Caroline Thomas

Learn about Caroline Thomas who was an instructor at Leesburg from 1867-1868, at Lincoln from 1968 - 1871, and instructed the Winnebago Indians in Nebraska from 1871- 1880. Caroline was born January 20, 1833 and died on February 22, 1896.

Read the research below or request the paper: preliminary-notes-on-caroline-thomasmay21-1.docx

By Larry Roeder 24 May 2015, former Chair for Research Black History Committee, Friends of the Balch Library May 24, 2015 (comments and corrections are invited.) Mr. Roeder is now CEO of the Edwin Washington Society. Edited 8/4/2023.

An Important Question

This story is mainly about the hard work of one woman, Caroline Thomas, and her Quaker friends who genuinely wished to educate, clothe and help Blacks in Loudoun County and Native-Americans in Nebraska. Quakers. and those supported by them, streamed into Southern communities following the Civil War in order to help recently freed Blacks have a chance at an education. Similarly, many, also like Thomas, would later answer a call from the Federal Government to "civilize" Native-Americans through education and religious instruction, all done through the optic of white society.

Certainly, many, probably most who instructed Blacks, were on a moral quest to correct the ills borne of enslavement, like illiteracy which certainly inhibited the potential of freed people to advance materially. A lack of literacy also set the recently freed up for abuse if they could not read their contracts. Ethics was also a part of the Indian program; but did the Quakers see either Native Americans or Blacks as equal? Sarah Mapps Douglas, a Black Quaker and a contemporary of Thomas, complained that one reason so few Blacks were Quakers was not that religious traditions were different, e.g. music and singing in Black Baptist churches, vs quiet reflection in Quaker meetings. The reason was that Blacks didn’t like sitting in the back of the church. Indeed, as Margaret Hope Bacon, a well-regarded Quaker scholar, would later note, “by and large the majority of Quaker schools and colleges did not admit blacks until mid-way through the twentieth century. Friends seemed to feel that they had done all they should in providing “separate but equal.” (Bacon 2012).

Does this mean that either Thomas or the Quakers she worked with did not see Blacks as equal? Perhaps; but too few of Thomas’s letters have survived to make a definitive statement. We do know that when in Leesburg, due to the resistance by whites to providing her housing when she instructed Blacks so she stayed in the home of a Black citizen. That was both brave and scandalous at the time. Interestingly, Quaker schools were also not free and she expressed opposition to free schools, certainly an irony for one who fought hard to educate nearly penniless people.

Did Thomas see Native-Americans as less than equal? The evidence is stronger here; mainly due to mention of a report by Thomas for the Office of Indian Affairs that apparently supported the government’s educational policies. Those policies required the elimination of native language, dress and most customs, to be replaced by English as a common language, western dress and Christianity. Unfortunately, the actual report has been lost with time.

Anything done by the Quakers in the 19th Century should of course be understood within a larger national context. After the Civil War a traumatized country was quickly rebuilding economically and didn’t want to see any resistance. Similarly, settlers were rapidly moving west, building towns, railroads and economic arteries. They certainly didn’t want any troubles with Native-Americans, the ”red men,” despite the fact that the movement west intruded on land promised to the Indians. At the same time, there a revival of Christianity as a tool for social justice. Despite that last point, this was also a time of great religious and racial intolerance and injustice, and well-meaning missionaries and humanitarians often became parts of a governmental machinery that implemented societal prejudice and intolerance, with policies and practices that more often than not saw Blacks and Native-Americans as unclean and uncivilized unless changed by white education.

It is perhaps unfair to criticize the people of the 19th century in 21st century terms.   Clearly some meant well, others did not.  Some things intended as humanitarian in the 19th century would not sustain that definition today; other things were truly positive.   For understanding, it is perhaps more fitting to turn to a contemporary statement made by George Catlin in 1860 which though applied to the treatment of the “Indians” might well have been used to describe the treatment of Blacks, indeed any minority, then or today.

“For the Christian and the philanthropist . . . there is enough, I am sure, in the character, conditions and history of these unfortunate people, to engage his sympathies – for the Nation, there is an unrequited account of sin and injustice that sooner or later will call for national retribution – and for the American citizens, who live, everywhere proud of their growing wealth and their luxuries, over the bones of these poor fellows, who have surrendered their hunting grounds and their lives to the enjoyment of their cruel dispossessors, there is a lingering terror yet, I fear for the reflecting minds, whose mortal bodies must soon take their humble places with their red, but injured brethren, under the same glebe; to appear and stand, at last, with guilt’s shivering conviction, amidst the myriad ranks of accusing spirits, that are to rise in their own fields as the final day of resurrection (Catlin 1860, pg 776).”

Teaching African-Americans during Reconstruction

Teaching African-Americans was legal in the early days of the colonial Virginia; but eventually the practice became illegal because an educated enslaved or freed population was seen as a security threat to the ruling white population. That attitude continued up to the end of the Civil War, though there is definitely evidence of private undertakings to provide limited education to a small number of African-Americans, some by Quakers By 1870 the new State Constitution enshrined segregated education, creating separate, largely unequal schools for whites and African-Americans. The Research Committee of the Black History Committee of the Friends of the Balch Library intends to build a history on all the teachers of African-Americas in Loudoun between the Civil War and integration. This paper has a focus on Caroline Thomas, a teacher who instructed in Leesburg and Lincoln, then moved to Nebraska to teach the Winnebago.

With both of experiences instructing African-Americans and Native-Americans, it will be important to understand her moral imperatives and if they are symptomatic of the times for such humanitarians. Unfortunately, very little of her writings have survived. Very likely, while like all Quakers, she was opposed to slavery, this doesn’t mean that she believed African-Americans were her equal. She might have; but it was more common at the time to have a paternalistic attitude. This is more likely to be the case with Native-Americans. A contemporary well-known author Augustus Lynch Mason (1858-1939), described “the red men” in the most disparaging of terms, essentially uncivilized and savage until they assumed white man’s costume and customs and tossed aside their religious beliefs. Today, Mason would be seen as a paternalistic bigot; but at the time he thought of himself as a moralist, interesting in helping Native-Americans. He was also a critic of the failed governmental policies; but that’s because they didn’t change “the red man” well enough to match the morals and beliefs of white men (Mason 1883). We don’t know Caroline’s beliefs; but traces of her works with the Office of Indian Affairs does at least indicate she supported government policies.

Some education of African-Americans between end of the end of the war in 1865 and the establishment of the 1870 constitution was done by white Quakers, often from out-of-state. Not to be forgotten however were also African-American teachers like William O. Robey of Leesburg who started in his home the second Freedmen’s Bureau School in Leesburg in 1866. Except for a small amount in rent, the school was fully supported by Leesburg’s African American community (Morefield 2004). This project is an effort of the Black History Committee of the Friends of the Balch Library to document all “colored schools, their students and teachers,” so one of my first questions for the reconstruction period was whether there exists a compiled master list of teachers. Incomplete lists do exist; but nothing comprehensive. Teachers might receive aid (clothing for students, books and other supplies) from multiple sources: perhaps one or more Quaker bodies from New York and Pennsylvania for example, local African-Americans or the Freedman's Bureau, using text-books supplied by the American Missionary Association (Densmore 3/24/2015).

