copright © 2003 by Jeffrey L. Thomas
Tunis J. Thomas was born October 21, 1845 in Brooklyn, New York. He was one of at least seven children of William W. and Ann Thomas, who emigrated from Wales to New York sometime before their first child William Jr. was born in 1836/37. William W. Thomas was born in Wales about 1812, while Ann was born around 1813. At this point in time it is not known if William and Anne were married in Wales, and therefore arrived in America together as husband and wife. The 1860 census indicates that their first five children were born in New York, while their last two children were born in Pennsylvania. The 1860 census also makes it clear that William and family moved from New York to Pennsylvania sometime between 1848 and 1850, between the birth of their son John in 1848 and the 1850 census.
William and family make their first appearance in the 1850 census for Providence, Luzerne County, an area that would eventually become Hyde Park/Scranton in Lackawanna County. In 1850 the Thomas family included William W., age 37, farmer, wife Ann, age 37, and children William Jr., age 13, Mary J., age 9, Tunis J., age 5, and John R., age 3. The census taker erred in listing Pennsylvania as the children's place of birth, as evidenced by subsequent returns. The 1850 census is the first record we have of Tunis Thomas in America.
By 1860 the borough of Hyde Park and the City of Scranton had been split from Providence Township, and it is in Hyde Park that we find the Thomas family in the next census taken in 1860. The family included William, age 48, miner, wife Ann, age 48, and children William Jr., age 22, moulder, Julia A., age 15, John R., age 12, David W., age 7, and Ann M., age 4. Tunis Thomas, who would have been about 15, is missing from the family, while Julia, age 15 in 1860, was not included in the Thomas family ten years earlier in 1850. Actually, neither circumstance is that unusual. In 1860 Tunis was likely living elsewhere working as an apprentice blacksmith or ironworker.
The next record we have of Tunis Thomas is his Civil War record. Late in the war, on March 25 1864, he enlisted in Company H of the 76th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry for a three year term. Although the 76th PA took part in many battles, including the assault on Fort Wagner in 1863 which resulted in heavy casualties, by 1864, most of the regiment's fighting was behind them. In May 1864 the regiment saw action in Virginia, and later participated in the capture of Fort Harrison, where again, the regiment sustained heavy losses. Late in 1864 the 76th took part in the Battle for Fort Fisher in Wilmington, North Carolina. During the battle, Tunis Thomas received a concussion from an exploding shell that rendered him completely deaf in his right ear and severely deaf in his left. He was mustered out of service with the rest of his company the following year on July 18, 1865, at Raleigh, North Carolina.
Following the war, we assume that Tunis returned home to Scranton, where he married Hannah Thomas sometime before 1870. Hannah was the daughter of Welsh immigrants John J. Thomas (1823-1875/6) and Elizabeth Davis (1827-1896), who arrived in America in 1848. We get our first look at Tunis and Hannah Thomas in the 1870 census, 4th Ward (Hyde Park), City of Scranton, Luzerne Co., Pa. The census shows that Tunis and Hannah were living in a boarding house along with several other families. Tunis is listed as age 25, iron moulder, Hannah is listed as age 21, and living with them was 22-year-old John Bevan, also an iron moulder. It's logical to assume that Tunis and Hannah were newly married, since the returns shows that none of their children had been born by the time of the census. Also living in Hyde Park were Tunis' parents William and Ann Thomas and their three youngest children, John, David, and Maria. Like his brothers William and Tunis, John's occupation was "Iron Moulder", and William is listed as a blacksmith. It appears that the "Ann M." from 1860 is the same person as "Maria" in 1870.
In 1878 Lackawanna County was created from portions of Luzerne County, which included Hyde Park and the city of Scranton. In the 1880 census we find the family of Tunis and Hannah Thomas living in Hyde Park. The family included Tunis, age 35, "works in C(oal) mines", Hannah, age 31, and their children Gertrude (Gertie), age 7, John, age 5, and Rupert, age 1. It seems that by 1880 Tunis was working in the coal mines rather than in the iron industry. There is no sign of Tunis' mother and father in the returns, therefore it is possible that both died prior to 1880.
