Born: c. 1810 (Census data puts his birth at 1812 or 1813)
Died: April 30, 1894
Married: Mary Vanderhyden
John Thomas was born a slave in Maryland. In 1840, he escaped, and over the next several years made his way via the underground railroad to Franklin County, where he eventually created a thriving farm near Bloomingdale.
His great great grandson, Oscar Morehouse, lives in Vermontville.
The 1860 U. S. Census has black farmer John Tomas (47) born in Deleware, Mary (45), Charlotte A. (10), & Rachel C. (8) living in Franklin, Bloomingdale Post Office. The value of real eatate was $600 and Personal Value was $300.
The 1870 U. S. Census has black farmer John (58) born in Md., Mary (56), Charlotte (20), Caroline (17), and Elizabeth (3) living in Franklin, Bloomingdale Post Office. The value of real eatate was $2,000 and Personal Value was $457. John could not read or write (this would be expected of an ex-slave).
The 1880 U. S. Census has widowed or divorced black farmer John (68) born in Md., living in Franklin with no family. Daughter Charlotte & Warren Morehouse on same page.
Malone Palladium, May 10, 1894
THOMAS.—In Franklin, N. Y., at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Charlotte Morehouse, on Monday, April 30, 1894, John Thomas, aged 83 years and six months.
The subject of this sketch was born a slave in Queen Anne county, Maryland, in October, 1810, on the plantation of EZEKIEL MERRICK. In 1833 he married and by this wife had two children - both of whom died in infancy. His wife was then sold from him and taken away to Georgia. In the spring of 1840 be made an attempt for liberty, and was successful. He started afoot with two fellow slaves, and, making their way safely to the city of Philadelphia, there found friends who attended to their wants and kept them secreted for six weeks. Then, through the aid of the underground railroad (so called at that time) Mr. Thomas was sent North, reaching the city of Troy, N. Y., in August. There he remained seven years, and while there he married MARY A. VANDERHYDEN, by whom he had three children, of whom two are still living. September 1st, 1846, while Mr. THOMAS was living in Troy, GERRIT SMITH, of Peterboro, N. Y., the ever faithful and true friend of the colored man, gave him a deed of 40 acres of land in Township 9 of the Old Military Tract in Franklin county, and he came on to occupy it, but as it was in an unbroken wilderness and far from neighbors he sold it and returned to Troy. Afterwards, with his family, he moved to Franklin, near Bloomingdale, N. Y., and bought a wild lot. By constant hard work he transformed the then wild spot into a fine cultivated farm. Mr. Thomas was an honest, upright and fair dealing man, a good citizen and much respected in the community where be lived so long. H. D.
From the Winter 2006/Spring 2007 issue of The North Country Lantern, a publication of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association
John Thomas was born into slavery on the plantation of Ezekiel Merrick in Queen Anne’s County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He escaped in 1839 after his wife and children were "sold to Georgia." In the company of two other slaves, he reached Philadelphia. He was secreted there for six weeks and then sent to Troy, N.Y. He married Mary Vanderhyden in Troy, and they started a new family.
In 1846, Mr Thomas received 40 acres in Franklin Falls from the wealthy abolitionist Gerrit Smith. When slave catchers came for him, local white men warned them that Thomas was "armed and would never be taken alive" and that they would "stand by him." The slave catchers turned back.
Because his land was too far from "church and school," Mr. Thomas sold his 40 acres and returned to Troy. Later, he returned to the Adirondacks and purchased 50 acres near Bloomingdale. By 1872, he was the proud owner of 200 acres. When Mr. Thomas died on April 30, 1894, he was eulogized in the Malone Palladium as "an honest, upright and fair dealing man, a good citizen" who was "much respected."
Frederick J. Seaver, Historical Sketches of Franklin County, Albany, NY: J. B. Lyon Co., 1918, p. 644
The story used to be current in Franklin Falls, Vermontville and Bloomingdale that [John Thomas'] former master located him, and sent agents to apprehend him and return him to slavery; that these actually proceeded as far as Franklin Falls on their mission, but that upon being warned there that Thomas was armed and would never be taken alive, and that the local whites would stand by him, with certainty that some one would be killed, they abandoned their purpose, and turned back...
- "Generations of freedom: Legacy of John Thomas lives on through family", Plattsburgh Press Republican, February 18, 2007
- Robin Caudell, "Two Saranac Lake sisters return to unknown Maryland roots", Plattsburgh Press-Republican, February 18, 2007
- The North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association and North Star Underground Railroad Museum at AuSable Chasm have additional information and resources about John Thomas, including a multi-media presentation "The John Thomas Story". Specific details about Thomas can also be found via the People and Places section of their web page in Franklin County page 2. http://northcountryundergroundrailroad.com/