Loudoun in 1866, a year following the War

A preliminary examination of Freedmen records showed that as of September 30, 1866, nine farm schools had been established in Loudoun, all free, of which four were sustained by benevolent societies and one managed by a “intelligent, educated colored man,” undoubtedly William Obediah Robey. Unfortunately, that particular report didn’t identify the locations of the schools, nor their teachers (Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands 1865-1869, Roll 45, 489-490). It did however point out that African-Americans took every chance to school their kids, when the opportunity arose; but the places of instruction had to be in old churches and inexpensive buildings. Robey’s school was in his home, for example. A different report of the same date listed only three teachers in Loudoun under the supervision of the Bureau. Two operated in Leesburg and thus could have been at the same school, and one was in Waterford (List of Freedmen's Schools, September, 1866: Report of Schools under the Supervision of the Bureau 1866, September (Roll 12 (M-1053) (Page 268)).

Town # of Schools Instructor Supporting society # of Students Ave Attendance # of Males # of Females # over 16
Leesburg 1 William O. Robey[1] None 29 16 8 12 16
Leesburg 1 Caroline Thomas Friends Ass of Phil 48 32 26 22 4
Waterford 1 Sarah Steer[2] Friends As of Phil 43 35 20 23 8

Background on Caroline Thomas:

Several Quaker teachers helped the African-American community. One woman usually considered called a Quaker was Caroline Thomas. The first thing to point out is that while Carolyn or Caroline Thomas did teach in Leesburg and Lincoln, she might also have been a laundress in the Union Army, though that’s not yet proven. Likewise a Caroline Thomas instructed Winnebago Indians in 1872 on behalf of Loudoun Quakers. (Densmore 3/24/2015).

The Loudoun Carolyn Thomas was born in Philadelphia January 20, 1833 and died in New Jersey February 22, 1896. She was one of the first instructors of African-Americans in Leesburg and an instructor at the Tait School in Lincoln, following her evacuation from Leesburg. She instructed adults in the evening and may even have in Lincoln instructed a few African-Americans at the high school level!

Was Caroline Thomas Really a Quaker?

When I first heard of Thomas, the assumption was that she belonged to the Quaker faith, especially as she was contracted by Quakers to educate African-Americans and was close to the Janney family of Loudoun. Professor Burchart was also convinced she was a Quaker and she might well have been a member of that church; but neither I nor a researcher at Swarthmore College could find specific evidence to show that Caroline Thomas, (1833-1896) ever joined the Society of Friends. Clearly she lived among Members of Friends. Her mother Rebecca (Meeting Secretary 1870, February 16, pp 182-183) did join Friends as did her sister Sarah, after she had married Edward Fell, and, too, her brother Charles E. Thomas.

The records for the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting give several details about the family of Jonathan and Rebecca Wright Thomas, including the dates of Caroline Thomas' birth and death. Jonathan was not a Member. Rebecca, his widow, joined the Meeting by request in 1870, which means she was not a Member prior to that time. Charles E., her brother, joined in 1877. Edward Fell was a Member of Green Street Meeting and was noted for "mos" (married one not a Member) in 1869. He transferred his Membership to Philadelphia and his wife Sarah Thomas joined Friends with her two children in 1878. One possibility of confusion about a Caroline Thomas in Loudon County arises because a Caroline E. Thomas Shoemaker, wife of Basil Shoemaker, was a Member of Goose Creek Meeting (where Samuel Janney was a Member). She had come from Horsham Meeting in Pennsylvania in 1850 and this could not have been Caroline Thomas, daughter of Jonathan and Rebecca. Since Caroline Thomas, daughter of Jonathan and Rebecca, was not a Member (as far as I could determine), there is no record of her receiving a Certificate of Removal from Philadelphia Meeting to any Meeting in either Virginia or Nebraska. This precludes one from proving the identity of the Caroline Thomas of Loudon County by means of Friends records.

In addition, a letter she wrote in 1880 to the Samuel Janney's family upon the death of Samuel M. Janney use the personal pronoun "you" instead of "thee". In other letters of the same period Friends would use thee. Another hint that Caroline was not a Member (Hazard 2015), though I’ve seen a letter of her from 1869 which use the word thy.

How Did Woman Become Teachers?

“Single women frequently became teachers. She would have had family connections in the Quaker community and may have gotten the job that way. She may have attended a Quaker secondary school like Westtown. If her brother joined the armed services he was likely to have been disciplined, perhaps not disowned by the meeting. (ODonnell 2015).”

Possible Service in the Union Army 1864

A Caroline Thomas served in the Union Army for 100 days as a laundress. If this was the Loudoun Thomas, it’s a reminder that not all Quakers or those influenced by that faith refused military service, though to clear, while a laundress provided support for combat forces, she did not fight. “Revised Army regulations, written in 1861 and published in 1863, contained the following information on laundresses: “Four women, as laundresses, are allowed to a company, and one ration per day to each when present with the company (Mescher 2013).” At present, it is unclear if the two ladies are the same and one has to ask if a thirty something single Quaker woman would join a military unit. Possible; but since military activities were frowned on, this deserves serious research. “If her brother did join the armed services he was likely to have been disciplined, perhaps not disowned by the meeting. (ODonnell 2015)”

“On the 18 April 1929 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted a law for registration of all veterans’ graves; whereupon on 25 April 1934 the Office of county Commissioners of the City and County of Philadelphia sent notice asking Mr. Gaskill (of Fair Field) to give the number of forms he needs to comply. Twenty-one veterans were located in the burial ground and on 4 May 1934 Carl B. Zelengiger Jr., chief clerk sent Gaskill 21 forms to be executed and returned to the County Commissioners office with their attached War Records…” Among the 21 veterans were two women – Anna C. Thomas and Caroline Thomas (Baldwin 1982, 168).

A Caroline Thomas served in the 134th Illinois Infantry organized at Camp Fry, Chicago, Ill., and mustered in for 100 days May 31, 1864. They then moved to Columbus, Ky., June 6-8. They were also attached to District of Columbus, Ky. and Garrison duty at Columbus till October, then mustered out on October 5, 1864. The Regiment lost during service 1 Officer and 20 Enlisted men by disease. Total 21. (134th Regiment, Illinois Infantry (100 days, 1864) n.d.).” The “134th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry was among scores of regiments that were raised in the summer of 1864 and known as Hundred Days Men, an effort to augment existing manpower for an all-out push to end the war within 100 days (Wikipedia Volunteer n.d.).”

