The Thomas Family

Two-story brick house with three dormer windows.
House of Co. C.K. Thomas, Monocacy, Md. April 30, 1888

Born in 1818, Christian Keefer Thomas was a Frederick County native. For a large part of his professional life, however, he resided in Baltimore, where he was a partner in the wholesale dry goods firm of Devries, Stevens, and Thomas. In 1839, Thomas married Evelina Virginia Buckey, and within a few years their son Samuel was born. Two daughters, Alice and Virginia, would eventually complete the family.

Around 1860, Thomas sold his interest in the dry goods business, and purchased the Araby Farm that same year for $17,823.75. Thomas returned to his native Frederick County to retire, hoping to avoid the impending violence and unrest of the Civil War. The Thomas family had hardly settled in before the Civil War came to them. Because of its strategic bridges, roads, and railways, both Union and Confederate forces were active in the Monocacy area throughout the period of conflict, particularly during the Antietam (1862) and Gettysburg campaigns (1863).

Throughout his life, C.K. Thomas owned enslaved laborers. In the 1840 census Thomas is listed as living in the Buckey Township [Buckeystown, MD] and owning either four or eleven enslaved laborers. By 1845, Thomas appears in Baltimore City directories as living at 24 Pearl Street. The 1850 and 1860 Baltimore slave schedules do not show the Thomases as owning any enslaved laborers. There is no record of the fate of the enslaved laborers listed in the 1840 census. On May 24, 1860, Thomas purchased a 15-year-old boy named Daniel Ely for the sum of $600. Daniel Ely is the only enslaved laborer that the Frederick County Recorder's office lists for the Thomases in 1860. Thomas may also have hired free blacks or laborers enslaved by others. Contemporary accounts refer to multiple laborers of African descent. On July 13, 1864, C.K. Thomas told the Frederick Examiner that "among the articles taken from his house [by Confederate troops] were the clothing of his Negroes."

Although he owned slaves and is generally thought to have been sympathetic to the Southern cause, C. K. Thomas had extensive interactions with the Union army. Thomas was friendly with several soldiers from the 14th New Jersey Regiment, who camped nearby at Monocacy Junction during the winter of 1862 and 1863. A letter written on December 6, 1862, by Peter Vredenburg of the 14th New Jersery recalled a "musical party at the Thomas'." During the Gettysburg Campaign in 1863, Union General Winfield Scott Hancock headquartered in the Thomas House.

 
Three young men: two seated in front and third standing between them.
Julius Anderson, Samuel Thomas, and Hugh Gatchell commemorated their ordeal during the Battle of Monocacy with a photo.

On July 4, 1864, the Thomas's oldest child, Samuel, traveled from Baltimore with two friends to spend the holiday with his family. Julius Anderson was engaged to Samuel's sister Alice. Hugh Gatchell was engaged to Alice's friend Mamie (Mary) Tyler. On the morning of July 5, the Thomas family and their guests were lounging on the veranda at Araby after breakfast when a party of Union soldiers marched up the lawn and announced that they had an order to arrest the three young men. According to Judson Spofford, a private in the 10th Vermont, Brigagier General Erastus Tyler had noticed the young men lingering around the property and thought they intended to join the Rebel army when the opportunity presented itself. Arriving at the Union camp, however, the three men were given muskets and made to drill with the 11th Maryland Volunteers. The three men would remain with the 11th Maryland until the morning of July 9th, when a sympathetic officer, who feared they would be mistaken for spies by the Confederates since they were in civilian clothes, released them. During the battle they sheltered with James Gambrill in the mill.

The rest of the Thomas family, their laborers, friends, and neighbors hid in the cellar while heavy fighting raged around them. Years later, Alice Thomas's friend Mamie Tyler Gatchell wrote an account for the United Daughters of the Confederacy about her experience hiding in the the Thomas's basement during the battle. Gatchell recalled, "Pieces of shell were flying too near to be pleasant ... Minié balls slashed the shubbery, while the larger missiles of War's fearful instruments twisted huge limbs from the trees, leveled down chimneys, & tore out an angle of the house." Battle accounts record that the fighting "swarmed" around the Thomas House and outbuildings; the house changed hands several times over the course of the day, and Union sharpshooters occupied the upper floors before being flushed out by Confederate artillery.

While the Thomas family survived the battle unharmed, the farm continued to be a focal point of military activity: in August 1864, Union generals Grant, Hunter, Ricketts, Crook, and Sheridan used the Thomas House to plan the Shenandoah Valley campaign.

 
Damage to a wood door panel from a bullet.
While the Thomases appear to have repaired most of the damage to the house by 1870, some battle damage is still visible more than 150 years later.

NPS

After the Civil War ended, the Thomas family began the process of rebuilding. By 1868, the farm had recovered sufficiently to serve as the setting for 21 years-old Alice Thomas's wedding to Julius Anderson. C.K. Thomas did eventually file a quartermaster's claim for supplies taken in October 1873. He does not appear to have ever made a claim for the damages to the property or buildings.

The 1870 census reveals that the Thomas household included the immediate family (minus Alice) as well as black and white laborers. In addition to C.K. (age 52) and Evelina (age 49), Samuel (age 24) had moved home from Balitmore and was farming his parents' land. Mary Virginia was 13 years-old and attending school. Lydia Layman was a 38 years-old, literate, single white housekeeper. Farm laborer Hanson Giddings (age 30) and his wife Caroline (age 36) are noted as black and illiterate; they had two children Mary (age 10) and John (age 9). Neither child is listed as attending school. Four other men were listed as part of the Thomas houshold: Vernon Diggs (age 16), Dane Murdoch (age 18), and David Butler (age 25) are all listed as laborers and black; Henry Green is listed as a white farm laborer. In 1875, David Butler purchased 17 acres from C.K. and Evelina Thomas for $400. By 1880, only David Butler remained employed by the Thomases and the majority of the farm may have shifted to tenants. An 1889 Frederick Evening Post article mentions a tenant on the Thomas Farm was maimed by unexploded ordinance left over from the battle.

Samuel's return home appears to have freed his father to pursue an active role in the community. In the 1870s, C. K. Thomas became active in local politics, serving as president of both the Agricultural Society and the School Board.

C. K. Thomas died in 1889, after a prolonged respiratory illness; his obituary described him as a "gentleman of pleasant manners" and remarked that "his beautiful home was noted for its hospitality and delightful social entertainments."

The farm remained in the Thomas family until 1910. It was acquired by the National Park Service in 2001.

 

Last updated: June 23, 2020

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Frederick, MD 21704

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