by Jeffrey L. Thomas
Jeremiah Thomas was the sixth child of John and Elizabeth Davies Thomas of Brynmawr, Wales and Scranton, Pennsylvania, and until recently very little was known about his life. Although his name was included on the Thomas Family Tree, complied by the late Wilfred Harris of Scranton, Pennsylvania, the only information given about him on the tree were three words, fireman - Canada - killed. Fortunately, the recent discovery of certain records related to Jeremiah, have uncovered his story.
Jeremiah, or "Jerry," was born in Hyde Park/Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1856, and lived most of his life in Scranton. We first encounter Jeremiah in the 1860 census of Scranton as a 4 year old living with his mother and father and brothers and sisters in Hyde Park's 4th Ward. He appears again in the 1870 census of Hyde Park and is listed as a "mule driver in the mines," a familiar occupation of the Thomas boys, and one that would claim the life of Jeremiah's younger brother Daniel (see below).
Sometime prior to 1880 Jeremiah married Alice E. Fletcher, the daughter of Charles and Mary Ann Fletcher. The 1861 census tells us that she was born in 1857 in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England. Ship's passenger records tell us that the Fletcher family emigrated from England to America in 1870, arriving at the port of New York on board the ship "Wisconsin" on 17 July of that year. The Fletcher family makes it first appearance in U.S. census records in 1870 (Scranton), the census being taken barely a month after the family arrived in America. Unfortunately, Reports of the Inspectors of Mines of the Anthracite Coal Regions of Pennsylvania for the Year 1879, indicate that Charles Fletcher was killed in a mining accident on 3 Feb 1879, as evidenced by the below entry:
2/3 CHARLES FLETCHER, 58, married - 6 orphans, Capouse shaft, Hyde Park - ScrantonHis death certificate, on file at the Albright Library in Scranton, tells us that he died from a fall of roof coal, an all too frequent cause of death for miners in the 19th century. He was buried in the Washburn Street Cemetery in Hyde Park.
By the time of the 1880 census, Jeremiah had become a full fledged miner. The 1880 census tells us that Jeremiah and Alice Thomas were living on Decker's Alley in Hyde Park, next door to Alice's widowed mother Mary Ann Fletcher and family. Living on the opposite side next door was the family of Jeremiah's brother John J. "Drummer" Thomas.
Jeremiah and Alice were the parents of two children, born in Scranton, Mary Emily, born 10 May 1883, and Gertrude, born in July of 1885. The year 1885 was an important one for Jeremiah and family, because sometime shortly after the birth of Gertrude the family emigrated from Scranton to Hamilton, Ontario in Canada, where Jeremiah became a member of Hamilton's first Chemical Fire department Company. His name is mentioned in city directories for Hamilton in the late 1880s, and in Fire Department histories. We can only speculate as to why Jeremiah and family moved to Ontario. Perhaps he was tired of earning his living in the coal mines. We know that Alice's mother, Mary Ann and at least two of her siblings, John and Emily, also moved to Ontario, and there is some evidence that the Fletcher family may been in Hamilton prior to the arrival of Jeremiah & Alice's arrival. Based on information found in his obituary, we know that Jeremiah, or "Jerry" Thomas was an able firefighter, with enthusiasm and athletic prowess. Ironically, these two traits likely contributed to his untimely death on 23 Feb 1891, as evidenced by his obituary which appears in the Hamilton Spectator the next day, 24 Feb 1891: (special thanks to Brent Coskery for locating Jerry's obituary)
Fell from Hose Tower and was fatally Injured
The first fatality of the fire department since Chief Aitchison took command occurred Monday afternoon in the yard at the Central station. Fireman Jerry Thomas, engineer of no. 1 chemical, fell from the hose tower and was so badly injured internally that he died an hour afterwards. The sad affair has plunged the usually jolly firemen in profound sorrow and the flag flies at half mast over the Central station. Thomas leaves a widow and three children.
The Accident occurred this way: Foreman W. James with a squad of men was engaged in removing some hose which had been used at fires last week and was drying in the tower. Fireman R. Berryman went up to the top inside and was standing on the gallery. Jerry Thomas was an exceedingly agile young fellow, fond of climbing and acrobatic exercises. Instead of going up the stairs of the tower he usually took hold of the rope used in hauling up the hose, and let the other fireman haul him up to the top, when he swung onto the gallery. He took hold of the rope as usual yesterday, and the men pulled him up to near the top. Berryman was just reaching down to catch hold of him when Thomas seemed to lose his grip and, exclaiming, "My God, I'm gone," he fell towards the bottom. He still retained a grip of the rope with his legs and did not fall directly to the floor, but went down "with a run," as sailors say. The men below heard him coming and Firemen James, Glover and Cole prepared to catch him, but, when he was about twenty feet from the floor, Thomas lost his grip he held on the rope with his legs and fell over towards the wall out of their reach. He struck on his side, and his left elbow and wrist were dislocated, but no bones broken. The Chief was sent for, and the firemen gathered round their comrade, while Doctors Griffin, Cockburn and Reid were sent for. The injured man was quite conscious but suffering terribly, and Chief Aitchison saw at a glance that though the plucky fellow was quiet he was in a bad way. It was proposed to remove him to his home, but he said: "Good-Bye boys. It's all up to me. You might as well let me die here." He was moved to his home after the doctors examined him, and there, surrounded by his heartbroken wife and family and a few comrades, he died peaceably an hour later holding the hand of his chief.