Name: Caroline Thomas
Side: Union
Regiment State/Origin: Illinois
Regiment Name: 134 Illinois Infantry (100 Days, 1864)
Regiment Name Expanded: 134th Regiment, Illinois Infantry (100 days, 1864)
Company: C
Rank In: Laundress
Rank In Expanded: Laundress
Rank Out: Laundress
Rank Out Expanded: Laundress
Film Number: M539 roll 90 (134th Regiment, Illinois Infantry (100 days, 1864) n.d.) (War Department n.d.)

Unfortunately, an examination of records in the National Archives did not provide any proof that the women were the same, nor anything dispositive. To study this potential episode of Miss Thomas’s life, I mainly examined Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of Treasury, which contained fascinating documentation of disallowed claims made by laundresses for lost pay. The records are in alphabetical order by laundress, each within a legal sized envelope. A laundress was paid by the soldiers in a unit for her services and some failed, such as Private George Reed who deserted his post in Monticello Florida (Daggett, National Archives Identifier: 2591963HMS Entry Number: A1 451 1842, 9 December) or Private Daniel Madden, who was dishonorably discharged but had as a term of the court’s sentence to pay his laundry woman (Daggett, Affidavit on Behalf of Mary Harris against Private Daniel Madden 1872, December 9)[3]. These records therefore potentially provide a rich history of the women, as well as some of the soldiers with whom they served. I didn’t discover Ms. Thomas’s records. That’s not dispositive, as she might not have made a claim or if she had, it might have been allowed.

The actual daily reports of company C have been lost, so another set of records I searched was Carded Services of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780-1917 for hospital attendants, matrons and nurses for the years 1861-1865. These boxes consist of IBM data card sized cards with hand written notes in alphabetical order by the name if the women. The user should be careful, as over time, as the order of the cards has been jumbled a bit. Once again, I drew a blank (War Department 1865).

Founding of Leesburg’s School

Freedmen’s Bureau records indicate Leesburg’s school was established by 1866. (Smith Sidney, B. Lt. 1866, Roll 45, 489-490), (Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands 1865-1870, Rolls 12 and page 303). In theory Lincoln was also set up in 1867, though some research points to 1865 or 1869. (See chapter on Lincoln). We do know that Caroline left Leesburg as an instructor in 1869 to become the instructor at Lincoln, for which she was paid $20 a month. (Gaines 1994, 18). (Smith Sidney, B. Lt. 1866, Roll 9);

Educating African Americans in Loudoun, Virginia

In a report in the Intelligencer on April 12th, 1867, we find that “a delegation of Quakers left Philadelphia for Leesburg, and used the Alexandria, Loudon and Hampshire Railway to Belmont, and then by stage to Leesburg where they visited the school of Caroline Thomas. “It is a comfortable frame building, a few squares from her lodgings. We found her engaged in teaching, therefore had a good opportunity of judging the capability of her pupils. We were well satisfied with their advancement. Some of the parents were present, who expressed much gratitude for this privilege for themselves and children.“

Thomas in Leesburg 1867

There is little doubt about gratitude. In Loudoun County and throughout the old South, African Americans were anxious for education. As Butchart reported, teachers through the South were overwhelmed by the interest of the formerly enslaved to be schooled, turning from an inferior class to equality or better. We can see this in Thomas’s experience teaching night and day, children and adults. “The teacher is earnest and zealous in her work, both in the school room and among the colored people generally. During the winter she has held school several evenings in the week for adults, and assisted in organizing and supporting a literary association which has given opportunity for instructive reading and appropriate counsel. She believes this form of labor among these people is one of the most important aids in the work of elevation (Laing and Atlee 1868).”

Thomas had really intended to make a go of teaching in Leesburg; but that proved impossible, due to social resistance and threats by Whites. Friends’ Intelligencer, Volume 26 referred to Thomas as having had to abandon her school in Leesburg because of the “impossibility of having a School House fit to teach in, and the unwillingness on our part to risk the health, and probably the life of any teacher under such circumstances. Having no other opening, we were very reluctantly compelled to part with her (JME 1869/70).” From there, she moved to Lincoln. Her first employer was a Philadelphia Quaker body. In Lincoln, she was paid by a Long Island body.

From a report by Sidney B. Smith, Freedmen’s Bureau Agent for Loudoun Co of February 27th 1867, we also learned that “A lady,[ Caroline Thomas*]teaching a colored school here under the auspices of the Friends Society Phil “Penn” is obliged to live in a house of a Freedman or rather in one room of a house occupied by a colored family, or discontinue school, as she could not get boarded elsewhere. Hence she is annoyed not a little by the “Chivalry of the Old Dominion. A scurrilous paragraph appeared in one of the papers of this place some days ago in consequence of her having taken lodging where she now is, and denunciations of the most malignant character are suspected against her, by the people.” *Caroline Thomas, Quaker teacher from Philadelphia. (1913, r.100 N187). This wasn’t a problem unique to Leesburg, as reported in nearby Manassas, Virginia, by Quaker instructor Speer in 1870 who said that prejudice against instructing African-Americans also excluded her from gaining living space with families of residents. At the time, Speer operated a school for over thirty (Society Secretary 1870, pg 5).

In the Intelligencer for April 24, 1867, Thomas wrote about her housing problem as well. The problem is the reports are all past tense and is often impossible to know exactly when they were written, only when they were published.

“Caroline Thomas, at Leesburg, Va., in allusion to having found it impossible to procure board in any white family, cheerfully remarks:  Suffice it to say, I succeeded in getting a home amongst good, kind people, and the only fear is they will spoil me, for there is nothing they can do for me that is not done. They seem to understand by a kind of intuitive perception what I would like to have, which is all owing to their kind hearts; and the more I see of them, the more I wonder how anyone could treat them unkindly (JME 1868)”.

In the Intelligencer for Oct 21, 1867

For Loudoun, the teachers listed working for the Quakers were:

Sarah Ann Steer, Waterford

Caroline Thomas, Leesburg (JME 1868).

What did Thomas Teach?

In 1867, “in reference to her school, she says: “I have one class in Short Division, one in Multiplication, one in Subtraction and three in Addition. With a very few exceptions, most of these children could not make a figure when they first came to school. I have one class in Definitions; have some very good readers and spellers, and think my first class is now prepared to take some other studies – either Grammar or Philosophy, or both (JME 1868)”

In another note from 1867, “A number of examples in Arithmetic have also been forwarded by Caroline Thomas, of Leesburg, Va., comprising Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication and Division, accompanied in some instances with proofs of their results which are really wonderful; some of them involving over forty, and some over fifty figures in their execution (JME 1868).”

Sewing instruction was done every week in the afternoon for the girls. “”Some of them can sew right well (Thomas, Caroline 1868).”

But especially impressive was Thomas’s efforts to teach writing, as evidenced in a report of her from June 27, 1867.

