Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Elizabeth Courts Thomas (1789-1851)
MSA SC 3520-2254
First Lady of Maryland, 1833-1836
 


Elizabeth Courts Thomas was born in Charles County, Maryland in 1789 to Betsy Thomas of St. Mary's County and William Courts.1 Courts, a wealthy landowner, was the great grandson of John and Margaret Courts, indentured servants who were eventually able to buy their freedom; their family prospered thereafter. Their son, also called John, married well and entered politics.2 His grandson, William Courts, had an interest in public service as well; he served in the Lower House as a representative for Charles County.3 Sadly, his daughter, who would later wed the twenty-third Governor of Maryland, would never know her father as his life was cut short by a sudden illness. He died in 1792 at the age of 39.4

The management of the family farm then fell to Eliza's mother, Betsy, who, it seems, took to it with much energy and sense. In a letter to her brother in 1795, she shows how comfortable she is in the role of a businesswoman. She says, "I have not yet sold my wheat. 12/6 - 60ll to the bushel is the highest that has been offered me, but I expect more may be got at Chaptico in a few days."5 Several documents in the Thomas family papers suggest that soon after the death of her husband, Betsy Courts left her estate in the hands of an overseer and moved with her children, Eliza and Maria, to her family home, St. Mary's County.6 She became ill and died in 1807.7 Less than a year later, her daughter Eliza married her first cousin, Doctor James Thomas on January 26, 1808.8

James Thomas was the son of William Thomas, Betsy Courts' brother, and Catharine Boarman.9 As he pursued his political career, Eliza cared for the children. Little is known of Eliza during these years until 1827, when letters were exchanged between Eliza and James and their eldest daughter, Elizabeth, away at school in Baltimore. The first real picture of her comes in a letter from the Governor to his daughter away at school in 1828. In it, he suggests that she appreciate the good qualities of her brother derived, he says, from Eliza, instead of concentrating on the little boy's poor looks.10

Two letters, both written by Eliza herself, to her daughter, Elizabeth in 1828 and to her son, Henry, in 1846 open a small window into the character of Eliza Thomas. She is revealed to be a woman of optimism, a woman interested and aware of the business of the family farming operation (perhaps a characteristic inherited from her mother), and a woman in possession of that quality peculiar to good mothers in all eras and in all places -- the ability to simultaneously comfort and admonish; to empathize with her daughter's horrible plight of being sent away to school and at the same time to lightly chastise her for not being through with her studies so that she may "acquire that infirmation [sic] which will benefit" her and "be the greatis [sic] satisfaction to [her] parents."  She shows the magnanimousness of a mother who wishes for her child a better education than she had herself.11

Eliza Courts Thomas died in 1851.12 She was buried at her home "Deep Falls." She left no will. No inventory has been discovered. Little is known of her life. Her letters, though few, suggest what her personality may have been.

Notes on sources

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