Chief Aitchison was very much grieved by the awful affair, for Thomas was one of the most reliable men in the department. "It is the first fatality that has occurred since I took hold of the department" said the chief last evening. "We have never even had a man permanently injured though the boys are daring enough at fires, and take too many chances occasionally.
Thomas joined the department in 1885. He was a plucky active young fellow, who always did his duty. The deceased was thirty seven years of age. He fell about fifty feet.
Thomas was the only member of chemical company no. 1, organized three years ago in the King William street station remaining in the company.
The funeral will take place on Thursday afternoon at two o'clock. The deceased was a member of the Hyde Park Lodge, Knights of Pythias Scranton PA., and though not a member of the Canadian order, the local Knights have taken charge of the funeral.
Jeremiah was 2 months short of his 35th birthday at the time of his death. News of his death was reported just two days later in the Scranton local newspapers, as follows:
Scranton Republican, Wednesday, 25 Feb 1891 Killed in the West
Jeremiah Thomas, formerly of Hyde Park, was killed at Hamilton, Ontario, Monday at a fire. He belonged to the Ontario paid fire department.
Jeremiah was buried in the Hamilton Municipal Cemetery, Section D of the Church of the Assumption, his inscription reading as follows:
Feb 23 1891
& 10 Mo's
Jerry's mother-in-law, Mary Ann Fletcher was interred in the same plot when she died in 1913. There is an obelisk-type marker on the plot today, and although Jerry's inscription is still quite legible, the one for Mary Ann Fletcher is almost completely faded.
Life for Alice and her two young daughters must have been difficult following Jeremiah's death, however information from the 1901 Canadian census indicates that the family remained in Hamilton and that Alice did not remarry. In the 1901 census Alice and her daughters Mary and Gertrude are living in Hamilton. Alice was working in a local bakery, Mary was working in a Millinery, while the census describes Gertrude's occupation as "Tailor apprentice."
Some changes were in store for the Thomas family during the next decade. Marriage records from Hamilton indicate that on 28 Mar 1908 daughter Mary Thomas married an iron worker named Adam J. Crossman. Born circa 1879, Adam was born in Preston, Ontario and was the son of Adam Crossman and Ellen Hagarty. Adam and Mary are present in the 1911 census of Hamilton, however no children are present in the return, and at this point I do not know if the couple produced descendants. Her death certificate tells us that Mary Crossman died of pneumonia at age 45, in Hamilton, on 5 Oct 1828. She was buried in Woodland Cemetery, Hamilton (see below). The 1911 census is also significant because it shows that the widowed Alice Thomas was living with her daughter Gertrude Staunton and family, and this is the last record we have for her.
Daughter Gertrude married Frank A. Staunton on 25 June 1910. Frank was the son of John Staunton and Mary Jane Woods. Their marriage certificate tells us that Frank was a musician, while his father John is described as a "Hotel Keeper." Gertrude later married Frank F. Vaughn, about whom I have little information. In the 1911 census, we see Frank and Gertrude Staunton living in Hamilton with their son John, born 13 Mar 1903. John, or "Jack," Staunton emigrated to the U.S. in 1921, where he married and changed his name to Arthur Jerome Staunton. We find Arthur with his wife Geneva in the 1930 census of Fargo, North Dakota, and his Social Security death listing states that he also spent time in Texas. He died in Elkhart, Indiana in September of 1986.
According to Ontario birth records, we also know that Gertrude had a daughter named Arley, born 19 Dec 1904, by a man named Arthur Spellecy. Little is known of this relationship, other than the fact that Arthur Spellecy (Bartender), died of tuberculosis on 19 Sept 1907 at age 29. It appears that Arthur and Gertrude were never married, as Arthur is listed as "single" on his death certificate, while Gertrude is listed as a "spinster" on her 1910 marriage certificate to Frank Staunton. Given this, it is possible that John "Arthur Jerome" Staunton, born in 1903, was also the child of Arthur Spellecy and Gertrude Thomas. It is certainly telling that, Arley, who died in 1968 and is buried in the family plot in Woodland cemetery, has no surname mentioned on her marker, which simply says "Arley, daughter of Gertrude".
Although Jeremiah and his mother-in-law were buried in the Hamilton Cemetery, Alice and the rest of the family are buried in nearby Woodland Cemetery, close to the Royal Botanical Gardens. There are six family members buried here; daughter Mary Crossman who passed away first in 1928, followed by Alice in 1947, Mary's husband Adam Crossman in 1950, Gertrude's husband, Frank Vaughn in 1955, Gertrude in 1963, and Gertrude's daughter Arley in 1968.
Although the premature death of Jeremiah Thomas is a sad affair, family members can perhaps take solace in knowing that this previously forgotten branch of the Thomas family has been restored to its rightful place in the Thomas family tree. I would be very interested in hearing from anyone else researching this family line, especially from any descendants of Jeremiah and Alice Thomas.
Jeffrey L. Thomas
Revised October 2008
Cemetery Photos for Jerry Thomas & Family, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Hamilton Cemetery, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Church of the Ascension, Section D
The Thomas-Vaughn-Crossman Plot, Woodland Cemetery, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
(click on thunbnails for full-sized photos)
Overall view of the layout of the plot
Below: The exact layout of the plot and markers
Jeremiah Thomas, descendants register report
Death certificate of Jeremiah Thomas
Obituary of Jeremiah Thomas
Jeremiah Thomas Funeral Report
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