‘I send thee a specimen of the kind of composition I receive. This one is written by a boy who wait on table at the hotel. He gets five dollars per month and board, with the privilege of coming to school between times; of course he does not come very regularly, and Court weeks he cannot come at all. I almost tremble for his future, exposed as he is to temptations. The composition is just as he handed it to me, and it there is any merit in it, he must have all the credit; it is his first attempt.” Here it is.

Going to School

I think it is a very good thing to go to school and learn to read and write. It is the first opportunity we ever had, and we ought to make good use of it. I think it will be a great improvement to us. We ought to love our teacher, and mind her and respect her; and if we love her she will love us, and we ought to lover and respect everybody.” (Thomas, Caroline 1868).”

Signed Edwin Washington.

We only know the following about Edwin from the 1870 Federal Census for Leesburg.

  • Father, Unknown
  • Mother,Nellie Washington, Age 40 (Born 1830 in Virginia). Black. Kept house and had an estate worth $100. She could not read or write.
  • Brother: Joseph, Age 21 (Born 1849 in Virginia), Farm Laborer.
  • Edwin, Age 19 (Born 1851 in Virginia), Waiter in Hotel.
  • Brother: Samuel, Age 11 (Born 1859 in Virginia), Attended school.
  • Brother: William, Age 3 (Born 1867 in Virginia), Lived at home

Night School

the Intelligencer for April 12, 1867, 1867,

A delegation of Quakers from Philadelphia reported on April 12th, 1867, “During the winter she has held school several evenings in the week for adults, and assisted in organizing and supporting a literary association which has given opportunity for instructive reading and appropriate counsel. She believes this form of labor among these people is one of the most important aids in the work of elevation (Laing and Atlee 1868).”

In the Intelligencer for April 24, 1867,

“She has closed her night school[4], as the evenings have grown so much shorter; but she is so much interested in her pupils she expects “to meet with them once a week to read to them, and to help them along a little. It will not do to leave my sheep without a shepherd, for the wolves are even now prowling about, in the shape of wily politicians[5]. (JME 1868)”

In the Intelligencer for Dec 12, 1867,

“My evenings are very much occupied since I have commenced teaching night-school, but it is well to be so, as I am better satisfied to be doing something. There is so much to do here that I sometimes feel worried, and as though I had just commenced. O! If the people here would arouse to a sense of this work – take hold of it, and help me along – it seems as though we could do much more.

“At times when I look ahead, I am almost discouraged, and must needs take a glance at the past, and with this contrast I can then see and know it is well for me to be here. The improvement in the children has been such that one can scarcely believe they are the same. I have so many little creatures who require so much patience, and who have not the right kind of home training, as playful as kittens, but a great deal naughtier, that daily prayer get up for patience, patience. (JME 1868)”

Kids Have to Work Too Soon, Just as they Learn to Read and Write

One of the problems with Loudoun education in the 19th century was that because of the agricultural nature of life, students often missed classes at harvest time, which could in the public school system established after 1870 mean a longer period moving through grammar school. We can also see elements of this through Caroline Thomas eyes in a report in the Intelligencer of June 27, 1867.

“I have just heard of the return of Edith W. Atlee and Henry M. Laing from their trip South. I hope their visit gave satisfaction to all. I am sure it was a source of much pleasure not only to me, but to all who met with them. The only part I felt like finding fault with was the short time they staid. There are some persons I should have liked to have had them visit – some of my dear old folks; so many of my colored friends regret they did not meet with them.

“Almost daily some of my old scholars leave, and new ones come in. It is rather discouraging to have them thus leave just as I see they are advancing both mentally and morally; but their parents seem to think as soon as they can read and write tolerably they will do, and they must go to work (Thomas, Caroline 1868).”


Discipline in 19th Century American schools could be brutal in today’s terms and in Loudoun’s Colored Schools, even in the 20th Century (Jett 2015). One thing required was “clock discipline,” meaning to be on time; but as Professor Ronald E. Butchart[6] reported in his Schooling the Freed People, this made little sense in agrarian society, especially for people who didn’t have clocks and watches (Butchart 2010, 138). Caroline Thomas didn’t resort to physical discipline for tardiness; but she did rely on public humiliation as an appropriate tool. In fairness though, this was not a racial thing. Teachers for both whites and African-Americans did this, often as late as the 1960’s.

“I have had considerable difficulty to impress upon these children the importance of punctuality, and thought for the first few weeks I never should be able to accomplish it; but by dint of perseverance in encouraging those who came early, and in showing my displeasure to those who came late, the habit of promptness is gradually established. I give thee and instance of my manner of treating those who are late. When such scholar makes appearance inside the doors, I instantly stop whatever I may be doing, and say “Children, tell (calling the delinquent by name) at what hour school commences”; at this they will sing out “School commences at 8 o’clock in the morning.” This seems to mortify them, and I think is having a good effect, in some cases it has acted like a charm. (Butchart 2010)”

Lincoln Education

Photos of the Lincoln Colored School

The photo of the Lincoln Colored School was taken in 1940 by Thos E. Sims, Jr. as part of a series of photographs taken that year of school in Loudoun County. Source: Insurance Analysis and Permanent Record – Property of Loudoun County School Board: Garrett Insurance Company (Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company), Leesburg, Virginia. October, 1940. (Blue Insurance Binder, LCPS Records Office, Round Hill, Loudoun, Co., Va.)

Description of the Lincoln Colored School from Insurance Records

June 1866 Opening Date of Lincoln -- Thomas Begins in 1868

From Friends Intelligencer in 1870, a citation reads "The School for Freedmen: Lincoln, Loudoun Co., Va. was opened in Sixth Mo 1866. Caroline Thomas has been the teacher for the last two years (putting her start about 1868). It has been aided by the "Charity Society" of Jericho, Long Island, from the interest of a fund subscribed by Friends the later part of the last century, for the purpose of aiding colored children in obtaining an education. Elias Hicks was one of its principal promoters. The District Schools being all free in this State, the money has not been needed for them in this vicinity, and for the last year and a half has been appropriated in assisting the freed-people in supporting the school spoken of in the accompanying letter of Caroline Thomas (C. Thomas, The School For Freedmen 9/10/1870 1870)."

From letters written by Thomas, my guess is that Mrs. Barnard T. Janney instructed In Lincoln from opening in 1866 to 1868.

Quakers in Virginia established First day schools [7] in Lincoln, Hillsboro and Waterford by 1866, if not just after hostilities ended. (Society Secretary 1866, pg 5).

Report on the Lincoln School, May 20, 1869 Regarding Opening in 1868

Jericho Charitable Society reported “The Committee having charge of the freeman’s school at Lincoln, Virginia made the following report and the society has agreed to pay $20 per month until November, 1869.

“I will inform the charity society that Caroline Thomas has taught the Freedman school at Lincoln Va. since the society has contributed to its support. The school opened Nov 11, 1868[8]. This may refer to Thomas’s role, if we see Lincoln the school starting in 1866. A part of this time in 1st, 2nd and 3rd months it was full, averaging 40 or more, many of them walking from 3 to 7 miles. Their application and advancement has been reported satisfactory.

