The Tale of Fred W. Thomas of Malone, NY

There are at least two Thomas families in my Family Tree which, so far, are not directly-related to my main Thomas line.  One of them is the family of Florence Anna “Flora” Thomas (b Oct 1857), who married the brother of my 3x great-grandmother Louisa Pond.  The brother’s name was Anthony Worcester “Wooster” Pond (1847-1896), and as far as I can tell, he married Flora when she was 13 and she had her first child with Wooster when she was 14.

FlorenceAnnaThomasFace
Florence Anna Thomas (c1900)

Of course, when I saw that Wooster’s wife’s name was Florence Thomas I became curious to see if her Thomas family was actually a part of my Thomas family.  So I did a LOT of research on her line.  I still haven’t resolved the issue of whether or not her line is the same as mine, but thanks to the copious stories in the local newspapers of the time (The Malone Farmer and the Malone Palladium), I have discovered a lot about this family.  I guess I’m presenting this because it’s interesting to me the degree to which the details of someone’s life can be fleshed out if they are lucky enough to live in a small town that needs gossip to fill the local paper.  For better or worse, some members of the family were in the papers a lot.  Florence’s brother Frederick W. Thomas was one of them.

Frederick W. Thomas was born in Malone, Franklin County, New York in June of 1864 at the height of the Civil War.   His grandparents were Aaron (1793 – 1869) and Betsey Thomas (1799 – 1874).  His parents were Marvin Thomas (1821-1885) and Hannah Benedict (b 1821).

One of the first things I found about Marvin Thomas led me to understand that his household was perhaps not a happy and stable one.  It was a printed notice from the August 27, 1868 edition of The Malone Palladium:

Marvin Thomas' Printed Notice, 1868
Marvin Thomas’ Printed Notice, 1868

I have no idea what this means, but it certainly sounds dire.  “I forbid all persons harboring or trusting my wife or any member of my family”.  Wow.  That’s… weird.

Fred married his first wife, Cynthia, in 1884 when he was 20 years old.  I’m guessing that they had a hard time conceiving their first child, because Fred and Cynthia adopted Henry P. Thomas who came to live with them.  They subsequently had two other children before 1900, Madge (b 1894) and an unknown daughter born in 1897 who did not survive to the 1900 census.

In November of 1888 Fred opened a grocery store in Malone in a house formerly owned by a Mr. William Johnson.  This is the first mention I’ve found of Fred in the Malone papers, but there were many more to follow over the next 45 years.  For example:

“While Fred Thomas was driving across Lake Champlain the other day with a load of hay the wheels of the wagon broke through the ice and the load and horses landed in the lake.  The team was rescued and also the greater part of the hay.” – Malone Farmer, 31 Jan 1900

A notice of a birth in the family:

Thomas girl birth.
Thomas girl birth.
And another birth, which would be important later:

“Births – THOMAS – In Chasm Falls, NY on Saturday Jan 12, 1901, a daughter to Mr. and Mrs. Fred Thomas” – Malone Farmer, 23 Jan 1901

Unfortunately, that birth would be the last bit of happy news for Fred for a while.  In March of 1901 his wife Cynthia was struck by influenza, and pneumonia set in after that.  She was gravely ill for about a month before she finally passed away:

Cynthia Thomas's Death 1901
Cynthia Thomas’s Death 1901

Suddenly alone with  8 and 6 year old children and an infant only two months old, Fred decided to put the newborn girl up for adoption.  The paper reported that a Mr. and Mrs. E. J. Webster adopted the girl on the 10th of April, 1901.

About a month later, in May, Fred himself became very ill, and it was reported that he was going to Montreal for “hospital treatment”.  Montreal was about 70 miles away, so it was probably a two-day journey to go there by horse-drawn wagon.  Fortunately, he recovered.

[I was struck by this part of the story, because of the echos from my own family.  My great-grandfather, also named Fred Thomas, also had his wife die from influenza and pneumonia, and was also desperately ill after his wife died.  After she died, my great-grandfather similarly had a two-month old infant, and similarly made the decision to give his child away because he was not able to care for it. ]

In August, he decided to pull up stakes from Chasm Falls (also known as Whippleville) to re-open his store in Thayer’s Corners, a town about 8 miles away.

“Fred Thomas sold his stock and farming tools at public auction Thursday.  Mr. Thomas has some intention of locating at Thayer’s Corners where he will keep a grocery store.” – Malone Farmer, 21 Aug 1901

But he wasn’t there long before he decided to move back:

“Fred Thomas, who moved to Thayers Corners a few weeks ago and opened a store there, is not satisfied with his new location and has decided to move back to Chasm Falls.” – Chateaugay Record, 4 Oct 1901

Right about this time, some serious scandal was unfolding in the little town of Chasm Falls.  When Fred’s wife Cynthia was ill with pneumonia, he met an 18 year-old girl named Elda Fisette from neighboring Saranac Lake, New York.  He was “very much in need of a hired girl” and, according to the news story written about the events about a year later in the “Malone Farmer”, Fred decided to hire Elda as a household servant.  A few weeks after Cynthia passed away Fred “took [Elda] to a Justice of the Peace and married her, supposing her to be a rare and radiant maiden”.  But soon after they were married it came out that Elda was actually already married to another man, from whom she had been separated.  She and Fred tried to make it work for a few months, but soon “the battle of life in which they were engaged waxed so hot and fierce that they were obliged to separate in order to prolong their lives”.  Elda moved back to Saranac Lake.  Unfortunately she and another woman were murdered in November of 1902.  The Malone Farmer described them as “disreputable women”.  I’m not sure if that means they were suspected prostitutes, or if it was just an editorial judgement passed down for some other, more puritanical, reason.

