Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Richard Thomas Jr. (1758-1821)
MSA SC 3520-15890

Biography:

Born in Montgomery County, Maryland on February 21, 1758. Son of Richard Thomas Sr. (ca. 1728-1806) and Sarah Coale Thomas. Ten siblings: Samuel Thomas III (1753-ca. 1797); Elizabeth Thomas Johnson (b. 1755); John Thomas (b. 1760); Mary Thomas Robertson (b. 1762); Sarah Thomas Gilpin (b. 1764); Henrietta Thomas (b. 1767); Margaret Thomas Brooke (b. 1769); William Thomas (b.1771); Ann Thomas (b. 1774); Henrietta Thomas (b. 1777). Married Deborah Brooke (1764-1814) on February 27, 1783. Seven children: Eliza P. Thomas (1784-1855); Frederick Augustus Thomas (1788-1794); Mary Thomas (1791-1794); Sarah B. Thomas (b. 1794); Deborah Thomas (1796-1797); Margaret E. Thomas Garrigues (b. 1798); Roger Brooke Thomas (b. 1803). Died in Brookeville, Maryland, November 6, 1821.   

Richard Thomas Jr. was a planter, miller, and the founder of Brookeville, a town in Montgomery County, Maryland. His father, Richard Thomas Sr., was a wealthy planter and prominent landowner.1 The Thomas family was one of several early Quaker families that played a significant role in the Sandy Spring community, and Thomas was a Quaker himself. He and his family attended the Quaker meeting at Sandy Spring.2 The Thomas family operated two plantations in the Sandy Spring environs and lived at Cherry Grove, a major Georgian-style mansion in Montgomery County.3  

Along with his father and brother Samuel, Thomas supported the movement for American independence and joined the Maryland Militia during the Revolutionary War. In September 1777, he enlisted as a Private in the 1st Company, Lower Battalion, Maryland Militia. On March 10, 1778, he took the Oath of Allegiance, pledging his support to the Colonies. Thomas eventually transferred to the 7th Company, Lower Battalion, Militia in 1780.4 Because no major battles took place in Maryland, Thomas likely never fought during the Revolution. Though he may never have seen battle, his support for the independence movement violated the Society of Friends' testimony of pacifism. In August, 1778, Thomas's Quaker meeting chose to remove him (and seven other men) from full membership in the Society for affirming the Oath of Allegiance to the Colonies.5  Thomas eventually apologized for his actions and was re-admitted to the Quaker meeting in 1792.6

Thomas married Deborah Brooke on February 27, 1783.7 She was the granddaughter of James Brooke the Elder, one of the original land patent holders in eastern Montgomery County and one of the largest landowners in the county. Because Richard had not yet been re-admitted to the Sandy Spring Meeting, he and Deborah were married by a Priest, a serious violation of Quaker values.8 For this infraction, the meeting also disowned Deborah and removed her from full membership. She re-applied with her husband and three minor children in 1792, at which time the meeting invited the entire family back into membership with the Sandy Spring Quaker meeting.9

When Deborah's father, Roger Brooke IV, died in 1792, she and Richard inherited a 248-acre parcel of land known as "Addition to Brooke Grove."10 It was on this land that Thomas built a grist mill along the Reedy Branch of the Hawlings River sometime between 1791 and 1794.11 Thomas founded the town of Brookeville around 1800 when he subdivided the remaining land west of his mill into fifty-six quarter-acre lots, which he sold primarily to his relatives and neighbors.12 By 1807, about fifteen houses had been built in addition to another mill which produced castor and linseed oil, constructed by David Newlin.13 By 1813, these establishments had been joined by a tannery, two stores, a post office, a blacksmith shop, and a private boy's school.14 Thus, Brookeville became one of several key outposts of commerce and manufacturing in a largely rural area of Maryland during the early National Period.15

Like many of his wealthy Brookeville neighbors, Thomas kept slaves. In 1790, he owned at least sixteen enslaved people.16 The Society of Friends had declared slavery morally wrong as early as 1768, but because Thomas had been removed from membership, he could continue owning slaves. Less than three months before re-applying for membership in the Sandy Spring meeting in 1792, Thomas manumitted all seventeen of his slaves, likely in order to comply with meeting's strict rules regarding slave-holding by its members.17 After he had manumitted his own slaves, Thomas inherited additional slaves from his father, Richard Thomas Sr. When their father died in 1806, Thomas Jr. and his brother William became administers of his large estate.18 Thomas Sr., also a slaveholder, manumitted all of his female slaves over the age of eighteen and all of his male slaves over the age of twenty-one.19 Forty-four slaves were too young or too old to be immediately manumitted by Thomas Sr.'s will and were instead set to be manumitted after coming of age. These remaining slaves were divided equally among the residuary heirs, and Thomas Jr. took a lot of seven individuals, five of whom were under the age of seven.20 The whereabouts of these slaves in the following years are unclear, but one who had not yet reached the age of majority was still residing with Thomas up until Thomas's death in 1821, when a "Negro boy named Isaac" appears in the estate sale as having been purchased by Thomas's eldest daughter, Eliza. As a Quaker, Thomas was morally required to care for the under-aged Isaac, who continued working for Thomas up until the latter's death.21  

From 1804 until his death in 1821, Thomas intermittently served as one of four Commissioners of the Tax in Montgomery County, responsible for conducting tax assessments on property-holdings.22 When he died, on November 6, 1821, his personal property was valued at the substantial amount of $1,325.80. His real estate holdings, including his lots in Brookeville and his grist mill, were split among his four living children.23

Jackson Gilman-Forlini, DAR Research Fellow, 2012; Megan O'Hern, 2013.