“A recent report states that the average attendance from opening to have been at least 30. Although at the last meeting, the number had been reduced by the children having the measles. (Society Secretary 1869).”

Thomas in Lincoln 1868

Note from Jericho Charitable Society, 1868. “A minute reads "$10 per month-for the Freedman's at Lincoln, Va., of which Samuel M. Janney has an oversite." Caroline Thomas was the teacher. The ten dollars was soon increased to twenty dollars a month, the teacher's salary (Shea 1870).”

Letter from Caroline Thomas, while in Lincoln, Loudoun County, December 8th, 1868 (Society Secretary 1869, pg 15-16). Thomas was being supported by Friends on Long Island; the most important being Edmund Willets;

"It seems so natural and withal so pleasant to address thee, bringing fresh to my mind the old days in Leesburg. I sometimes feel that I am not as happy now as in times past, notwithstanding the pleasant society which I am permitted to enjoy in this place; and a more congenial home among strangers one does not often meet with; for the lady who is my hostess is an ex school marm-one who taught the school which I am now teaching, and one who is alive, heart and soul, in the cause of Right and Justice.

Her husband, Bernard T. Janney, has rented Springdale, and is teaching a school for white children. Thus far all is pleasant; but it is the size of my school I protest against. I have but sixteen pupils at present, but they all tell me I shall have a house full after Christmas, most of them men.

“Bernard T. Janney was an educator born in Loudoun County, Virginia. He was educated at Westtown Friends School in Westtown, Pennsylvania. He began teaching in his own state and served in the Civil War from 1861 to 1864 in the northern army. He was retired as a Captain. In 1871, he was appointed teacher of grades from one through eight at Brightwood in Washington, D.C. Later he became supervisor of the Georgetown schools in the District of Columbia from 1874 to 1916 (Saunders 2010)”.

Samuel M. Janney (1801-1880)

Here the children have to walk so far; from 2 to 2 ½ and 3 miles, and the roads are very bad during the winter, and always after a rain or snow. I have not the same opportunity of visiting the colored people in their homes, as that I had in Leesburg, the same difficulties attending-the bad roads.

All that I have met with are so kind and seem very glad to know I am going to teach them this winter. They had the school-house nicely decorated with evergreens for my reception, and it looked real bright and cheerful when I arrived there. On my way down, in passing through Leesburg, I saw several of my oId scholars, my little Sicily[9] among the rest.

They had learned in some way that I was coming, and they came to the depot to meet me; I cannot tell thee how glad I was to see them. I also met Capt. Smith [10]there, who informed me that he had been staying sometime in the place, superintending the building of the school-house, and that he thought it would be completed in about two weeks. The Captain has left the Bureau service, and was at that time about closing up his business for a final departure.

Since that time I have had not one word from Leesburg, and fear now, that Captain has left, that all effort will cease in this matter for the present. I cannot give up this Leesburg; my heart still yearns for my little flock, left without an earthly shepherd.

I had a letter from our dear friend, Sarah Steer[11], a few days ago; she writes very encouragingly. I have not had the pleasure of seeing her since I returned, but am looking forward with hope; her school now numbers 28 pupils. Sarah mentioned having just heard from thee, and that the accustomed box: would soon be along, to make the hearts of the little ones glad. My heart feels lighter since I heard of it, for right well do I understand what a source of heart warm it is to the teacher as well as pupils.

A little circumstance occurred a few evenings after I became settled in my new home. While we were sitting conversing, we were surprised with voices singing in the passage just outside the parlor door; we instantly ceased talking and listened to one of the most beautiful hymns I ever heard, commencing 'We are on the ocean sailing[12].'· When the voices ceased we stepped to the door, and found several of the colored people assembled to serenade us. It seems they had entered through the servants' apartments, taken off their shoes and ascended the stairs thus quietly, and we knew nothing of their presence till the music burst upon us so solemnly and· so sweetly. I felt very deeply this tribute of love to their teachers. Never, while memory lasts, can I forget the sensations of that moment. Once again they came; again were the chords of harmony vibrated 'tween their souls and ours. No one need tell me these are an ungrateful people, for I have evidence able to refute any such assertions.

'['he colored people of this neighborhood are said to be in much better circumstances than in other neighborhoods, but there are sorne poor among them, very poor. Those who are able pay 50 cents per month, and the men who will come this winter are expected to pay $1 per month. The school is assisted by a few Friends on Long Island; one of the principal of whom is Edmund Willets[13]; they pay $25 per month now towards its support, and the rest of the salary is made up by the colored people.

The school-house is situated about half a mile from where I board, and when the walking is.

very bad Bernard sends me, which is very kind in him. We have had two snows this season, both heavy enough to sleigh on. I had my first sleigh ride yesterday; another again to-day.

Snow does not last long here; soon thaws, the rays of the sun shine out so warm?

Thomas Reports from Springdale (near Lincoln) January 3rd, 1869

Springdale is really a part of Lincoln in Loudoun County and where the Janney family operated a girl’s school. On January 3rd, 1869 a Quaker instructor named Carolina Thomas wrote from there and referenced the Janney’s. I surmise because this lady has a nearly identical name, also works for the Quakers and in proximity to Lincoln, she is very likely our Caroline Thomas. Though the name isn’t uncommon, there are too many coincidences to suggest a different woman. (Society Secretary 1869, pp 21-22)

“It seems a very long time since I have heard anything from my old patrons, the “Freedmen’s Ed Society,” but I suppose I must take the blame all to myself, for not answering thy very acceptable letter earlier. I have a large school now, and am fully satisfied with regard to numbers. Have about fifty pupils, the majority of them men; anxious to learn all they can in the few weeks they can spare to come to school. Teaching thus, I sometimes feel it wearing and exhausting; for their anxiety of mind attending it, which certainly has that effect. Nevertheless I love my work and would not change it for another. Daily do I have reason to feel this to be one of the noblest works in which we are permitted to engage. I am often led to question my own heart, whether I am good enough to fill the responsible position of teacher; to stand up as an example for these people. In the morning, sanding before my desk, my eyes run over the school room, filled to its utmost capacity with children of all sizes and color, from the jettiest black to the pale face and blue eyes; and large men, willing to set at my feet, if need be, to learn. It to be considered at, if my heart goes up in prayerful supplication to the throne of the ‘Most High,’ for true wisdom and knowledge to instruct them, and that I may not grow lukewarm or arbitrary? For I have but to say, ‘do this and he doeth it.’ And to that ‘come hither and he cometh.’