Hannah Thomas died unexpectedly on August 30, 1886 at age 37 or 38, and was buried in the Washburn Street Cemetery in Hyde Park. There is no stone to mark her final resting place. Hannah's death at this early age has yet to be explained, however there is a potential clue found in the burial records of Washburn Street. The records note Hannah's death, as well as the death of her son William in 1951. Hannah's record states that she was the "wife of Tunis J. Thomas," while William's record notes, "son of Toonis Thomas." The intriguing entry is found directly above Hannah, where a Bertha Thomas (infant) is noted as having died on April 12, 1886. Bertha's record indicates that she was the daughter of "Titus? J. Thomas," and the question mark next to "Titus" is an indication that the transcriber was unsure about the spelling of the father's first name. A recent check of the death records at the Albright Library in Scranton reveals that this Bertha was indeed the infant daughter of Tunis and Hannah Thomas, and this opens up the possibility that Hannah may have died due to lingering childbirth complications. It must be stressed that we do not know that Bertha was the cause of Hannah's death, only that such a scenario is now a possibility. Bertha is not listed in earlier Thomas family genealogies and this discovery has enabled her to take her rightful place among her surviving brothers and sisters.
Hannahs's death was mentioned briefly in the local newspaper, as follows:
The Scranton Republican, Tuesday Morning, August 31, 1886.
Died THOMAS - In Scranton, Aug. 30, 1886, Hannah, wife of Tunis Thomas. Funeral Wednesday, Sept. 1, at 2:30 o'clock p.m. Interment in Washburn-street Cemetery. All members of the G.A.R. and Loyal Ladies' League invited to attend.
The death of his wife Hannah apparently created an unbearable burden for Tunis, because six months later, he placed his sons Rupert and William in two different of soldier's orphan's schools, and in August of 1893 he sent his youngest daughter Grace to the same orphanage Rupert was attending. Neither school was near Scranton. These schools or homes were set up for the children of soldiers who had died in the Civil War, or who were disabled and therefore unable to take of their children. Students typically remained at the schools until they reached the age of sixteen. William was sent to the Soldier's Orphan's School in Harford, Susquehanna Co., Pa., while Rupert and Grace were sent to the Industrial School in Philadelphia. The records provide some interesting information, including dates of birth for Rupert, William and Grace, although William's birth date of 1884 conflicts with the 1900 census and other records which lists him as being born in 1881. The record for Grace also tells us that by 1893 Tunis Thomas was living back in Brooklyn, NY, his place of birth.
All of this helps explain the makeup the family in the 1900 census. By 1900, oldest daughter Gertrude had married Griffith Griffiths and settled in Hyde Park. In 1900 the Griffiths family included husband Griffith, age 33 - grocery store clerk, wife Gertrude, age, 27, their 3-year-old son Howard, and Gertrude's brothers Rupert, age 21 - proof reader, William, age 19 - day laborer, and sister Grace, age 17 - mail clerk in office. It is probable that all three Thomas children learned their work skills at the orphan's schools, which stressed religion, military discipline, and the learning of a trade.
In 1888 Tunis Thomas applied for a pension from the government based on his Civil War service. He was awarded a pension of $25.00 a month beginning August 27, 1888. In 1899 he was required by the Department of the Interior to provide an update on his original application, which he did on February 15th of that year. In his deposition, Tunis states that he was married to "Miss Hannah Thomas" in Scranton by the Rev. Frederick Evans, and that he had in his possession at the time his marriage certificate. He also names his living children, Gertrude, 25, John, 21, Rupert, 19, William, 14, and Grace,15. Tunis Thomas makes his final census appearance in 1910 (21st ward, Scranton), where he is listed as a 64-year-old lodger living in the household of Abram Jenkins. His occupation is given as "own income," which obviously refers to his monthly pension.
