Family's Revolutionary War history now carved in stone in Shiloh

News-DemocratMay 24, 2014 

— The story of the Thomas family seems drawn from a movie, but for their descendants, it's family history now carved in stone in a Shiloh cemetery.

When the Revolutionary War broke out, Col. John Thomas Jr. served under his father's command in a South Carolina regiment. Two of his three brothers were killed in the war, and then John Thomas Sr. was taken prisoner by the British, leaving Thomas Jr. in command of the regiment.

While Thomas Sr. was being held at a British outpost, his wife Jane was permitted to visit him. While she was there, Jane Thomas overheard British wives discussing a surprise attack planned for Cedar Springs, near the present-day town of Glendale, S.C.

Right away, Jane Thomas rode 60 miles to warn her son and his soldiers of the attack. Instead of attacking a sleeping camp, the British rode into an ambush. The Patriot regiment won the day, and Thomas Jr. became known as "the Hero of Cedar Springs."

After the war, Thomas Jr. and his family settled in Shiloh. He eventually became the first treasurer of the state of Illinois, dying while in office in 1819.

Two centuries later, the study of the family's history was "more than a hobby" for Thomas' descendant, 85-year-old Philip Feldman of Indianapolis. "We figure he put more than 30 years into researching this," said Gwyn Downey of Elgin, Feldman's daughter.

So it meant a great deal to Feldman and Downey to be present as the Belleville Daughters of the American Revolution and Eagle Scout Stephen Korte dedicated a monument to Col. John Thomas Jr. on Saturday morning in Shiloh Valley Cemetery off South Main Street.

Stephen's Eagle Scout project centered on research into the history of Col. Thomas' life and fundraising for the monument.

Stephen, 15, said he feels the project gave him a lot of experience and maturity. "I'm definitely a better citizen, now that I know more about people giving their lives to defend the country," Stephen said.

The ceremony included re-enactors in Revolutionary and Civil War uniforms as color guard with flags from various eras, and a seven-gun black-powder salute.

"In remembering the past, we honor the men and women who gave their lives for the preservation of our freedoms and our future," said DAR regent Gail Evans. "In honoring Col. John Thomas Jr., we also pay tribute to all men and women who have served our country with integrity and devotion."

The monument was placed next to the grave of Col. Thomas Jr.'s son. Evans said the actual location of Col. Thomas Jr.'s grave is unknown, as records have been lost over the centuries, but they are fairly sure he lies somewhere within Shiloh Valley Cemetery. So it seemed most appropriate to place the monument next to his son's grave, Evans said.

The dedication read, "History tells us that what is needed today is not just a show of greatness and a parade of power, but a dedication to great ideals and high endeavor."

Among the groups participating were the Belleville Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, Society of 1812, Union and Confederate Sons and a group of Civil War re-enactors.

"I think it's great that a community can collaborate to put the time and research into today's ceremony," Downey said.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 618-239-2507.

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