John J. Thomas, Jr. (1850-1923)

"Drummer" Thomas

Welsh Miner - American Businessman

John J. Thomas, Jr. was the third child of Welsh immigrants John J. Thomas and Elizabeth Davis, and the first of their sons born in America. He was the namesake of both his father and grandfather. The Thomas family was from the town of Brynmawr in Breconshire, south Wales, where John's father and his grandfather had worked as coal miners. In 1848 the Thomas family emigrated from Wales to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where John Sr. continued his work as a miner. John's oldest sister Elizabeth was born in Wales in 1847 and traveled to America with her mother and father. Sister Hannah was born 1849, followed by John Jr. who was born in south Scranton on July 27, 1850. According to his obituary, shortly after his birth the Thomas family moved from south Scranton to west Scranton in what would eventually become the community of Hyde Park. John Jr. makes his first appearance in the 1850 census for Providence Township, a large area that at the time included Scranton, Hyde Park, as well as other surrounding communities.

The next time we see John is in the 1860 census. By 1860 the boroughs of Hyde Park and Scranton had been formed from parts of Providence Township. By this time the Thomas family had grown to include seven children. The returns of 1860 again list John Thomas Sr. as a miner, this time owning real estate valued at $350.00 and personal property valued at $100.00. This piece of information tell us that John J. Thomas was making progress in his adopted country, and had managed to purchase a home within 10 years of the family's arrival. John Jr. is listed as a 10 year old. In addition to Elizabeth, Hannah and John, by 1860 the Thomas family included brothers David, Thomas, Jeremiah, and Mary.

Although John Jr. eventually followed his father into the mines, becoming a full-fledged miner by the age of 21, at sixteen years of age he took up playing the drum, specifically the snare drum. Far from being just an idle pastime, John's skill on the drums soon earned him critical acclaim that extended beyond his own community. According to his obituary:

"Mr. Thomas at sixteen years was one of the famed manipulators of the snare drum in this section of the country and was a member of Diller's band famous a half century ago. His work attracted the attention of band leaders far and near and many tempting propositions were made to him."

His expertise with the drum and his local popularity soon earned him the nickname "Drummer Thomas," and for the rest of his life he was known and commonly called by this name.

In addition to being a miner, as a boy John also began training as a fireman. In the early days of the Franklin Fire company he was chosen as a torch boy and eventually became a regular fireman. Later he became a member of Hook and Ladder company, No.1, of the volunteer fire department when it was organized and continued in its service until it became a part of the regular city fire department.

By the time of the 1870 census, the 20-year-old John Thomas was a full-fledged coal miner, working alongside his father and brothers in the D.L.& W's Diamond mines in Hyde Park. Sometime before 1875 John married Mary ? who was born in Wales, and emigrated with her family to Scranton circa 1861. They had the following children: Elizabeth, 1875-1944), married Benjamin R. Evans; Frank, (1877-1892); Burton, born 1879, married Doris Kitchner; Edith, born (1882-1967) married Richard Purdon; Oscar W., (1885-1958), married Grace Smith; Daniel, (1890-1953), married Margaret Conway. z

We finally see the family of John and Mary Thomas in the 1880 census, living on Decker's Alley in Scranton's 4th Ward (Hyde Park). Living next door were John's brother Jeremiah and his wife Alice, and Alice's mother Mary Fletcher and her children still at home. John's occupation is given as "works in C mines," and his household included his wife Mary, and their children Elizabeth, Frank and Burton. We have little other information about the family during the next two decades. By 1900 children Edith, Grace and Daniel had been born, while son Frank died in 1891. The census of 1890 was destroyed by fire and is no longer available.

The recently-discovered death certificate of son Frank Thomas, shows that he died in what appears to be a mining accident on February 20, 1892, at the age of fifteen. His cause of death is listed as "crushed thigh/skull fracture," and his occupation is given as "driver boy," an indication that he was a mule driver in the mines. If so, Frank's death is eerily similar to the death of Daniel Thomas, his father's brother, a mule driver who died in the mines in 1888 at the age of sixteen.

In the late 1890s, John J. Thomas purchased the Bull's Head hotel in the community of the same name, located at the corner of North Main avenue and Providence road. The small community of Bull's Head was located in Scranton's 2nd Ward, between Hyde Park and Green Ridge. It is not know when the Thomas family moved to this section of town, but it is here that we find the family of John J. Thomas, Jr. in the 1900 census. The 1900 census shows that John J. Thomas was a "hotel keeper" and the owner of his residence. Present in the Thomas family were his wife Mary, children Elizabeth, Bert, Edith, Oscar, Daniel, and Elizabeth's husband Benjamin Evans. Son Burt's occupation is listed as "bar tender," (for the hotel), while Benjamin Evans is listed simply as a laborer. The returns also indicate that Mary Thomas was the mother of seven children, only five of whom were living at the time. If true, then there is a seventh child of John and Mary Thomas that remains unidentified.

