Monday, August 14, 2017

Let's Talk about Mr. Thomas

Landon Thomas lived at 933 Milledge Ave, directly across from where the shooting took place. A direct descendent of Mr. Thomas still resides in the home today. A grand home, it was often featured on postcards and advertisements for our fair city.

Mr. Langdon Thomas, president of a rivaling mill, John P. King Manufacturing Co at the time of the death of Dr. Hickman, was born in Frankfurt, Kentucky on June 5,1859. He came to Augusta after completing his studies at Bethany College. A little research shows two Bethany Colleges- one in Kansas, founded in 1881 and the other in W. Virginia, founded in 1804. One assumes he went to W. Virginia for his education.

He will take Miss Mary Cecile Fleming as his wife, known as Minnie by her friends. She is a local girl, born to Mr. Porter Fleming and his third wife in January 1861. The Thomas wedding will be small- at the home of her parents on Oct. 21, 1885. With no attendants and only the brothers of the bride standing with the groom and the sisters of the groom standing with the bride, there was much congratulating before the beautiful couple took the Columbia/Charlotte/something train up to Boston, NY, and DC before returning to the home state of the Groom, Kentucky,

Minnie and Landon spend a year in Kentucky before returning to the hometown of the bride.

On June 1, 1886, having been back in Augusta for just a short time, the doors opened on Fleming, Thomas, and Company- a banking establishment. R. A. Fleming, Frank E. Fleming (brother in law and father in law, respectively) and Landon Thomas opened this bank at 813 Broad Street. Frank, a former teller at Georgia Railroad bank, oversaw and trained his son and son-in-law.

In 1887 he will start construction on the family homestead, still standing in 2017.

Landon Thomas home

The Landon family will appear countless times (actually 1,168) in the society section of the newspaper, regaling of golf games, bridge games, travels, entertaining, societal engagements, debutante balls, chaperoning, teas, the stylings of the lace dresses, and all the other things deemed of newsworthy at the time.

Years later, Mr. Thomas will become associated with the King's Mill in 1897 and president in 1898. Upon retirement from the reigns, he would serve as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the rest of his days.

In the summer months, he would pack his family and take the train up to Atlantic Beach where they would vacation at their summer cottage in Jamestown. I am quoting the newspaper in this regard and am a little hazy on my New England geography- but don't quite think that Atlantic Beach and Jamestown go hand in hand, that being said-- I don't think this point is crucial enough to confirm.

He had four children, the younger two being daughters-- Ellen, born March 1895 and Emily, May 1897. This puts them at about 15 and 13 at the time of the murder. I'll bring this to point in just a minute.

In 1901, the newspaper ran an article about "A Good Cause," referencing the Shiloh Orphanage and written by Mr. D. McHornton, Manager, Shiloh Orphanage. Shiloh orphanage was located at 334 Sherman Street. (There's a lot to say about the Shiloh Orphanage, but that's not the point of this)

For the uneducated, like myself, the Shiloh Orphanage was one of a handful of orphanages in Augusta, but this one catered only to the "colored children, abandoned." The children already at a disadvantage because they were colored, are now in the hands of the Shiloh orphanage- supported by the many colored churches and societies, preachers, teachers, and Christians. "Right here in Augusta, there was good white friends to the negro as there are in the United states. Here are some of the names of friends to these poor unfortunate orphans: Mrs. Judge Eve, Mrs. J C C Black, Mr. T I Hickman, and his dear father, Mr and Mrs Landon Thomas, Mr W H and W B Bingham, Mrs P D Horkan, Mr Walter Clark, Mr Wm. Boyle, Mr T F McCarthy, Mr Mike McAuliffe (?), Mr Hahn, Mr Claussen, Mr Ferber, Mr Vicetto, Mr Plumb, Hon Judge Eve (master of good roads and bridges), Mr D Timm, Mr B Lawrence, Mr P G Durum, Mr Hollman, Mr A J Twiggs, Mr T C Bligh, Col. D R Dyer, Mr C H Cohen, Mr T P Murphy, our good policeman, Mr Tim Lyons, Mr Sheehan, Mr Jacobs, and many other of the good class of white citizens whom I will always feel indebted to in caring for the home..."

Throughout the article, a white person cannot be recognized without calling that person a "good white gentleman" or "good white friends," etc. Apparently, all whites in 1901 are good people.

Thomas will live another 34 years after the 1910 murder, dying in the family estate on the hill in 1944- one year before the conclusion of WWII. Off the top of my head, Mr. Thomas will see the Civil War, The First World War, and the Second World War before his death. Surely there are more- but, gracious what kind of changes this man saw in his life.

Quoting from his obituary:

"His understanding of God was the dominating force of his life, for he was a profoundly religious man. His convictions were his own, and they were based on an open-minded investigation, a wide reading, and a prayerful lie. With singular devotion he investigated the life of the Spirit." 

"His religious convictions were strong and clear. There was nothing of the sectarian about him. He claimed for himself the right to worship the Lord God Almighty as he understood Him, and at the same time, he freely granted the same right to all others."

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But, why am I spending so much time talking about a guy who was lived across the street from the murder (and didn't hear the gunshot)? On May 3, 1910, "Mr. Thomas testified to finding bullet hole on his front porch directly after the shooting, being in a direct line from where the body was found. Shortly after finding this hole, said that his little daughter picked up a bullet on the font porch and it exactly fit the hole."

His "little" daughter was either 13 or 15 years old, depending on which daughter found it.

As I started writing this blog, the name "Fleming" sounded familiar and I chalked it up to Fleming Street... in Wrens? or Fleming Complex.... or something. Fleming was just sticking with me and finally I went back and reread some of the past few blogs. Does Fleming sound familiar to anyone else?

Poor John Mathis, he was represented by two very capable lawyers- one being William H. Fleming, Thomas Landon's brother in law. William H was Minnie/Mary's older brother born in 1855, six years her senior. The Honorable Fleming made speeches at Confederate Monument dedications about race relations. While many of these speeches were published as he was a fantastic orator, I have yet to research these, so I can only assume that they weren't favorable to our darker skin companions on this marble we call earth.

William H Fleming

Finally, the way his obituary concluded: His convictions were his own. What does that mean? His convictions were his own? Aren't all of our convictions our own? I have asked a couple of friends what this means, seeing if they thought the same thing I did. Is there a hidden meaning in there? He could be ruled by no law but his own? And then... what was that law? {putting a pin in this, I'm going to circle back to it-- don't worry.}

There is so much more to say about Mr. Thomas and the rest of the Fleming brigade, but I don't have enough information yet to more than speculate, thus we will have to leave it right here for right now.

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