“I have found true friends in S.M. Janney and family during my illness, and indeed ever since I have been in this neighborhood. His house is one of my homes, and I always meet with a kindly welcome here. He and his daughter Cornelia take a great interest in my school, and while I was not able to go, assisted in teaching. The friends with whom I am boarding are also very kind. I was made just as comfortable when I was ill as I could have been at home. Indeed I feel under obligations to many of the friends for kind attentions. It is very pleasant to be among Christian people, and I can but rejoice that ‘my lines are thus case in pleasant places;’ and yet my thoughts often wander to the city of ‘Sodom[14],’ and wonder how it is with my poor people. I sometimes hear from them. I had a letter a few weeks ago from one of my night scholars announcing the arrival of a little namesake. I believe their school house is still unfinished, and will, no doubt remain do for some time to come, as there is now no one to take the matter in hand and push it along[15]. Three of my old pupils are now coming to school to me, having gotten homes in the neighborhood.

The people have quite a large Temperance Society established and I should like to meet with them occasionally and read something to them.

Dear friends, please give us a little of your abundance. These people here have not much given to them, and I know anything of the kind would be so thankfully received.

“I hope thee will have patience to read my letter through and excuse the length. With much love to thy family and the Association, and hoping to hear from you soon, I remain, &c.”

March 29, 1869 Letter from Sarah Steer, Waterford about Thomas in Lincoln

Sarah Steer was the Quaker instructor at Waterford and a friend of Caroline Thomas. In a letter of March 29, 1869 referring to other matters, she also said.

“We had a very pleasant visit from Carrie Thomas at our Quarterly Meeting, which was held here last month; she seems very much interested in her school at Lincoln, and is much more pleasantly situated than at Leesburg. The colored people of Leesburg are now plastering their school house; so I suppose it is nearly finished. (Society Secretary 1869, pg 26)”

Note on Sarah Steer: “Three Quaker maidens of Waterford, Sarah Steer (26), Elizabeth Dutton (Lizzie, 24), and Eliza Dutton (Lida, 19), determined that their zeal for the Union should not be suppressed, gave vent to their feelings by publishing a newspaper called The Waterford News. While their copy was sent across the river into Maryland to be printed, these clever maidens handled all of the other details as publishers: reporting, editing, and distributing. The first edition of this paper appeared in May 1864, and continued monthly through April, 1865. Strongly Union, it no doubt incurred the wrath of the Confederate sympathizers, but the purpose was "to cheer the weary soldier, and render material aid to the sick and wounded." From this small four-page affair we are enabled to look back across the century for an eyewitness account of daily life in Waterford. (Waterford Foundation Editors 1999)

1869 Supplies Reach Thomas

The Forwarding Committee appears to have been a Quaker body operating out of Philadelphia that distributed donated books, clothes etc. In its report of 1869 for the period of May 1868-May 1869, the Committee noted that it had distributed a barrel containing books and clothing to Caroline Thomas in Leesburg (Society Secretary 1869, pg 33). It appears they either had not caught up with her change of address, or perhaps supplies had to go through Leesburg before reaching Lincoln.

The Tait School in Lincoln


The Gaines study indicated that in 1869 the Lincoln school was moved to a new building on the property of William Tait, a Quaker. Caroline Thomas was the teacher and paid $20 a month for her services. The same structure was in operation in 1874 when it was inspected by a member of the Charity Society. By then, the institution had taken on the name Tait School as well. In addition, adults were studying there in the winter and “showed much desire for learning.” The inspection went well and further support was recommended (Gaines 1994, 18).

Upon further research, I figured out that the Philomont/Greggsville Freedmen’s Bureau school lot was donated by Quaker William Tate, which is clearly the school mentioned in the Gaines report. Mr. Tate was a retired farmer in Philomont (US Census Bureau 1870).

The trustees were three African-Americans: Samuel Colbert, Robert Webb and Sandy Smith, as well as three white men, Enoch Fenton, William T. Shoemaker and William H. Taylor (Clerk of the Court n.d., Liber 342).

The African-American Trustees at Tait:

  • Samuel Colbert Mr. Colbert could have been an African-American Black Smith living in Bloomfield (US Census Bureau 1870).
  • Robert Webb Mr. Webb could have been a “mulatto” farm laborer born in 1810 and in 1870 living in the Mercer District (US Census Bureau 1870).
  • Sandy Smith. I am unclear about Mr. Smith.

The White Trustees at Tait

  • Enoch Fenton. Mr. Fenton was a wealthy (worth $20,000) white farmer in Circleville, which is a community about 2 miles S of Lincoln and an equal distance from Mt Gilead. (US Census Bureau 1870).
  • William T. Shoemaker. This gentleman was very likely William Tate Shoemaker, an important Quaker in Loudoun County (Marshall 1947).
  • William H. Taylor. Mr. William H. Taylor was a farmer in the Philomont area and lived in the household of Mr. Tate. (US Census Bureau 1870)

The opening teacher was Quaker Caroline Thomas. (Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands 1865-1869, Roll 9); Thomas was a Quaker who died February 22, 1896. There is some question as to whether the school lasted very long or perhaps she instructed at more than one school. I also found one Teacher’s Monthly School Report for April, 1870 for Tate, which indicated it opened July 19, 1869 and was due to close June 30th, 1870 (C. Thomas 1870, April).

1870: More on the Tait School in Lincoln

Topics Studied Number who Took Topic
Alphabet 0
Spell and read easy lessons. 18
Using advanced readers. 7
Studied Geography 12
Studied Arithmetic 22
In higher branches (*) 7
In writing. 22

According to the Thomas report, each pupil at Tate paid 50 cents a month for instruction. The building was owned by the Freedmen and received no support from the local school board. Assistance was instead provided by the Friend’s, Long Island, NY, meaning the Charity Society reported on by Gaines. (C. Thomas 1870, April).

In April 1870, Thomas instructed 25 pupils, 19 males and 6 females. That was down from 31 the prior month. 11 more left in April, but 5 were added, making an average attendance of 16. 10 were always present, 25 were always punctual and 2 were over the age of 16. When asked about public sentiment toward Colored Schools, Thomas wrote the number 0, perhaps indicating a negative attitude. Also, none of her pupils were members of a temperance society.

Report of the Jericho Charitable Society “1870-One of the committee visited the Lincoln School. In the winter there were more than 40 scholars, some of them adults, but in the summer the average was less than 20. The committee felt that Caroline Thomas was conducting a satisfactory school and recommended further support (Shea 1870).”

Adult Evening and Possible High School Education at Tait

The report on topics studied under Thomas in 1870 is especially interesting since it referred to seven African-Americans being instructed in higher branches. Is it possible that African-Americans did achieve Junior High or High school training at this stage of the educational system? The Gaines report did indicate the 1870 inspection showed adults learning in the winter. Perhaps they were the ones receiving received high schooling. If so, this might be the first example of High School level education for African-Americans in Loudoun. We also know that Thomas instructed adults in the evening in Leesburg.

Report on Caroline Thomas, 1870

According to local African-American resident William F. Powell in 1870 regarding Thomas, “Your association has accomplished a good work, by being instrumental in founding a school here, for those who were once enslaved. Too much praise cannot be given to Caroline Thomas for her self-sacrificing and arduous labor in behalf of those who had been denied the blessing of an education, We are only continuing the good work your society began. (Society Secretary 1870, pg 8).”

