Thomas Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Thomas Meaning
The Biblical Thomas was initially a priest’s name but then emerged as a surname throughout Europe.  The English pronunciation as “t” rather than “th” (as would have been proper from the Greek theta) is the result of French influence from an early date.  The name became popular as a personal name in England after the martyrdom of St. Thomas a Becket in 1170. 
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Select Thomas Ancestry 

The Thomas numbers today in Europe today are approximately as follows:

  • UK, 220,000
  • France, 110,000
  • and
    Germany, 50,000.  

The Welsh influence
accounts for the higher Thomas numbers in the UK.  Thomases
in France are highly concentrated in
Brittany.  There is another area of
Thomases, in Lorraine near the German border and in Rheinland on the
other side
.


England.
  Thomas first emerged as a surname in Wiltshire
in 1275.  Its usage had spread to Cornwall by the 16th
century.   Thomas records at Helston date from the 1610’s and
at
Sithney from the 1660’s.  Thomas was the second ranked name in
Cornwall in
1881.  Many were miners at that time and had begun to
emigrate.  The actress Kristin Scott Thomas hails from Redruth in
Cornwall.

Wales.
Thomas began to appear as a surname in south Wales in the 16th
century.
Early Thomases were:

  • various Thomases lived at Plas Llanmihangel near
    Cowbridge
    in Glamorgan from the 1520’s to the 1680’s.  This Thomas family
    was said
    to be wealthy and linked to the Herberts who became the Earls of
    Pembroke.  They were later to be found at Tregroes House in
    Pencoed.
  • a Thomas family obtained the Wenvoe castle estate near
    Cardiff in 1560 and Edmund Thomas built an imposing mansion
    there.  A later Edmund
    Thomas was a staunch Cromwellian supporter during the Civil War.
  • while the Thomases of Llanbradach
    and
    Ystrad Mynach dated from the 1640’s.  William Thomas was sheriff
    of
    Glamorgan in 1675.

One Thomas family from Llanelli in Carmarthenshire
was copper
refiners in the early 1800’s before the copper mines there were all
worked out. 
Thomases from Aberdare in the
Rhondda valley were pioneers of the Welsh coal industry, starting with Samuel Thomas in the
1850’s.  He made his home at Ysguborwen House.  D.A.
Thomas, the 15th of his 17 children, was the one who expanded his coal
empire
and was made Viscount Rhondda in 1918 for his war services
.

By the time of the
1891 census
, more than half of the Thomases in Wales were to
be found in the county of Glamorgan, with the largest concentration
there in the Rhondda valley.

America.  Pennsylvania
attracted many from Wales, at
first because of its religious tolerance of dissenters and second
because its
emerging iron and coal industry in the 19th century mirrored the one in
south
Wales, but there was the promise of higher wages.

Two dissenting Thomases were:

  • James Thomas. a Quaker in Carmarthenshire who
    had been excommunicated with his wife from their
    local church
    at Llanboidy.  They came to Pennsylvania
    in 1686 and settled in Merion, Chester county.
  • and the Rev. Owen Thomas who became a Baptist minister for the
    Welsh tract in
    Pennsylvania in 1707.  One line of his
    family migrated to Kentucky.  John Thomas
    from
    Kentucky was a General in the War of 1812.  Another line
    established themselves in 1778 at the Glenowen Farm in Loudoun county,
    Virginia,
    where they breed cattle today.

David Thomas, one of the
foremost
ironmasters in Wales, relocated to Pennsylvania in 1839 and started in
the
Lehigh valley the first successful anthracite iron furnace in the
United
States.  His achievement earned him the
nickname of “Father Thomas.”  John J. Thomas, brought up in
the coal mining
town of
Brynmawr in Breconshire, departed with his family for Pennsylvania in
1848.  He
settled in Scranton, being one of the
first Welsh miners to arrive there. 

Canada.
A Thomas family from Devon was prominent from the late 1700’s in the
early
history of Newfoundland, as sea captains, merchants, and land
developers.  William Thomas built his
home Devon
Place
in the
capital St. John’s in 1843.

Australia.  Robert Thomas
from a Welsh farm in Montgomeryshire was an early arrival in South
Australia, getting there with his family in 1837 and living for a time
in tents and a rush hut.  He published the colony’s first
newspapers.  The diaries of his wife Mary have been preserved and
they provide a valuable account of the early settlement.  Their
son William and their grandson Sir Robert were also South Australian
newspaper proprietors.

Many Thomas
miners from
Cornwall
set off for South Australia in the 1850’s and
1860’s.   They went principally to the Moonta and Kapunda
copper mines there.  Some later moved onto the Broken Hill mine in
NSW.

 

Select
Thomas Miscellany

Thomas at Wenvoe.  The Thomas family inherited the Wenvoe estate in Glamorgan in 1560 when Jevan ap Harpway of Tresimont in Hertfordshire married Catherine, the only daughter and heiress of Thomas ap
Thomas.  But it was Edmund Thomas, his
son by a second wife, who had a swift rise in fortune and was
responsible for
building the mansion at Wenvoe.

Wenvoe was occupied by several generations of the Thomas family.  A later Edmund Thomas was a staunch
Parliamentarian during the Civil War and was made a peer by Cromwell.  A later still Edmund embarked on a major
landscaping of the estate in the 1750’s.
Lord Verulam who visited Wenvoe in 1769 wrote:

“Wenvoe
is not at all worth seeing; the
grounds about it being laid out in the modern taste are rather pleasing
and
show the genius of the father of the present possessor, who, fired with
the
zeal of electioneering and improving his place, spent here more than
the income
of his estate would allow; the ill consequences of which the son now
experiences in such a manner that he is obliged to pay off the debts
his father
contracted by parting with his inheritance.”

