Surnames and Family Research Forum Archive
Thomas/Rapier Family-VA/Tenn/Ala/Canada & More
I posted information last week on the Book Forum about the above book, but with so many new books I am afraid that it will be lost in the shuffle. I think that the information that is provided is important, as a case study of a specific family both slave and free (but for sure not typical) and the lives they managed to live in a time, when most would say it was not possible. As with most books written by historians it has a wealth of footnotes and provides great information on sources and their location. The book also provides a sense of time and place in the various states and other countries that members of this family either lived in or visited.
Sally Thomas was born in 1787 in Charlottesville, Va. (Albmarle County) owned by Charles L. Thomas. Upon his death in 1814 and his wife in 1816, Sally and her 2 older children became part of the Thomas Estate and were sent to Nashville, Tenn. When she reached Nashville she was allowed to set up a laundry business.
From the Forward:
"How could anyone invent Sally Thomas, an African American in Nashville who worked tirelessly to insure that her 3 sons by white men all eventually found freedom - while she remained enslaved? And did so even when that meant buying the freedom of one son and encouraging another to run away to the North, where she would never see him again. Who could invent the white father of her youngest son, James, one of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court who signed the majority opinion in the Dred Scott case, asserting that the Negro "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect"? Who could foretell that, as conditions worsened for African Americans during the 1850's James Thomas would join his nephew in a quest for a freer country by traveling to Nicaragua, where the filibustering American William Walker was setting up his own rogue republic? Who could predict that Sally's oldest son John, in one of the many ironies of the peculiar institution, would raise his first 4 children as free and his next 5 as slaves? Who could devise the paths of migration that sent Sally Thomas' descendants on odysseys by covered wagon to California, by steamship to Jamaica, through Bleeding Kansas of the 1850's into howling snowstorms on the Minnesota prairie, to medical school in Michigan, to a utopian settlement of runaway slaves in Canada, and after the war to the halls of Congress from the 2nd district in Alabama."
Her two oldest sons John H. Rapier, Sr. born 1808 and Henry K. Thomas born 1809 in VA, are thought to be fathered by her owner's brother John L. Thomas.
Sally arranged for her eldest son John to work for Richard Rapier, a barge captain . Rapier moved his operations from Tenn to Alabama. When Richard Rapier died in 1824, he had left monies to buy the freedom of John from the Thomas estate in VA for $1000. John used Rapier as his surname. In 1829 John opened a barber shop in Alabama.
Sometime in 1834 Henry disappeared from Nashville and made it Buffalo, NY.....he too opened a barbershop. Always anxious that he would be found and returned to Nashville as a fugitive slave, and following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in the fall of 1851 he sold everything and moved to Buxton Canada West.
James Thomas also opened a barbershop in Nashville, he
Sally's grandson James Thomas Rapier was a congressman from Alabama during Reconstruction
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