Report by Caroline Thomas, July 8, 1870

Thomas wrote to the Philadelphia meeting as follows. “Dear friend, Edmund Willets, -- my school closed on Sixth day, 1st, inst., with a general examination. I invited the parents of the children, that they might get some idea of the progress of their children had made; but few of them were present, it being such a busy season, - in the height of harvest. The children acquitted themselves very well. They met me at the school house at 10 o’clock, to arrange matters for the examination, which was to commence at 2 o’clock. When I arrived, I found several beautiful bouquets which the children had brought. We arranged them so as to have two on my desk and one in each of the windows in that side of the school room facing the audience. I was also presented with a nice cake and some lemonade by Susan, my woman pupil.

The exercises opened by the children reciting the 67th Psalm, after which they were examined in their several studies. One little boy especially did very well in geography. He answered all the questions I asked about the United States, which is as far as he been; could give the States, Territories and their Capitals, and how situated; the principal rivers, their course, termination and principal branches; the lakes, bays and gulfs; also the different mountain ranges. This boy, one year ago, did not know his letters.

After the children were examined in all their studies, they sang a piece I taught them for the occasion called “The Schoolroom Door.” We then had a short recess.

Note by LWR: I’m not sure; but there is a good chance this was a typical school chant by F. Wiedermann, later recopied in Chants with the Children by Henrietta and Ellen Rooper, in 1883 (Rooper and Rooper 1883).

The afternoon was so stormy they could not go out to play, and to content themselves with staying inside. When they again took their seats, they recited the 23rd Psalm, after which those who had prepared themselves recited pieces of poetry, some of which were very good. Susan Webb[16] recited “The Rising of the People,” was very appropriate and well done.

After these exercises, they sang “The Vacation Hymn” by Theodore Tilton[17]. Then came the distributing of rewards and presents. Susan received her dictionary with a face all aglow with gratitude and pleasure. I had previously ascertained which of my pupils were coming to school when it re-opened in the fall, and to such I have a dress or a pair of pants or a coat, as the case might be, with the full understanding they were to be kept for school. I told them who had sent the nice presents to them, and for what purpose. I think they were all duly appreciates, for they more full understand the true value of such things since they have had to them for themselves. Some of the good are packed away till such time when they can be distributed to the best advantage.

Before they were dismissed, I read an Address written by the Philadelphia Friends for the schools under their care, a copy of which has been sent to me by my old patrons, which gave them some very appropriate advice. I did not deem it necessary to make out a regular report for Sixth month, as the school was about as large as in Fifth month, and the same children. Thy friend, C. Thomas. (C. Thomas, The School For Freedmen 9/10/1870 1870)

Thomas in 1871

By 1871, Thomas had left the employ of Philadelphia and instead was funded by Quakers on Long Island; but she was still working as a Teacher, in Lincoln. What is very interesting is that the “position she occupies with her school, being to some extent, independent of the Government officials. “I sometimes fear the free schools, in many cases will not result in much good to the colored people. For instance, in the Leesburg district, there are five schools for whites and only one for the colored population, although the trustees of this district seem inclined to do the fair thing as regards an equal distribution for the two races. Some days I think my school is very interesting, and that I would like some of my friends at the North to step in; at other times I feel disheartened for a season, especially when a large, full grown man cannot spell ‘b-o-o-k,’ or when so many of them make so many errors in arithmetic.” The editor of the 1871 Annual Report remarked “She closes with a feeling allusion to the death of the late Thomas Garrett, having the assurance that “the messenger found him ready for the summons.” We are always pleased to hear from this faithful laborer, and hope the mutual interest now felt may ever continue (Society Secretary 1871, pg 7).”

Probable Teacher to the Winnebago Indians


Caroline Thomas dropped from the Loudoun scene in 1872 and a Caroline Thomas then appeared in Office of Indian Affairs records in 1872 as a teacher of native-Americans (Indians) who had arrived in 1871. I believe she is the Loudoun Caroline Thomas. The examination of this research line started when a member of the staff at Swarthmore noticed that a Caroline Thomas instructed Winnebago Indians in 1872 on behalf of Friends (Quakers), but since he didn’t see a link between that Thomas and the Loudoun instructor (Densmore 3/24/2015), made the very logical point that they might be two different people with a common name; however, the scholar didn’t realize that Samuel Janney, a prominent Loudoun County Quaker and Superintendent of Indians was also a friend of the Caroline Thomas who taught in Loudoun. That personal connection put a different light on things. A study I made of records in the Balch Library in Leesburg showed that Thomas was very close to the Janney family of Loudoun, regularly staying with them. One of the Janney’s even became a teacher of Indians in Nebraska and others had other positions there.

Why were the Loudoun Quakers in Nebraska? Impressed by the work of Quakers with African-Americans in the 1860’s, in the 1870’s and 80’s the government, turned to that denomination and other religious groups for assistance with the “Indian problem.” Samuel M. Janney of Loudoun became Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Northern Superintendency on May 27, 1869 (Parker, Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1869 Made to the Secretary of the Interior 1870, pp 332-356), which included the Winnebago. His brother Asa M. Janney also was the Indian Agent on the Santee Agency in 1870. (US Census Bureau 1870). Samuel then retired in 1871 (Janney 1881, pg 285).

“The Northern Superintendency of Nebraska, where the Hicksite (liberal) Quakers were stationed, embraced the Oto, Missouria, Winnebago, Pawnee, Sac and Fox, Great Nemaha, Santee Sioux, and Omaha agencies. The Central Superintendency, based in Oklahoma and administered by the Orthodox (conservative) Quakers, served the Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Osage, and other smaller tribes (Hallowell, et al. 1869, pg 152).”

Another of the Loudoun Janney family, Cornelia, (who often covered for Caroline Thomas when she was sick in Loudoun) Nebraska when Samuel M. Janney became Superintendent of Indians for the Northern Superintendency. According to the 1870 Census for Omaha, Nebraska, a Cornelia Janney (aged 37, Born 1833) was living in the household of Samuel M. Janney (Bureau of the Census 1870). According to an Office of Indian Affairs letter of July 20, 1872 and another three days prior, Cosmelia Janney of Loudoun County, Virginia was hired as Principal of the Pawnee Labor School at the salary of $600 per annum (B. S. White 1872, July 20) (Troth 1872, July 17). Despite the spelling change in the first name, our assumption if that this is Cornelia, perhaps a simply misread of the letters r and n. By 1920, she was living in Purcellville in Loudoun in the family of William Shoemaker, to whom she was the sister-in-law. She died 19 Mar 1922 - Round Hill, Loudoun. With these points in mind, it is entirely reasonable to propose that Thomas of Loudoun also traveled to Nebraska as federal authorities shifted interest from educating African-Americans during reconstruction to pacifying Native-Americans, using religious groups as tools.