Circa 1908, John Thomas sold the Bull's Head hotel and moved further north to the community of Dalton, where he purchased yet another hotel, the historic Dalton House, and resumed his occupation of hotel keeper. The Dalton House was built in 1810 and at one time had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately the hotel was later de-listed from the register, and sadly torn down in 1999.

We learn more about the Dalton House and Drummer Thomas in excerpts from the 1897 book, A History of Dalton, Pa., by Norm Brauer.

In 1850 Lyman Dixon opened the first hotel in a building he erected on the corner of East Main Street and Lily Lake Road. Work was starting on the D.L.&W. Railroad when Dixon conceived of the idea for a hotel where he would dispense alcoholic drinks. Lyman Dixon made enough money to build in 1855 the large hotel that still stands in "Dazzling Downtown Dalton." (Dixon) ran the hotel successfully until 1870, when he moved back to Moscow, Pennsylvania, where he built and ran another hotel. Dewitt Bailey was the next proprietor followed by a succession of owners who each ran it a few years. John J. "Drummer" Thomas of Hyde Park bought the hotel in 1908 and ran it as a popular hostelry for many years until his death in 1923. During this time it was a favorite place for summer boarders and traveling salesmen. The 1890s had also seen it as a favorite spot where sleighing parties gathered. The hotel boasted a large livery stable and barn for horses that stood across the road. After the advent of the automobile, the barn was sold in 1923 to Forest Mosier, who ran a blacksmith shop there for many years.

During the building of the D.L.&W. cut-off (1913-1916), thirty three workmen on the new right-of-way stayed at the hotel. Dan and Oscar Thomas, sons of "Drummer" Thomas, ran the hotel for about five years after their father's death and then sold it to Michael Martin, who tried to run it during Prohibition but went bankrupt and the property reverted to the Thomas family.

According to his obituary, John Thomas was an important citizen of Dalton and contributed greatly to the growth of the community. In addition to running his hotel successfully for some fifteen years, he also helped organize the community's own fire company. In the census of 1910, the Thomas household included John, Mary, their children Elizabeth, Edith, Oscar, Daniel, and Elizabeth's husband Benjamin Evans and their son John. John Thomas occupation is given as "hotel keeper," while his son-in-law Benjamin Evans is listed as the hotel clerk.

Our final glimpse of the Thomas family is ten years later in the 1920 census. John was still operating the Dalton House, and his household included his wife Mary and his children Oscar Grace and Daniel. By this time John J. (Drummer) Thomas was 70 years old and in the final years of his life. He died in Dalton on January 30, 1923 and was buried in the family plot at the Forest Hill cemetery in nearby Dunmore. His substantial obituary appeared in the next day in the Scranton times, and provides many valuable details about his life:

Scranton Times 31 Jan 1923
J.J. Thomas, Owner of Dalton House, is Dead

Man was Better Known as "Drummer" Thomas - Lived and was Prominent Here for Years.

John J. Thomas, aged seventy-three years, for fifteen years the proprietor of the Dalton House, died yesterday afternoon at 5:30 o'clock at the family home in Dalton. Mr. Thomas was one of the best known citizens of this section of the state and was familiarly called "Drummer" Thomas because of his marked ability in playing drums.

He was born in South Scranton, a son of Mr. and Mrs. John J. Thomas, Sr., and early in life removed with his parents to West Scranton, where for more than a quarter of a century he took a prominent part in the affairs of the then thriving borough of Hyde Park. In the early days of the Franklin Fire company he was chosen as a torch boy and made a record as a fire fighter. Later he became a member of Hook and Ladder company, No.1, of the volunteer fire department when it was organized and continued in its service until it became a part of the present city department.

Mr. Thomas at sixteen years was one of the famed manipulators of the snare drum in this section of the country and was a member of Diller's band famous a half century ago. His work attracted the attention of band leaders far and near and many tempting propositions were made to him.

Worked in the Mines

His early education was received in the public schools of West Scranton, after which he became engaged in mining. Much of that time was spent in the Diamond mine of the D.L.& W. Co. He worked under the late Reese T. Evans and James A. Evans, now retired, both foreman of the colliery in days gone by.

Twenty-five years ago Mr. Thomas purchased the Bull's Head hotel at the intersection of North Main avenue and Providence road. Later he disposed of his interests in this city and purchased the Dalton House, where he has been very successful. During the fifteen years he has made his home at Dalton he was a most useful citizen. He took part in the development of the village and was one of the charter members of the fire company recently organized. He is a member of the Railroad lodge, Knights of Pythias, of Scranton.

Surviving him are his widow and the following children: Mrs. Elizabeth Evans, Mrs. Richard Purdon, Burton, Oscar and Daniel Thomas, and four brothers, David, William, Hosie and Frank Thomas.