Unfortunately,
all these improvements had been more ambitious than the available
finances.  Sir Edmund died heavily in
debt in 1767 and seven years later the estate was sold.

Samuel Thomas at Ysguborwen.  It was said that the Thomas family had held land
around Aberdare in the Rhondda valley since 1477. However,
this family was in no way grand.

John
Thomas, born around 1770, had married
into a yeoman family in Merthyr Vale and became a haulage contractor to
the
Crawshay family.  He and his wife had four children.
Of these the eldest, Samuel, initially became
a merchant in Merthyr Tydfil; the youngest, David, was a minister at
Clifton.

There
was something about Samuel that
suggested he would succeed:

“Samuel
Thomas started out as a shopkeeper in Merthyr Tydfil who later turned
his hand
to prospecting for coal.  He was a hard man, perhaps the secret of
his
business success, and his tastes were simple.  He could never
forget the
hardships through which he had to pass and was unable to shake off the
fear of
failure.  A Welsh Baptist, he managed his household according to
the
Protestant work ethic.”

He
was prudent, sometimes miserly.

He started the Ysguborwen
colliery near Aberdare in 1849 and he built his
home, Ysguborwen
House, in the years between 1852 and
1855.  At
first, only the Welsh
language was spoken in the home, both Samuel and his wife Rachel being
Welsh
speakers. However, they realized that the language of the business
world was
English and they engaged an English nurse to get their children used to
speaking English.

John Thomas, from Wales to Pennsylvania.  John
J. Thomas was born in 1823 at a time when
Brynmawr (meaning “big hill”) in Breconshire was just a small
collection of
farms and cottages.  However, during his
childhood he witnessed a population explosion as the iron and coal
industries
transformed the region.  By 1841 both he
and his father John were working at local coal mines.

John saw a better life for himself and his
family in America.  Wages in the coal
mines there were reported to be double what they were in Wales and word
of mouth
encouraged a migration.  In 1848 John and
his wife Elizabeth, plus other members of the Thomas family, set off
for
America from Liverpool on the Ivanhoe.
Their numbers did not include John’s father
who may well have died by this time.

Although
the Thomas family first set foot in New York, their real destination
was the
coal-mining district of what would become Lackawanna county,
Pennsylvania.  By
the time of the 1850 census, John had found work there as a miner and
the
Thomases had settled in Providence township.
John, illiterate, had marked his form with an “X.”

John prospered as a
miner and was able to buy property in Scranton.
He died in 1876.

Thomases in Wales in the 1891 Census

Thomas (000’s) Numbers Percent
Glamorgan    33    52
Carmarthenshire    12    19
Monmouthshire     6     9
Elsewhere    13    20
Total    64   100

The
largest numbers at that time in Glamorgan were
recorded in Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil, and Ystradyfodwg, all places in
the
Rhondda valley.

Cornish Thomases who Emigrated to Australia.  The
following table lists some Thomases from Cornwall who came to
South Australia as miners during the 1850’s and 1860’s:

Thomas Birth Location Death Location
Alexander Thomas 1801 Lanlivery 1867 Kapunda, SA
William Thomas 1809 Sithney 1882 Wallaroo, SA
William Thomas 1823 Hallankene 1899 Glenburn, SA
Richard Thomas 1828 1909 Kapunda, SA
Abraham Thomas 1837 Wendron 1890 Moonta, SA
Thomas Thomas 1843 1900 Moonta, SA

William
Thomas from Sithney above had come with his
family to South Australia on the Utopia in
1858. Joseph Thomas from Camborne had first
followed his family as a child to Mexico and then came to Australia in
the
1880’s.  He entered politics in 1894 on
behalf of the Broken Hill mining district in NSW.

Not
Only in Stone
by Phyllis Somerville was the fictional story of an
emigrant
Cornishwoman, Polly Thomas, who faced many trials and tribulations in
the
pioneering era of South Australia.  The
book won the South Australian Centenary novel award in 1936. 

The Glenowen Farm.  The Rev. Owen Thomas who came
to Pennsylvania from Wales in 1707 was the forebear of the Thomases of
Glenowen
Farm in Loudoun county, Virginia.  Owen
appears in Glenowen and also as the first name of descendants through
the
generations.

The
family presence began
there when David Thomas purchased the Cherry Grove property adjacent to
the
current farm in 1778.   Their son
Owen, on
return
from the Revolutionary War, then acquired another adjacent property in
1784.  It was his son Joseph who in 1820
bought land
where the current farmhouse sits.

Since
that time, as the Thomas family has remarked:

“We
have witnessed Quaker
settlement, Civil War construction of the Washington and Old Dominion
Railroad,
and rapid urbanization of DC through the years at Glenowen.”

It
was Owen Thomas who in 1947 purchased the original
registered Angus herd at Glenowen.  The
Thomas cattle have recently been recognized by the American Angus
Association
as a historic herd.   The
farm today is owned by three generations
of the Thomas family.

 

 

Select Thomas Names   

  • Samuel Thomas was one of the pioneers of the Welsh coal industry in the mid 19th century.  His son David expanded his father’s commercial empire.
  • David Thomas, an immigrant
    from Wales, helped develop the iron industry in the LeHigh valley of Pennsylvania in the mid 19th century.
  • Edward Thomas was an Anglo-Welsh
    poet-soldier who died on the Western front in 1917
    .
  • Dylan Thomas was the celebrated
    Welsh poet.
  • Dave Thomas from New Jersey
    founded and developed the Wendy fast
    food restaurant chain.
Select Thomas Numbers Today
  • 220,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 254,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 77,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

 

Select Thomas and Like Surnames   

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.

AdamsHarrisNicholsStevens
AndrewsHicksRichardsWalters
DanielsMatthewsRobbinsWilliams
GibbsMorrisSimmonsWillis

 


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