On 29 Mar 1902, Fred married a third and final time, to Priscilla A Petell (1887 – 1939), a sixteen-year-old girl from the nearby town of Owl’s Head, NY.

Thomas Petell Marriage, Malone Farmer, 9 Apr 1902

Thomas Petell Marriage, Malone Farmer, 9 Apr 1902

Fred continued to run his grocery business for a while, but less than three months after their marriage, another scandal erupted with Fred and his family at the center:

“Mrs. Fred Thomas of Chasm Falls attempted suicide last Sunday by taking rat poison.  Dr. Harwood was called and saved her life.  It is said that the wife is only 16 years old and that she is the second one that Mr. Thomas has had within a year.” – Malone Palladium, 24 July 1902

More details emerged later:

“Sunday afternoon Fred Thomas, living at Chasm Falls, seven miles south of Malone, hailed a man driving past his place and asked him to drive at once to Dr. Harwood’s and get the doctor, as his wife had just taken a dose of rat poison with suicidal intent.  The doctor came and soon had the woman out of danger.  Report says Thomas came home Saturday night much the worse for liquor, and there was a quarrel between them.  His wife is not over 16, and the second one Thomas has had within a year.  He conducts a grocery store.” – Chateaugay Record, 24 Jul 1902

Adding insult to injury, bad news followed only a month later:

“Fred Thomas’s dwelling house and store, with their contents, at Chasm Falls, were destroyed by fire one night last week.” – Malone Palladium, 7 Aug 1902

Fred and Priscilla had three boys in the following years: Clarence (b 1903), Harold (b 1905), and Lawrence (b 1909).

The next item of note (as far as the local papers were concerned) happened in April of 1908.  Fred’s adopted son Henry became ill with peritonitis, and once again Fred turned to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal for his care.  Unfortunately, unlike his father, Henry didn’t pull through.

Henry Thomas Death 1908
Henry Thomas Death 1908

Making matters worse, Fred’s other son Clarence Thomas also came down with symptoms similar to those that took the life of his adopted brother Henry.  After that, Fred decided to sell his farm.  It may have been necessary to pay for the medical care of his two sons:

“We are glad to note that Clarence, the 5-year-old son of Fred Thomas, who was taken to the Ogdensburg City Hospital with symptoms similar to those with which Henry Thomas died recently at Montreal hospital, successfully treated and has recovered without an operation being performed.” – – Malone Farmer, 13 May 1908

“Fred Thomas has sold his farm at Chasm Falls to Arthur Johnson for $3,100 and will sell his personal property at auction May 19th.  The farm comprises 70 acres.  Mr. Thomas has not decided what he will do in the future.” – Malone Farmer, 13 May 1908

“AUCTION SALE – The undersigned will sell at public auction on the Fred Thomas Farm at Chasm Falls, on Tuesday, May 19th, at one o’clock P.M, all the following property: Six milch cows, one two-year-old heifer, one yearling bull, six sheep, two work horses, 25 bushels seed oats, mowing machine, wagons, sleds, and all farming tools on the place.  Terms will be announced at opening of sale.  Am selling personal property because farm has been sold.  FRED THOMAS, W.H. O’brien, Auctioneer.” – Malone Farmer, 13 May 1908

A few months later, yet another scandal erupted in the local papers with Fred Thomas at the center.  On 20 Nov 1908 the “Chateaugay Record” noted that Fred had been charged by the State Supreme Court with a violation of the liquor tax law for selling intoxicating beer to the clients at his hotel and saloon without paying the proper taxes.  A trial followed with Fred giving testimony on his own behalf.  Initially the news was good:

“The jury returned a verdict of “not guilty” in the case of Fred Thomas who conducts a saloon at the “river bend” on the Duane Road.  Thomas was charged with violation of the excise law by selling beer on Sunday.  Thomas did not deny the charge but produced abundant evidence to show that the beer he sold was “homemade” and not intoxicating.” – Malone Palladium, 17 Dec 1908

But that was hardly the end of the matter. Ironically, an alcohol-related incident occurred just after the trial:

“John Brean, of Riverbend, who usually worked in the woods in winter… had been missing since Sunday afternoon when he left the hotel of Fred Thomas.  On Saturday he appeared at the hotel of Thomas and tried to purchase liquor, but Mrs. Thomas, who was alone, refused to sell it.  He went away but came back that night and was given lodging by Mr. Thomas.  On Sunday morning, after refusing breakfast, Mr. Brean asked for a drink of whiskey, which was refused, and he went away.  He left and was not seen again ’til his body was found.” – Malone Farmer, 3 Feb 1909

Perhaps as a result of this incident which was billed in the papers as a “whiskey-related death”, the grand jury decided that Fred had lied in his testimony, and he was charged with perjury.  He was arrested:

“Indictments found by the grand jury and not made public until Monday noon was one against Fred Thomas, of Chasm Falls.  Thomas was arrested Monday on the charge of perjury as found on the indictment, and was held in $1,000 bail which he furnished.  The charge grew out of the recent case against Mr. Thomas for violation of the liquor tax law.  Charged with having sold beer on Sunday, he made the claim that the beverage he sold was only home made beer and not intoxicating.  It is quite evident that his story is not believed.” – Malone Palladium, 13 Apr 1909.

But this time, he was able to avoid the negative outcome:

“Fred Thomas was tried and acquitted on the charge of perjury.  He keeps a hotel at Riverbend, near Chasm Falls, and in a former trial for violation of the excicise law, swore that what he had sold was home-made beer and not intoxicating.  Witnesses were produced to show the contrary, but Thomas took the stand and reiterated the fact that it was “home-made” beer.  Testimony regarding Thomas’ good character was also introduced and the jury brought in a verdict of not guilty.” – Malone Farmer, 2 Jun 1909

Apparently Marvin Thomas had been in Canada at some point, because there are three of Fred’s siblings who were mentioned as being from there:

“Mr. and Mrs. James Thomas of Ottawa, visited Mr. Thomas’ brother, Fred W. Thomas, and family in this place last week.” – The Malone Farmer, July 1916

“Mr. and Mrs. Fred W Thomas of Riverbend are visiting a half-brother of Mr. Thomas, whom he has never seen before.  This brother is from Alberta, and the brothers meet at a town in Ontario, beyond Ottawa.” – Malone Farmer, 15 Jul 1925

“James Thomas, Hull, P.Q. and sister, Miss Jessie Thomas of Ottawa, Ontario, visited at the home of their brother, Fred Thomas, Webster Street, over the week-end.” – Malone Farmer, 18 Oct 1933

The rest of the entries are of a more calm nature.  Things seem to have settled down for Fred and his family.  There are more normal mentions of visits from children, trips to visit friends and relatives, and meetings:

“Mrs. William Johnston [Madge Thomas] of Malone spent Saturday and Sunday with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Thomas, at her old home here [Chasm Falls].” – Malone Farmer, 16 Jan 1918

“The Ladies’ Aid Society will serve a supper at the home of Mr. Fred Thomas on the Webster road, near Malone.  Supper served from 5:30 until all are served.  Mr. and Mrs. Thomas are old residents of Chasm Falls and now is a good opportunity to visit them again.” – Malone Farmer, 29 Aug 1934

The service of Fred’s son Clarence in Panama was also mentioned:

“Maurice King, who has been serving as a solider in the US Army in Panama for some time past, is home, having received an honorable discharge.  Clarence Thomas, son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Thomas, also of Riverbend, who went away with Mr. King, is expected home very soon now.” – Malone Farmer, 8 Oct 1924

The final entries mention Fred’s son Lawrence buying a farm down the road from his father:

“Paddock Farm is Purchased by Lawrence Thomas – Lawrence Thomas, son of Fred Thomas, has purchased the George Paddock farm on the Webster St. Road and has already taken possession.  He will repair the buildings and put the place in good condition.  It is one of the well-known farms of this locality and has always been considered a very desirable property.  The water of several abundant springs was formerly dammed and created a large pond there and was at one time used as a part of the Malone village water supply.” – The Malone Farmer, 24 Apr 1935.

And a visit from friends:

“Mr. and Mrs. Ivan Barse visited Mr. and Mrs. Fred Thomas, Malone, recently.” – Malone Farmer, 31 Jul 1935

The articles end there because the “Malone Famer” is only digitized through 1936.

Priscilla died in 1939, and Fred is listed in the Malone, NY census in 1940 as a “widower”.  Living with him was a woman “servant” named Hazel Hensman, who was less than half his age.

Fred died in Malone in 1948 and was buried in Morningside Cemetery, according to the Franklin County Historical Society.  I really enjoyed piecing together this story from the local papers of the day.  It gives a glimpse into one person’s life in a way we rarely get as genealogists.

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About cthomas1967

Seeking to bring my ancestors out of the shadows of history and into the light. I have always been interested in history, and at a few different times I tried to do a family tree, but wasn't able to do it with the technology that was available then. On a business trip I visited the World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO and it was a very impressive establishment. While I was there I remember thinking, "Didn't my great-grandfather father fight in World War I? And wasn't his brother killed alongside him in some famous battle? I wonder if I can find out where he died." That's what started it all. View all posts by cthomas1967

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