The funeral will be held Friday afternoon from the late home in Dalton.

John's wife Mary died the following year on December 23, 1924, and her obituary also appeared in the Scranton Times the following day:

Scranton Times, December 24, 1924

Mrs. Mary Thomas, aged sixty-eight years, widow of John J. (Drummer) Thomas, died yesterday afternoon at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Edith Purdon, 1530 Green Ridge street. Death resulted from and illness that became critical on Saturday, Her death came as a sudden blow to her many friends. Mrs. Thomas was a native of Wales, and came to this country during her childhood. Her family settled in West Scranton, later removing to the Bull's Head section, where the late husband of the deceased became proprietor of the Bull's Head hotel. After removing to Dalton, he became owner of the hotel at that place. Mrs. Thomas had made her home with her daughter since February. She was a member of the First Welsh Baptist church, West Scranton, and the Woman's Welsh Society. Surviving are the following children: Mrs. Ben R. Evans, Burton Thomas, Mrs. Edith Purdon, and Oscar and Daniel Thomas. Funeral services at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Edith Purdon, 1530 Green Ridge street, at 2:30 o'clock Friday afternoon. Burial will be in the Forest Hill Cemetery.

John and Mary Thomas would eventually be joined in the family plot in Forest Hill, by their children Elizabeth, Edith, Oscar and Daniel. Although Drummer Thomas was the father of six children, my research shows that those children produced only one grandchild, daughter Elizabeth's son John Evans, who died in 1941 at age thirty-eight. At this point it is not known if John Evans married and had children, hence the unfortunate possibility that Drummer Thomas has no living descendants.

John J. Thomas, Jr., or "Drummer Thomas" as he was known to his friends and acquaintances, had spent his formative years in Hyde Park, where he contributed to the tremendous growth of what was arguably the most significant Welsh community in America at that time. As a young man he worked as a coal miner and a fireman, and when the Welsh mining community began declining towards the end of the century, he was one of many former miners who made the transition to successful businessman. He purchased and operated two different hotels, and in his later years helped establish a new fire department in the community of Dalton. As such, Drummer Thomas had succeeded in making the transition from Welsh coal miner to American entrepreneur.

Jeffrey L. Thomas
January 2004

Below: The J.J. "Drummer" Thomas plot in Forest Hill Cemetery, Dunmore. Click on the thumbnails to view the plot and the individual markers. The orientation of the markers matches the actual layout of the plot.


John J. Thomas, Jr. and Diller's Band

According to the obituary of John J. "Drummer" Thomas found above:

Mr. Thomas at sixteen years was one of the famed manipulators of the snare drum in this section of the country and was a member of Diller's band famous a half century ago. His work attracted the attention of band leaders far and near and many tempting propositions were made to him.
The leader of Diller's Band was Scranton resident Henry G. Diller. Diller was born in Germany in 1833 and died in Scranton 20 Sept 1914. Diller's obituary mentions his band and its members, including John "Drummer" Thomas:

"In 1855 he organized a band in Honesdale with William H Ham, Thomas J Ham, Thomas Benny, Miles & Thomas Tracy, John Dudley, George Seely and William Fuller. He moved to Scranton in 1864 and formed another band. When it broke up 2 members H.J. Bauer & Professor Cogswell organized bands. The members of the band in Scranton were : John Thomas, Jacob Smith, Frank Gardner, Chris Buller, Anthony Weinschenck, Fred Oettinger, Simon Birgley, John Gefrerer, Ferdinand Burger, George Hartman And Mr Diller".

An additional reference to "Diller's Band" is found on a web page reporting on a lecture and concert series held in Chautauqua, Pennsylvania during the summer of 1887. Apparently, Diller's Band took part in the festivities at Chautauqua several times during the summer of 1887, and I have included below excerpts from the report that mention the band.


The following program contains only the public exercises of the Summer Sessions at Chautauqua. Stenographic reports of about eighty of the lectures here announced will be printed in the Chautauqua Assembly Herald. The price of this paper is $1.00 per volume of nineteen issues; in combination with THE CHAUTAUQUAN to all subscribers sending in their subscriptions before August 1, $2.25. Address Dr. T.L. FLOOD, Meadville, Pa.

CONCERTS: A regular concert will be given. every Saturday through out the season. Prof. W. F. Sherwin, Director.

LAKE CONCERTS: Will be given by the Assembly on the steamer-Jamestown as follows:


Although the photograph below is not Diller's Band, it does depict a coronet band from Scranton in the late 1800s. As such, the photograph is likely a typical of how these bands appeared at the time Drummer Thomas was a member of Diller's Band.

Photograph of the Dalton House
Death certificate of John J. "Drummer" Thomas
Return to the main page at the Thomas family web site
Return to the main page at the Thomas GenWeb site

Web site copyright 2003 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved