The Thomases, a large and prosperous pioneering and agrarian clan, settled in Southwest, Virginia in 1761. Two generations after settlement the family patriarch, John Lafayette Thomas, and his family migrated from Smyth County, Virginia, to Burke's Garden, a garden of "Eden" located in adjacent Tazewell County. A deeply faithful man, John and his wife, Elizabeth, raised their eight children with a God-fearing Lutheran faith. However, this was no assurance that life itself would treat the clan well.

The seven sons were raised to be hunters, farmers and protectors of the clan in a harmonious community of neighbors who were friendly and always available to lend a hand in this utopian world. They all found romance and adventure in their remote mountainous homeland and, occasionally, encounters with death that they had not bargained for.

When this ideal and peaceful life was violently interrupted by the outbreak of war, the seven Thomas brothers took up arms together with neighbors and kin to fight for the southern cause. The story follows the clan through their tribulations of fierce guerrilla style fighting in rough mountainous terrain as they encounter the Union Army while other family members were left behind in "Eden" to manage the farms. The whole clan struggles to farm and live amidst events that ravage their agrarian way of life.

At the War's conclusion the Thomases who survived endured many years of turbulent Reconstruction. Yet they grew together as a family. John's son, Samuel, became a successful timber man who moved the clan toward a renewed prosperity in "Eden." One of Samuel's sons, James, continued this success by educating himself and then being appointed a professor in the Education Department at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

Because of James' adaptable genius and the entrepreneurial spirit he had learned from his father's timber business, he founded what would become Old Republic Life Insurance Company in Birmingham. The epic saga of the Thomas clan comes to its full fruition in 1956, on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, as Dr. James Thomas oversees the relocation of the company's headquarters to the Old Republic Life Insurance Building. This culminating event affirmed the clan's intellectual honor, its ability to prosper and its heritage of overcoming tribulation and surviving tests to its faith of "Eden."

david eden


03-14-2017, 16:28
Dear Mr. Bridges,

Thank you for speaking at our February 8 meeting. It is so important to remember the sacrifices and achievements of heroes like Major Breathed. We had a good crowd and an enthusiastic audience. Thank you also for the helpful research handout, which we added to our website.

My husband Jay just finished reading The Broken Circle and said it was a great book. He thinks that Breathed's superior effectiveness on the battlefield may have kept him from getting more promotions that would have removed him from some of the actual fighting. Next we will lend the book to a friend. I will read it after that, and would like to read your other books.

Let us know if we can assist you in your history or genealogy endeavors.

Best wishes,

Elsa Schmieder, Clayton Library Friends