboring Sumner County, Archie remarried at the age of 46.  His second wife was 25-year-old Edith Hardaway White.

Adam Scholl was now a weaver's apprentice in Heidelberg, Germany.  In 1828 he and Magdalina had a son whom they named George Frederick.

“In the 1830s, many Tennessee men and even entire families went to Texas,” wrote Charlotte Reedy in the Robertson County Times.  “The idea of wide-open spaces, plenty of buffalo to hunt, and new opportunities drew them west.”  One of those men was David Crockett.  President Ulysses S. Grant suggested another motivation in his Personal Memoirs.  He wrote that American Southerners settled in the part of Mexico called Texas as “a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American Union.”  If that's true, it's certainly downplayed in modern-day histories of Texas.

Archie's son B.A.M. had “flaxen hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion.”  He grew up but never grew tall, with a “low and well-set stature, below ordinary height.”  Nevertheless, he was adventurous.  Emulating his father's military example, he searched out the action at the age of 18.

According to Ms. Reedy, “Four men from the area traveled to Texas late in 1835:  Peter Bailey, William Fauntleroy, B.A.M. Thomas, and Joseph G. Washington.  All four took an oath of allegiance to Texas.”  That was in January 1836.  Joining the Volunteer Army Corps, they arrived at San Antonio de Béxar on February 9 and were garrisoned at the Alamo.

An army of 1,500 Mexicans arrived two weeks later, attacked on March 6, and killed almost all of the “Texians” including my great-granduncle. 

A century later, his name was engraved near the right edge of the memorial cenotaph.

Back in Springfield, Dr. Thomas became a charter member of the First Methodist Church, which bought Lot No. 57 from him, erected a wood frame building, and held its first services in May 1837.  His descendants would also be Methodists.

A son, Richard Foster, and a daughter, Mary Edith, were born to Archie and Edith  in 1842 and 1845 respectively.

Near the age of 70, he posed for this photograph.

Elsewhere, more than a million German people emigrated to the United States in the decade beginning in 1845.  They were fleeing political unrest, including riots that would lead to the revolution of 1848, and economic hardship, including unemployment and crop failures.

One immigrant family was the Scholls, who boarded the Alliance at Le Havre in June of 1846.

Adam and Magdalina were accompanied by their four children:  George Frederick (now 17),  Elisabeth (13), Barbara (6), and Nicholas (3).

Along with 205 other passengers, the Scholls arrived at New York on the 21st of July.  Then they traveled via rail to Buffalo, via lake to Cleveland, and via the Ohio and Erie Canal to Columbus.  The populace in Ohio's capital was then almost one-third German.

The Scholls remained in Columbus for a year before moving 50 miles further down the canal to Chillicothe.  Adam and Magdalina would spend the rest of their lives there, passing away in 1895 and 1899 respectively.

However, the teenager in the family, George Frederick, soon moved away from home.  He took up the trade of a cooper, assembling and repairing casks and barrels.

The barrelmaker traveled the rest of the way down the canal to Portsmouth.  Then he continued for 436 miles down the Ohio River, past Cincinnati, past Louisville, to Evansville in the state of Indiana.  There he married Helen Martin in 1853.

The youngest Scholl immigrant, Nicholas, remained in Chillicothe.  He would grow up to patent an ironing board, and at the age of 36 he established the Champion Bosom Board Company.

In 1852, Dr. Archibald Thomas passed away at Springfield, Tennessee.  When the Civil War began in 1861, his 60-year-old widow was working as a seamstress.

Their son Richard Foster Thomas (I'll call him R.F. from now on) was a 19-year-old clerk still living at home.

“For most residents,” a historical marker tells us, “Robertson County was a difficult place to live during the war.  Union forces occupied the county and made the town of Springfield a military base.”

R.F. fought on the side of the Confederacy.

Meanwhile, Louann Adelia Vick, five years younger than him, was growing up 25 miles to the north in Russellville, Kentucky.

When this fine-looking couple were married in Russellville in 1872, the groom was described in a clipping as a Methodist and a Mason and “the handsome editor of the Springfield Record.”  They were destined to become my great-grandparents.

Later, both of my ancestral families would relocate to Livermore, Kentucky, on the Green River upstream from its mouth at Evansville.

George Frederick Scholl moved 40 miles southeast from Evansville.  In 1880, his 20-year-old daughter Emma Jame married Patrick Henry Morton in Livermore.  Their third child, born in 1889, was Lydia Corene Morton, my future grandmother.

R.F. Thomas, pictured on the right, traveled 50 miles north from Russellville and found employment at a Livermore flour mill.  His son Hubert Foster (H.F.) Thomas, born in 1881, was my future grandfather.

H.F. and Lydia were wed in 1907, beginning 58 years of married life together.

And, as you already know, their second son — Vernon Morton Thomas, born in 1909 — would become my father! 


Postscript:  It was in that same year of 1909 that great-great-grandma Helen Martin Scholl passed away at the age of 74. 

However, her husband, seen here in a composite illustration, survived until the age of 95.

When I was a teenager visiting my Grandmother Thomas, I slept in the spare bedroom in the back.  Over the old iron bedframe with its thin mattress hung scary pictures of her grandparents, these two long-dead ghosts.  I tried to avoid looking at them.

George Frederick Scholl was 89 when the United States declared war on his native country during World War I.  Although he had been an American citizen for over seven decades, to some patriots he was an enemy alien.  "There are citizens of the United States," President Woodrow Wilson declared, "born under other flags but welcomed under our generous naturalization laws to the full freedom and opportunity of America, who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life!"

There was no reason to suspect my great-great-grandfather of treachery, but he did possess a book in the German language.  Officials examined it.  They couldn't decipher the foreign words, but there were many many of them, and some might have been instructions for saboteurs.  Therefore they confiscated the widower's Bible.



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