William H. Thomas

MERCER COUNTY WEST VIRGINIA
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Submitted to the West Virginia Biographies Project by:
PJSTON@aol.com
December 14, 1999
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The History of West Virginia, Old and New
Published 1923, The American Historical Society, Inc.,
Chicago and New York, Volume II

pg 190

William H. Thomas. While there is probably no city in the state of the size
that has a larger number of men with distinctive and important achievements
to their credit in the domain of commerce and industry than Bluefield, there
is manifest a disposition to recognize and confer by consensus of opinion if
not formally a degree of special leadership upon Mr. William Henry Thomas,
whose name in that community really suggests all the best elements of power
and influence involved in constructive citizenship and commercial enterprise.

Mr. Thomas represents an old family of Roanoke County, Virginia, and he was
reared and educated and had his early commercial training there. Though his
home has been in Bluefield for a number of years, he still feels in touch
with the vicinity where he was born and reared. His birth occurred November
13, 1865, at what was then known as Big Lick, now Roanoke City. He is a son
of Charles M. and Jane (Crawford) Thomas, natives of Roanoke County.

Giles Thomas, Sr., came to this country from England about 1745, settling
near Havre de Grace, Maryland. His son, Giles Thomas, Jr., who was born in
1763 and died in 1842, moved to Virginia in 1796, settling in the county of
Botetourt, now Roanoke. He was only twelve years of age when the
Revolutionary war broke out, and in his sixteenth year he joined the Maryland
Regiment and served until the close. He was under General Thomas in the
great campaign of the Carolinas, and witnessed the surrender of Lord
Cornwallis at Yorktown. For these services as a soldier he received a land
grant, which was located west of Cumberland in Washington County, Maryland.

On June 4, 1786, Giles Thomas, Jr., married Ann Wheeler. He was a cousin of
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland, a venerable signer of the
Declaration of Independence. They were married at Carrollton.

Charles M. Thomas, a son of Giles Thomas, Jr., was born July 15, 1790, and
died May 30, 1869. He was about six years of age when the family settled in
Botetourt County, Virginia. He married Elizabeth Barnett, who was born April
1 1792, and died in November, 1875. They were the parents of Charles
Marigold Thomas.

Charles M. Thomas was born in 1825 and died in 1866. He was a farmer in
Roanoke County and in 1861 moved his family to Big Lick. During the war
between the states he was with a Virginia regiment, and on account of
physical disability was chiefly employed in the Quartermaster’s Department
and the Home Guard. Charles M. Thomas was one of ten brothers who were in
the Confederate army, and this approaches if it does not establish a record
for participation of one family that or any other war of the nation. In 1852
he married Jane Crawford, who was born July 24, 1831, and died in 1914. She
was a descendant of James Crawford, Sr., who was of Scotch-Irish birth and
came from Northern Ireland in 1770. His wife was a Miss Wallace a descendant
of Sir John Wallace of Scotland. Hames Crawford, Jr., their son, was five
years of age when the family came to this country. He married Eliza Poague,
whose family came in 1765 from Scotland and settled in Augusta County,
Virginia. This James Crawford, Jr., by his wife, Eliza was the father of
James Crawford, father of Jane Crawford Thomas. The mother of Jane Crawford
was Jane Deyerle.

William H. Thomas, who therefore descends from very substantial American
stock on both sides, never had any better school advantages than those
supplied by the common schools of Roanoke County, and at the age of seventeen
he was earning his living as clerk in a retail general store at Big Lick, and
the year represented a valuable training to him. He then went on the road as
a traveling salesman, and for eight years sold groceries and general
merchandise throughout the South and Coast states. In 1889, at the age of
twenty-four, Mr. Thomas became associated with three other men, one of whom
was his brother-in-law, B. P. Huff, in the firm of Huff, Andrews & Thomas,
wholesale grocers. The personnel of this firm has remained the same for over
thirty years, though their greatly extended business is conducted under a
number of corporate names. The partnership has been maintained as a firm at
Roanoke, where they had their first headquarters as wholesale grocers. Mr.
Thomas was the man who acquired the business for this early firm as traveling
salesman, and for several years he covered the states of Virginia and West
Virginia. The first important step in expanding the business came in 1895,
when a branch was located at Bluefield, and this is now the main house of
Huff, Andrews & Thomas Company. The business at Bluefield has from the first
been conducted as a corporation, with Mr. Thomas as president and general
manager. In the meantime the partners in 1892 had organized a wholesale dry
goods and notion business under the title F. B. Thomas & Company, the active
head of which was F. B. Thomas, a brother of William H. and one of the origina
l partners in the Huff, Andrews & Thomas Company. F. B. Thomas & Company is
still doing business.

