My Genealogy Hound

Below is a family biography included in the Biographical Annals of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania published in 1905 by The Genealogical Publishing Company.  These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

* * * *

COL. ROBERT H. THOMAS. Among the prominent men who have long been held in honor in Cumberland county few have been more conspicuous than Col. Robert H. Thomas, one of the leading citizens of Mechanicsburg. For forty years he has been identified with the commercial, educational and civic growth of that city, and still, at the age of seventy years, directs large interests and influences great bodies. He was born in Philadelphia, Jan. 28, 1834, of a sturdy ancestry, Welsh-English on one side, and Scotch-Irish on the other, a combination which has produced some of the finest minds of this generation.

In paternal lines (Welsh-English) his great-great-grandmother, Ruth (Morton) Nicholson, was a sister of John Morton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In the next generation, Col.Thomas’ great-grandmother, Ruth (Nicholson) Harper, lost her birthright in the Quaker meeting because of her marriage with Edward Harper, an officer in the British army, and a Church of England man.

Elisha Thomas, great-grandfather of Col. Thomas, married Ann Waln, a sister-in-law of Thomas Mifflin, governor of Pennsylvania, in 1790, through whom he (Elisha) became connected with some of the minor affairs of State.

Robert Thomas, son of Elisha, was born five miles from Germantown, Oct. 4, 1777, the day when the Continental army under Gen. Washington met the opposing British force under Gen. Howe and fought the historic battle of Germantown.

Rev. Edward H. Thomas, son of Robert, and father of Col. Thomas, was born in Philadelphia. Losing his father when he was a mere boy, he was obliged to depend upon himself for his education, the widowed mother having all she could do to care for the physical needs of the family, even with the aid of the older boys. Consequently young Edward gained the substantial part of his fine education by burning the midnight oil. After his ordination he was placed in charge of a congregation at Lancaster City. Later he came to Mechanicsburg and took charge of the Church of God. He married Charlotte Ann Nelson, daughter of Andrew Nelson, Esq., who belonged to a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian family in the North of Ireland. Rev. Mr. Thomas died in 1869.

Robert H. Thomas received his education in the public schools of Lancaster city. When sixteen years old he decided to fit himself for future usefulness and independence, and apprenticed himself to learn the trade of house and sign painting, including wall decorating. This business he followed for some years, during the summer seasons, teaching school during the winters, but impaired health interrupted his busy life and warned him to engage in some other pursuits. He then turned his attention to merchandising and in 1850 took up his residence in Mechanicsburg.

During the Civil war Col. Thomas became very prominent in his active support of the Government, and he loyally served in a number of emergency regiments, on several occasions, resuming his duties at home as soon as the exigency which had called him to the front had subsided. From 1862 until 1866 he efficiently served as deputy collector of internal revenue for the 15th District of Pennsylvania. On June 30, 1863, he was appointed special aide-de-camp by Gov. Curtin, with the rank of colonel, and was assigned to duty in the department commanded by Gen. Smith, of Harrisburg. When the Confederate forces had been driven south of the Potomac he resigned the position and returned to business pursuits. Gen. George H. Thomas, of Civil war fame, was his cousin twice removed.

In 1869 Col. Thomas entered the newspaper field, purchasing the Valley Democrat, changing the name to the Valley Independent, and two years later he purchased a rival paper, the Cumberland Valley Journal, and consolidated the papers and offices under the new title of the Independent Journal. In the fall of 1872 he began to espouse the cause of the Patrons of Husbandry, an agricultural order then coming into prominence in the State, and during the following summer he organized a number of subordinate granges. Upon the organization of the State Grange, at Reading, in 1873, Col. Thomas was elected secretary, a position he most capably held until 1896.

On Jan. 1, 1874, Col. Thomas began the publication of the Farmer’s Friend and Grange Advocate, as the organ of the Patrons of Husbandry, an agricultural journal of high character and great literary merit. It has an immense circulation, which is not by any means confined to members of the Grange. Col. Thomas has always been a man of progressive ideas and of philanthropic instincts, and he became impressed with the feeling that there ought to be a better understanding between the farmers and manufacturers of the country. Accordingly, in 1874 he originated and organized the Inter-State Picnic Exhibition, at Williams’ Grove, Cumberland county. This venture proved very popular and has yearly increased in interest, becoming a very important movement through the agricultural regions of Cumberland county.

Col. Thomas has been many times honored by his editorial associates, with whom he has always maintained the most cordial relations. He has served as president of the State Editorial Association and for some years has been its secretary and treasurer. He is Also one of the officers of the International Editorial Association, was its president at its convention in Galveston, Texas, in 1897, and exerts the influence of a broad-minded, thoughtful student of the great public problems of the day. He was commissioned from the State of Pennsylvania to the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, held at New Orleans in 1884-85, and was likewise appointed a commissioner to the American Exposition held in London, England, in May, 1887. Mrs. Thomas filled the position of lady commissioner in 1884-85 at New Orleans.

Since 1851 Col. Thomas has been a Mason. He became a member of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania that year, and an officer of the same in 1864, serving for thirteen consecutive years as District Deputy Grand Master, and as representative of his home lodge to the Grand Lodge for fifty years consecutively.

In 1853 Col. Thomas married Miss Annette Kimmel, daughter of Henry Kimmel, Esq., of one of the old and prominent families of the Cumberland Valley. Five children were born of this union, three of whom died young. The survivors are: Robert H., Jr., of the Thomas Printing House, of Mechanicsburg; and Estelle, wife of J. Irvin Steele, a descendant of Gen. Irvin, of Franklin county. During his long and useful career Col. Thomas has become intimately associated with the leading men of his State, and has enjoyed in marked degree their respect and esteem.

* * * *

This family biography is one of numerous biographies included in the Biographical Annals of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania published in 1905 by The Genealogical Publishing Company. 

View additional Cumberland County, Pennsylvania family biographies here: Cumberland County, Pennsylvania Biographies

View a historic 1911 map of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania

View family biographies for other states and counties

Use the links at the top right of this page to search or browse thousands of other family biographies.