The Abolitionist

A biography of James A. Thome (1813 – 1873) & Anna Thome (1819 - 1893)

James A. Thome
James A. Thome

The following historical biography can be found in The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History:

 “Thome, James A. (20 Jan. 1813 – 4 Mar. 1873), Presyterian minister and antislavery activist, was born in Augusta, Kentucky, son of Arthur and Mary Armstrong Thome. His father was a slaveowner and when Thome attended college in Augusta in 1833, and entered into Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, he was influenced by abolitionists and ousted from the seminary for his extreme views. From 1835 – 1836 he studied at Oberlin, received a degree in theology, and in 1836 became involved with the American Anti-Slavery Society and was sent by its officers on a six-month tour of the West Indies to report on emancipation there. The society published an account of his travels in 1838. In 1840, Thome filled the chair of rhetoric and belles lettre at Oberlin College.

Thome was the minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn (Ohio City) from 1848 – 1871. where he continued in the anti-slavery movement and raised funds for black education. In 1867 he took a year-long sabbatical to go to England to seek aid from benevolent societies to help freed slaves. Thome’s church united with Congregationalists in 1857 and became First Congregational Church of Cleveland. He resigned as minister in 1871, a few years later dying of pneumonia in Chattanooga, Tennesee, where he had gone to continue his ministry. He married Anna S. Allen in 1838; they had three daughters, Mary Elizabeth, Anna Bradford, and Mary Ellen.”

The following biography was taken from Cleveland Past and Present, Its Reprentative Men, Comprising Biographical Sketches of Pioneer Settlers and Prominent Citizens With a History of the City and Historical Sketches of Its Commerce, Manufactures, Ship Building, Railroads, Telegraphy, Schools, Churches, Etc., by Maurice Joblin, published 1869.

“James Armstrong Thome was born in Augusta, Kentucky, January 20, 1813. He is of Scotch descent on his father's side, and of North Irish by his mother, a native Armstrong of the border land. His father was a Presbyterian of the Scotch type, and a ruling elder in the church. His mother was a Methodist of the original Wesleyan order and period, having been converted under the labors of the Wesleys at the age of nine. This difference of the parents in religious beliefs and church affinities remained unchanged till the death of the mother, each attending their respective meetings; yet, wide as the distinction then was, and warm as the prevalent feeling was, between Presbyterians and Methodists, particularly in Kentucky, there was neither sectarian width nor warmth between the godly pair, the twain were one flesh and one spirit in Christ Jesus. The son usually followed his father to church, though he sometimes accompanied his mother; and during week-day evenings he had the double advantage of going to prayer-meeting with the one, and to class-meeting with the other. To this two-fold, yet harmonious, religious training in childhood the son is indebted for a breath of religious sentiment and sympathy which made him early a Presbyterian-Methodist in heart, and led him subsequently to the mid-way ground of Congregationalism, where many a Presbyterian and many a Methodist have met in Christian unity, He owes his early conversion to the faithful teachings and pious example of his parents, to their religious instruction, to family worship, to Sabbath observance, to sanctuary means, in prosecution of the covenant his parents entered into with God when they consecrated him in infancy.

Thome headstone
Thome headstone

The son's first great sorrow came when he was in his ninth year, in the death of his mother. The loss was irreparable, but it led him to Christ, From the sad moment when the dying mother laid her hand upon his head and spoke in words never to be forgotten, her last benediction, sorrow for the sainted dead was blended with penepenitentialrow towards God, and prayers and tears cried to heaven for mercy. It was not, however, until the age of seventeen that the blind seeker found the Saviour, and conscious peace in Him. This happy event was immediately followed by union with the Presbyterian church, and this by personal consecration to the ministry. Just before his conversion, his college course, early begun, had been completed. Three years were spent in farther study, and in travel, and general observation bearing on the chosen calling of life.