In August of 1912 Tunis applied for an increase in his pension based on the newly-passed Pension Act of May 11, 1912. In this detailed deposition, which, like the deposition of 1899, appears to have been written in his own hand, Tunis provides details about his Civil War service including disability he suffered during the Battle of Fort Fisher. He describes himself as 5'6", fair complexion, hazel eyes, and dark hair. He states that he was born in Brooklyn New York on October 21st, 1845. In describing his war injury, he states that he "was injured by concussion of shell at Fort Fisher, N.C. causing total deafness of right and severe deafness of left" (ears). He states that he was discharged from the army on July 18, 1865 in Raleigh, N.C. He also tells us that his current address is 2654 Frink Street in Scranton.
Tunis Thomas died February 18, 1913 and was buried in the Civil War veteran's section of the Dunmore Cemetery, near Scranton. His death certificate tells us that he died from pneumonia at the West Side Hospital in Scranton. His occupation was given as "Retired Moulder" and the informant was his son John Thomas. John lists Tunis' father as William Thomas, but did not know the name of his mother, perhaps a symptom of the family breakup that occurred following the death of Hannah Thomas in 1886. He was buried two days later on February 20, in the Civil War veteran's section of the Dunmore Cemetery, where today a Civil War marker marks his final resting place. His death and the report of his funeral were featured prominently in the Scranton Tribune-Republican, as follows:
The Scranton Tribune-Republican, Wednesday, February 19, 1913
Aged Veteran Dies at West Side Hospital
Tunis Thomas, aged sixty-eight years, a veteran of the Civil War and well known in West Scranton, where he resided for many years, died yesterday morning from general debility at the West Scranton Hospital, where he was taken Monday night.
During the Civil War, Mr. Thomas served in the Seventy-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers. He was a member of the Ezra S. Griffin post No. 139, Grand Army of the Republic. The body was removed to the home of the deceased's daughter, Mrs. G. Griffith, 1424 Price street, from where the funeral will be held.
The deceased is survived by the following children, all adults: Mrs. Griffith, of Price street, Rupert Thomas, now with the International Correspondence Schools in London, England; John J. Thomas and William Thomas of West Scranton, and Mrs. Frank Tropp, of Buffalo. Also surviving are two sisters and two brothers; Mrs. W.S. Jones, Mrs. George Gleason, John R. Thomas and David W. Thomas, of this city.
The funeral will be held Thursday afternoon at 2 o'clock at the home of the deceased's daughter, Mrs. Griffiths, 1424 Price street. Rev. David Jones of the First Welsh Congregational church, will officiate and interment will be in the Dunmore cemetery.
The Scranton Tribune-Republican, Friday, February 21, 1913
Tunis Thomas Buried with Military Honors
Tunis Thomas, veteran of the Civil War, was buried yesterday afternoon with military honors and a large attendance of relatives and neighbors. Mr. Thomas died at the West Scranton hospital Monday morning, aged sixty-eight years. He was admitted to the hospital Sunday evening.
The funeral services were conducted by Rev. David Jones, pastor of the First Welsh Congregational church, at the residence of the deceased's daughter, Mrs. Griffith M. Griffiths, 1424 Price street.
A detail from the Ezra S. Griffin post Grand Army of the Republic attended the funeral and had charge of the arrangements. The pall bearers were the following veterans: Joseph R. Harper, John W. Bayley, D.J. Newman, Captain J. Hines, J. Campbell and David X. Roberts. Fred E. Shelton was the commander and the firing squad was composed of John Cox, Louis Stenback, Thos. H. Allen, I.G. Sanders and Frank Zimmerman. George Berge was the bugler, Andrew Hayes the fife and Charles Van Valen, the drummer. Interment was made in the soldier's plot in Dunmore cemetery.
Tunis Thomas had spent most of his adult life working in Scranton's booming iron industry. The record shows that he served his country admirably during the Civil War, after which he returned home, married, and apparently settled down comfortably in Hyde Park. All of that changed with the death of his wife Hannah in 1886, and it is uncertain at this point if the resulting fracture in the Thomas family was ever completely healed.
Jeffrey L. Thomas
Below: grave of Tunis Thomas, Dunmore Cemetery, Lackawanna Co., Pa.
Go back a generation to Hannah's father, John J. Thomas
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