The American Revolution in South Carolina

Colonel John Thomas, Sr.

The following account is from the History of Spartanburg County by Dr. J.B.O. Landrum, 1900, with minor edits.

From the best information that can be gained, John Thomas, Sr., was born in Wales, but was reared in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Of his early education and training we know but little; but from his marriage to a lady of high culture and from the reading of his manuscript letterss, still in existence, it is to be presumed that he possessed advantages and opportunities equal to other youths of his day and time.

John Thomas married in 1740 to Miss Jane Black, who was a native of Chester County, PA, and the sister of Rev. John Black of Carlisle, the first president of Dickinson College. An interesting sketch of the life of Jane Thomas is presented in Mrs. Ellet's "Women of the Revolution," (Vol. I, p. 250), to which the reader is referred for an extended account of her character and heroic service to her country.

Some ten or fifteen years after this marriage, Mr. Thomas, with his family, removed to South Carolina. His residence for some time was on Fishing Creek, in Chester District. About the year 1762, he removed to the territory now embraced in the county of Spartanburg. His homestead residence, which can yet be pointed out, was in the vicinity of Rich Hill.

Prior to 1775, all the country between the Broad and Saluda rivers belonged to one regimental district, commanded by Col. Thomas Fletchall, whose home was on Fair Forest Creek, in the present county of Union. These regimental commanders swayed a wide influence in controlling the political sentiment of their surroundings, and as Thomas Fletchall proved to be a Tory of the worst type to the Patriot cause, it can be easily imagined the extent of the unwholesome influence which he spread over the region of the country which he commanded.

The Council of Safety at Charlestown resolved that an association was necessary, to be composed of all those who sided with the Patriot cause, or the cause of the colony against the mother country. There was left now no alternative be a mean submission or a manly resistance. The question before the people was, "Shall we live slaves or die freemen?" The instrument, or Articles of the Association were first signed by Henry Laurens, president, and members of the Provincial Congress, and then copies of the same were afterwards transmitted to the inhabitants of the Province through the different regimental commanders of the several military districts.

The copy of the instrument of association which was transmitted through Col. Fletchall was not by him submitted to the inhabitants of his district, but in lieu of this, through the assistance of his confrères, he drew up another instrument of writing to be submitted to the people, which he claimed was suited to their wishes and the conditions which surrounded them, and which was generally signed by the people from the Broad to Savannah rivers.

In response to this, a new regiment was organized, made up of inhabitants comprising the sections of what was afterwards the counties of Union and Spartanburg. A leader to command the newly-formed regiment had to be selected, which resulted in the choice of John Thomas, Sr. Col. Thomas had for many years been a magistrate and a captain of militia, but had previously resigned both. He had now arrived at an age beyond the average of the ordinary soldier, but he was a man of wide-spread influence and popularity, and was the man to inspire the people and over-awe the evil influences that were being promulgated by Fletchall and his associates.

The regiment was organized and called the Spartan Regiment, which name was doubtless conferred by Mr. William Henry Drayton, intending the same as a compliment, and comparing the material that composed it to the Greek Spartans. It was only a few months until the Spartan Regiment was called into active service. In December of 1775 occurred the famous Snow Campaign. The following summer, Col. John Thomas furnished his quota of men to augment Col. Andrew Williamson's expedition against the Cherokees.

In February of 1779, Col. John Thomas, Sr. was captured and imprisoned for fourteen months. He resumed command of his regiment until the Fall of Charleston in May of 1780. Col. Thomas, then advanced in life, with Andrew Williamson, Isaac Huger, Andrew Pickens, Isaac Hayne and others took British protection, while others preferred to remain in open partisan warfare. It was not long before the British broke their promises to the "protected" and many who had stepped aside now returned to the field. They fought through the remainder of the war, says Johnson, "with halters around their necks." Some were made to pay the penalty of their bold resolve and there is no brighter example on record that the execution of Col. Isaac Hayne of Charleston.

Col. John Thomas, having determined to cast aside the pretended protection, was taking steps to organize a regiment in the Fair Forest region when he was arrested and sent to prison at Ninety-Six. From thence he was conveyed to Charleston, where he remained until the end of the war. The regiment he was creating was immediately taken over by his son, John Thomas, Jr.

After the war, Col. John Thomas, Sr. returned to his home on Fair Forest, but soon afterwards removed to the Greenville District, where he and his wife remained until their deaths. John and Jane Thomas had nine children, and their sons and sons-in-law were active in the American service. As mentioned above, John Jr. took over his father's militia regiment. Robert, another son, was mortally wounded at Mud Lick Creek (aka Roebuck's defeat) on March 2, 1781 and died soon thereafter. Abram, who was wounded at Ninety-Six and taken prisoner, died in the enemy's hands. William, a youth who assisted in defending his home, also took part in other actions. Martha, one of the daughters, married Josiah Culbertson, a noted scout. Ann married Joseph McJunkin, a major under Col. Thomas Brandon (2nd Spartan Regiment). Jane married Capt. Joseph McCool. Letitia married Maj. James Lusk.

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