At the opening of Lane Seminary, under the Theological headship of Dr. Lyman Beecher, the young divinity student chose that school of the prophets, and joined its first class in 1833. It was a class destined to be made famous by a discussion, in its first year, of the slavery question, then beginning to be agitated by the formation of an anti-slavery society on the basis of immediate emancipation, and by the active agitation of the subject in the neighboring city, Cincinnati, whereby the mobocratic spirit was aroused, whence threats of sacking the seminary buildings, and thereupon alarm and hasty action of the trustees, disallowing further agitation, and enjoining the disbanding of the society. The students, too much in earnest to yield, after unavailing attempts at reconciliation with the authorities, the professors mediating, and Doctor Beecher conjuring his beloved pupils to stay with him, seceded in a body, in December, 1834. The young Kentuckian, son of a slave-holder, became a thorough convert to the doctrine of emancipation, joined the anti-slavery society, agitated with his brethren, delivered an address at the first anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, in New York, May, 1834, and seceded with the class. "A Statement of the Reasons which induced the Students of Lane Seminary to Dissolve their Connection with that Institution"--a pamphlet of twenty-eight pages, signed by fifty-one names, and bearing date December 15, 1834, was published and went over the land, and the city, intensifying the agitation at home, and raising it throughout the country. Among the signatures to this document are those of Theodore D. Weld, H. B. Stanton, George Whipple, J. W. Alvord, George Clark, John J. Miter, Amos Dresser, (afterwards scourged in the Public Square of Nashville,) William T. Allen, son of a slaveholding Presbyterian minister in Alabama, and James A. Thome.

Exiled from the Seminary halls, these rebel reformers took refuge in a building hard by the city, and extemporized a Theological school, themselves being both lecturers and students. The following Spring, negotiations being matured for adding a Theological department to the Oberlin Institute by the accession of Professors Finney and Morgan the seceders went in a body to Oberlin, where they prosecuted their preparations for the ministry, which were completed in 1836. Among these first graduates of Oberlin Theological Seminary was J. A. Thome. The Winter of 1835-6, he had spent in lecturing on anti-slavery in Ohio, under commission of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The Winter of 1836-7, he, with Jos. Horace Kimball, of New Hampshire, visited the British West India Islands to investigate the results of the abolition of slavery, two years prior, by act of Parliament.  A volume entitled "Emancipation in the West Indies," prepared by Mr. Thome, and published, in 1837, by the American Anti-Slavery Society at New York, embodied these observations. The book was timely and told efficiently on the reform in this country. The Winter of 1837, was passed in Kentucky, the abolitionist living among slaveholders, and officiating as the minister in the church of his father. The next Spring he accepted a call to the chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in Oberlin college, and in September following was married to Miss Ann T. Allen, daughter of John Gould Allen, Esq., of Fairfield, Connecticut. After ten years of professorial labors, in association with men of great worth, most of whom still retain their connection with the college, Mr. Thome entered upon the pastoral work, December, 1848, in connection with the church of which he is still the pastor.

He has enjoyed a pastorate of twenty years, uninterrupted by serious ill-health, and cheered by successive revivals and consequent accessions to the church, which, having a membership at the beginning of his pastorate of little over one hundred, now numbers over three hundred, after many losses by dismission and death.  Mr. Thome, early converted to anti-slavery, and consistently devoted to that cause, has lived to see slavery abolished in America. In addition to the volume on West India Emancipation, he wrote, in 1850, a book on Slavery in America, which was published by the British Anti-Slavery Society. Since, a Prize Tract on Prayer for the Oppressed, also a tract during the war on "What are we Fighting for?" and a treatise on "The Future of the Freed People." At the earnest solicitation of the Secretaries of the American Missionary Association, and with the generous consent of his church, Mr. Thome, accompanied by his wife and daughter, went abroad early in 1867, to secure pecuniary assistance from the friends of the freedmen in England and Scotland for their education and evangelization. He was absent on this mission one year. The result of his efforts have not yet ceased to be realized.

After thirty years of unbroken domestic felicity, three beloved daughters having been reared to womanhood in the enjoyment of the Christian's hope, and two of them happily wedded, Mr. Thome and his wife were overwhelmed with sorrow by the sudden death, on the last day of April, 1869, of their second daughter, Mrs. Maria E. Murphy, wife of Mr. Thos. Murphy, of Detroit. A lady of singular amiability, purity, and Christian excellence, she was endeared by her sweet graces to rich and poor, to young and old, throughout the circle of her acquaintances.”