Biography of James Quincy Thomas

James Quincy Thomas of Mahomet is now in his eighty-ninth year. It is a remarkable span of life which his years cover. He was born when Andrew Jackson was President of the United States. Not a permanent settlement had been fixed in Champaign County at the time of his birth. There were no railroads in America, no telegraph lines, very few canals, and none of the labor-saving devices which have transformed industry and social life. As a young man he swung the flail and the scythe in cutting and threshing grain, and not only actively experienced all the hardships of that primitive time, but has lived on until he has witnessed flying machines and other wonders of the electrical twentieth century.

Mr. Thomas has lived in Champaign County for more than half a century. He is certainly one of the oldest citizens of the county and is perhaps the only survivor of the Mexican War living in this county. He was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, November 26, 1828, the only son and only surviving child of William E. and Mary (Thomas) Thomas. He had four sisters. His father was born in Loudoun County, Virginia, and as a boy he saw General George Washington. He grew up in his native state and moved to Kentucky, where he married. He died in Kentucky in 1863. As a young man he voted the Whig ticket and afterwards became a Republican. His wife was a native of Kentucky and died there in 1841.

James Quincy Thomas received his education through four terms of attendance at subscription schools. He paid $2.50 for each term. He wrote with the old goose quill pen, studied the Webster’s blueback spelling book, sat on the slab seats supported from the floor by wooden pins, and played all the tricks to which school ‘boys of that time were accustomed. He deemed it something strange when he was not flogged by the school master each day.

He was possessed of a vigorous constitution. He was thirteen years of age when his mother died and his father then told him that if he desired to earn money he could have all he earned. Accepting this invitation, he hired out to his Uncle William at $5 a month. He put in three months of hard labor, but never received a dollar for his time and effort. In the same year he changed his employment to a neighbor, with whom he worked for nineteen months at $7 a month and at the end of the time had $50 in cash.

Mr. Thomas was not quite eighteen years of age when, on July 6, 1846, he enlisted in the United States army for service in the war with Mexico. He first went to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, went down the river to New Orleans, and there crossed the Gulf with his comrades to Vera Cruz, Mexico. He was in the army of General Winfield Scott and many times was assigned to stand guard at the tent of that great leader. He served throughout the campaign, one of the most brilliant in the annals of the American army, from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico. He participated in the battles of Cerro Gordo, where the Mexican commander Santa Ana lost his wooden leg, at the battles of Contreros and Cherubusco, both fought on the same day, and on September 13, 1847, was in the storming of the gates of Mexico after capturing the heights of Chepultepec. A number of his comrades were killed on that day and. their bodies lay along the aqueduct. On the following day the American forces entered the City of Mexico, going in at one gate while Santa Ana led his troops out another. It fell to the lot of the regiment in which Mr. Thomas was a member to first hoist the stars and stripes over the halls of Montezuma. Mr. Thomas reiterates what has been affirmed by many other Mexican soldiers that no battle was fought at Pueblo, as many school histories have stated. The capture of the City of Mexico practically ended the Mexican War. During the storming of Mexico Mr. Thomas received two bullets through his clothes and was hit in the shoulder by a spent ball. Otherwise he escaped casualties, though he had many close calls.

On June 15, 1848, he was released from the army and returned to Kentucky, where he took a job at $9 a month as tollgate keeper, boarding himself. For seven months he clerked in a store and not long afterward he took upon himself the responsibilities of a home of his own.

December 23, 1851, he married Miss Mary A. West. Six children, two sons and four daughters, were born to their marriage and three are still living. The son John C. was educated in the common schools and is now a hardware merchant at Urbana, Illinois. He is a Democrat, and he and his wife belong to the Baptist Church. He married Miss Betty Williamson, and they have a son, Clyde M. Russell W., the second son, had a common school education and is now a retired farmer living at Mansfield, Illinois, owning a place of 180 acres in Champaign County. He married Miss Mary J. Spratt, and their son is James O. Susan M., the youngest of the three living children, is a member of the Baptist Church and is living in Mahomet Township, widow of George C. Parrett, and is the mother of one son, Fred R.

The mother of these children was born in Virginia, but was reared in Kentucky. She was a member of the Baptist Church, and she passed away in August, 1899.

On October 1, 1902, Mr. Thomas married Mrs. Mary A. Dale. She was born in Vermilion County, Illinois, June 7, 1830, a daughter of John S. Robinson. There were nine children in the Robinson family, three sons and six daughters, and her three brothers, Noah L., William H. and John G., were all Civil War soldiers, the oldest brother veteranizing after three years of service. Her father was born in Kentucky, grew up there and subsequently removed to Illinois, having a small farm in Champaign County. He died at Mahomet in 1861 and was laid to rest in the Bryant Cemetery. He was a Whig in politics. His wife was a native of Kentucky and was a great-granddaughter of the celebrated Daniel Boone. She was a member of the Baptist Church and her death occurred in 1862.

Mrs. Thomas was educated in the subscription schools of Sangamon County. Both she and her husband can relate many experiences of pioneer times. When she was a girl postage stamps were not in existence, and it frequently cost 25 cents to send a letter any distance. There were no matches, and the flint and steel was still used to light fires. Mrs. Thomas grew up in Sangamon County and her recollections here go back more than sixty years. She married for her first husband Isaac B. Wright. There were three children, one son and two daughters, but only the son is now living, Mr. F. O. Wright, who is a real estate man at Mahomet. Mr. Wright had one son, Paul, who has recently entered the United States navy. Mr. Wright was a Democrat and was formerly engaged in farming, with a farm in Mahomet Township. His death occurred in 1880. For her second husband Mrs. Thomas married Thomas Dale.

Mrs. Thomas is an active member of the Baptist Church. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas are one of the happy old couples of Mahomet and are honored by all who know them. They have a cosy and comfortable home and have all that their declining years need to be comfortable and happy.

Mr. Thomas bought his first land in Mahomet Township, 120 acres, at $10 an acre. It did not have a sign of improvement, and his own labors developed a good farm. At one time he owned over 400 acres in the township and his hard work brought him abundant success. In earlier times he frequently spent the entire winter herding cattle over the corn fields. Politically he has been a Democrat and is a member of the Masonic order at Mahomet. He is a Christian gentleman, and has always done his part in charitable movements. For many years he has been the recipient of a pension of $1 a day and when the Liberty Bonds were on sale he exchanged his pension voucher for a Liberty Bond, which he considers a good investment for the benefit of coming generations.


Stewart, J. R. A Standard History of Champaign County Illinois. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York. 1918.

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