Notes:

  1. Edward C. Papenfuse, et al., ed., A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789, vol. II (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), p. 812.
  2. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting; Births, Deaths, and Membership: Births, pp. 3-4, 7-8; Deaths, pp. 3-6. [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3]. 
  3. Henry C. Peden Jr., Revolutionary Patriots of Montgomery County, Maryland 1776-1783, (Westminster, Maryland: Family Line Publications, 1996), p. 322; See also: Dennis Griffith, Map of the State of Maryland, 1794, link to detail [MSA SC 1399 -1-212]"Homes: Cherry Grove," Sandy Spring Museum, last modified 2010, accessed Summer 2012.
  4. Peden, Revolutionary Patriots, p. 322.
  5. Indian Spring Monthly Meeting; Minutes (Sandy Spring), 1772-1817, 6 August 1778 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 638-1]; Catherine C. Lavoie, "Thomas-Bentley House (Madison House)," Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS No.. MD-1375) Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2011, p. 20. This document offers a detailed account of the Thomas Bentley House and the founding of Brookeville.
  6. Indian Spring Monthly Meeting; Minutes (Sandy Spring), 1772-1817, 20 July 1792 [MSA SC 2978 SCM 638-1],
  7. Martha Nesbitt and Mary Reading Miller, et. al., Chronicles of Sandy Spring Friends Meeting and Environs, Sandy Spring, Maryland: Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting, 1987, p. 73. 
  8. Quakers opposed professional clergy, including priests and reverends. Supporting these paid "hireling ministers" violated the Friend's belief that all were equal before God. To be married by a priest, therefor, was a disownable offense. See: Indian Spring Monthly Meeting; Minutes (Sandy Spring), 1772-1817, 18 April 1783 [MSA SC 2978 SCM 638-1].
  9. Indian Spring Monthly Meeting; Minutes (Sandy Spring), 1772-1817, 20 July 1792 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 638-1].
  10. Lavoie, "Thomas-Bentley House," p. 21. 
  11. Lavoie, "Thomas-Bentley House," p. 15-16.
  12. Lavoie, "Thomas-Bentley House," p. 15-16.
  13. Joseph Scott, A Geographical Description of the States of Maryland and Delaware, (Philadelphia: Kimber, Conrad and Co., 1807), p. 147.
  14. Lavoie, "Thomas-Bentley House," p. 17.
  15. Lavoie, "Thomas-Bentley House," p. 16-17.
  16. 1790 U.S. Census, Montgomery County, Maryland, p. 44, Richard Thomas Jr.
  17. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) 30 April 1792, Liber E, p. 72-73, Manumission, Richard Thomas Jr. to Negro Bet and others [MSA CE 148-5]; MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) 30 April 1792, Liber E, p. 74, Manumission, Richard Thomas Jr. to Negro Abraham and others [MSA CE 148-5].
  18. MONTGOMERY COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Wills, Original) Will of Richard Thomas Sr., 1806, MdHR 16,543-4-1/82 [MSA C1142-5, 01/17/08/42]. Isaac was born sometime in 1801. He would not reach the age of majority until 1822, after Thomas's death. The other slaves that Thomas received as part of his inheritance all reached the age of majority prior to his death.
  19. Quakers believed that it was cruel to manumit slaves who were too young to work or provide for themselves. This was defined by the age of majority (eighteen for girls, twenty-one for boys). Under-aged slaves could be manumitted, but they must remain slaves until they reach the age of majority, a date or age designated in the manumission document. Even though a young slave was manumitted, an owner was still responsible for caring for them until they reached adulthood. This is the case with Richard Thomas Sr.'s young slaves. Additionally, according to Maryland Law, slaves over the age of forty-five could not be manumitted either. See Laws of 1796, Ch. 67. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 105, p. 249.
  20. MONTGOMERY COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Estate Record) “List of the Young Negroes belonging to the Estate of Richard Thomas deceased as divided among the representatives agreeably to the appointment in 1807,” Liber L, p. 245, MdHR 12,394 [MSA C1138-10, 01/17/08/009].
  21. MONTGOMERY COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Estate Record) “A List of Sales of the Property of Richard Thomas deceased, 1st Month 3rd and 4th 1822,” Liber Q, p. 14, MdHR 12,540 [MSA C1138-18, 01/17/08/017].
  22. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE TAX (Assessment Record), 1798-1812  Inside Reverse Cover, MdHR 20,115-2-1 [MSA C1110-2, 01/18/14/018].
  23. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting; Births, Deaths, and Membership: Deaths, pp. 5-6. [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3]; MONTGOMERY COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Estate Record) "Inventory made by Nathan Holland Jr. and James Holland made 14 Dec. 1821," Liber N, p. 157,  MdHR 12,399 [MSA C1138-15, 01/17/08/014];  Mary L. Gardner, The Book of Names, (Brookeville, Maryland: The Town of Brookeville, 1994), p. 79.

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