There are now seven wholesale grocery houses representing the expanded
interests of the original concern at Roanoke, and Mr. Thomas of Bluefield is
connected with all of them as a director. The six houses outside of
Bluefield are: Thomas-Andrews Company at Norton, the Bristol Grocery Company
at Bristol, Abingdon Grocery Company at Abingdon, National Grocery Company at
Roanoke, these all being in old Virginia; and Williamson Grocery Company at
Williamson, and Mullins Grocery Company at Mullins, West Virginia.

Mr. Thomas has organized and has participated in the management of a large
number of successful business undertakings, including the Roanoke Candy
Company, of which he is a director, the Bristol Candy Company at Bristol,
Virginia, the Bluefield Ice and Cold Storage Company, which he with others
organized in 1904 and of which he is president; the Citizens Underwriters
Insurance Agency; the Flat Top National Bank of Bluefield, which he and
others organized in 1903 and of which he is vice president; the Bluefield Gas
& Power Company, of which he is a director; the Southern Investment and Real
Estate Company of Roanoke, of which he is a director; the Bailey Lumber
Company of Bluefield probably the largest lumber company in the state; the
Montvale and Company and the Big Clear Creek Coal Company in Greenbrier
County.

When his associates speak of his civic record they usually begin and end with
unqualified praise of what Mr. Thomas did as member and for many years
president of the School Board of Bluefield City. He first went on the board
as a member in 1902, and altogether served twelve years, most of the time as
president of the board. While he was president practically all of the modern
school buildings in the city now in use were erected, both for the white and
colored people. Mr. Thomas has some sound ideas on education, but his
particular service was due to his great faculty of getting things done,
whether it comes to the promotion of a strictly business enterprise or the
financing and construction of a group of school buildings.

On November 17, 1891, Mr. Thomas married at Elizabethon, Tennessee, Miss
Minnie Folsom, daughter of Maj. H. M. and Elizabeth (Berry) Folsom. Major
Folsom, who was a relative of Francis (Folsom) Cleveland, widow of President
Cleveland, was one of the able lawyers of Tennessee and had a distinguished
war record, going into the Confederate army at the age of seventeen and being
promoted to major before he was twenty. He died in 1909. Mrs. Thomas is a
member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and for many years has
been president of Bluefield Chapter of the United Daughters of the
Confederacy. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas have three children: Paul C., who was born
in Tennessee in 1892 and finished his education in Washington and Lee
University, Florence F. and Grace Elizabeth.

Mr. Thomas is of Scotch Irish ancestry, and his people were among the early
settlers of the Valley of Virginia and also identified with the pioneering of
Roanoke County. Some of his ancestors were soldiers in the Revolution and
one of them was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Mr. Thomas assisted in organizing the Bluefield Country Club and is one of
its Board of Governors. His favorite sport is hunting and fishing, and he
particularly enjoys the pursuit of big game in the Maine woods. He is a
democrat in politics, is affiliated with the Royal Arch, Knight Templar, and
Scottish Rite Masons and Mystic Shrine, the Knights of Pythias, the
Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Lions, and he and Mrs. Thomas are
members of the Presbyterian Church. Mr. Thomas in 1904 was a delegate from
West Virginia to the World’s Sunday School Convention at Jerusalem, and
during that trip abroad he made an extensive tour all through the Holy Land,
Egypt and other Mediterranean countries.