Another reason for Quaker involvement, the United States was mainly protestant and after the Civil War, many citizens believed the church would be a tool for improving the Indian situation, which interfered with westward expansion. Appointing churchmen as agents was first proposed to the President in 1869 by a delegation of Quakers. To “civilize” the Indians, they have to learn English, dress in American costume and farm using the techniques of the white man, be productive from the perspective of white people. This, the President felt, would be the role for Quakers and other religious bodies. It was a sad time in the relationship of Native-Americans and our government, a paternalist, racist policy that continued into the 20th century. As an example in 1923, then Superintendent Charles H Burke write a letter to “all Indians.” He disparaged that they continued to use ceremonial dances and retain ties to the past, feeling this was simply entertainment which kept them from more productive activities like modern farming (Spicer 1969, pg 241). Grant’s policies and those of his successors created a humanitarian disaster, even when seen through the lens of the 19th century.

Figure 3 Library of Congress Collection: Samuel Janney and members of The Omaha and Winnebago Indians, probably 1869.

Philosophy of Caroline Thomas as an Indian-Teacher

Although personal recollections have not survived, we can surmise from official records that Thomas’ efforts were in harmony with government policy, especially the notion of restricting religious freedom – meaning restricting native religious practice, requiring instruction in English and teaching industrial/western farming techniques as counters to traditional native-American life. That said, by one account “After the Civil War they (the Quakers) won over President Grant to their ideals of a just policy toward the American Indians, and became deeply involved in Grant's "Peace Policy." Quakers were motivated by high ideals, played down the role of conversion to Christianity, and worked well side by side with the Indians. They had been highly organized and motivated by the anti-slavery crusade, and after the Civil War were poised to expand their energies to include both ex-slaves and the western tribes. They had Grant's ear and became the principal instruments for his peace policy. During 1869-85, they served as appointed agents on numerous reservations and superintendencies in a mission centered on moral uplift and manual training. Their ultimate goal of acculturating the Indians to American culture was not reached because of frontier land hunger and Congressional patronage politics (Illick Vol. 2, No. 3 (Jul., 1971), ).”

Language was an issue for teachers..

Former African-American slaves were illiterate, for the most part; but could speak English, having long forgotten their native tongue while subjugated to slavery. Indians mainly spoke their own language. The Federal government was determined to kill off those languages, which were seen as barriers to control, and make English the common tongue; but to accomplish that task, teachers like Thomas needed to hire interpreters as aides (H. U. White 1876, August 19). In fact in 1869, when noting he would visit Omaha, Indian Agent Albert Greene, remarked that the Winnebago school had 150 pupils and assistant to interpret (Greene 1869, Nov 13.)

Personnel Records of the Office of Indian Affairs

Starting in 1872, records begin to appear showing Caroline Thomas as a teacher. The US Archives records do have appointment letters for some teachers, as well as lists of equipment used by the schools. Unfortunately, Thomas’ actual letter of appointment hasn’t emerged, which would have definitely documented her as the Loudoun Caroline Thomas.

However, if we look at a letter of sympathy Thomas wrote to the Janney family in 1880, we have evidence that the Winnebago and Loudoun Thomas ladies were indeed the same person.

Samuel M. Janney was buried April 30, 1880 (Meeting Secretary 1732-1963/1996-1999). In remembrance, Thomas sent the following poetry “to the mother and daughters. Winnebago, May 16, 1880[18].” Note: Samuel M. Janney completed his tour of duty as Superintendent of Indians for the Northern Superintendency in 1871, when he returned to Virginia. My surmise therefore is that the Winnebago element of the note was the return address of Thomas, still serving as a teacher to the Indians. If correct, this is also evidence that the two teachers (for Loudoun and the Winnebago) are the same person.

With the note, Thomas said, “Dear friends, The above lines have been constantly in my mind, since hearing of your sad bereavement, and my heart is drawn to you in tenderest sympathy. With much love, your sincere friend, Caroline Thomas. (C. Thomas, Poem of Condolence to family of Samuel M. Janney 1880, May 16)

With the note, Thomas said, “Dear friends, The above lines have been constantly in my mind, since hearing of your sad bereavement, and my heart is drawn to you in tenderest sympathy. With much love, your sincere friend, Caroline Thomas. (C. Thomas, Poem of Condolence to family of Samuel M. Janney 1880, May 16)

Death in New Jersey and Burial in Philadelphia February 22, 1896

The Caroline Thomas buried in Fair Hill died in her 64th year on February 22, 1896 (Staff 1894 Sep - 1897 Aug (Vol 1 - 7)) at the residence of her brother-in-law, Edward H. Fell in Elwood, N.J. Records indicate she was the daughter of then late Jonathan and Rebecca Wright Thomas and sister to Lemuel Thomas. Quaker records related to her death also indicate that she was “a very efficient teacher in the employ of the Association of Friends for the aid and elevation of the Freedmen.” Her burial site is Section E, Lot 321A of Fair Hill cemetery in Philadelphia (Levine 2014). (Staff of Friends Historical Library 1903, 377). (Intelligencer Staff 1896) . Her parents Jonathan Thomas and Rebecca Wright were also buried at Fair Hill (Hinshaw 1994 (reprint), 822). Her residence was also listed as 1226 No. 15th Ave. (today 15th street) in Philadelphia. Note: This was a typo. Numbered street were never avenues. However, that wasn’t her real address. That address was the home of Clement Woodruff, a Quaker undertaker (Dorman 2015, 5/21).

Appendix: Years with the Indians


When Samuel Janney arrived, he discovered that two schools were in operation; but not doing very well (Parker, Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1869 Made to the Secretary of the Interior 1870)


Samuel Janney recommended that while the mission schools were very beneficial, in order to expedite the civilization of the Indians, an industrial school should be established. He also reported that the moral condition of the tribes was improving. “They have discarded the superstitious rites[19] and demoralizing dances of savage life, and the marriage tie is regarded with far more respect than it was formerly.” A third school was also opened for the Winnebago, all under the supervision of Sydney Averill. Congress had just authored over $232,000 be given to the Winnebago to repay a debt owned them, so Janney suggested paying for the school out of that, rather than ask for fresh funds[20]. What was also reported was that the old leaders known as Medicine Men[21] had been replaced by a better sort that spoke English and dressed like white men (Parker, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior 1870, pp 227). The Commissioner’s report of 1871 would indicate that his removal of the chiefs with white-friendly leaders by the government was sanctioned by vote of the tribe; but one has to wonder if they felt intimidated (Clum 1871, pg 436).

Asa M. Janney resigned as Indian Agent to the Santee Sioux on August 21st, 1870 (Clum 1871).


The Winnebago completely repaired three school houses and furnished them with new desks and day schools were well attended. The Commissioner also made the point that with the removal of the Medicine Men, superstitious practices were on the decline, meaning of course native religions, which the government viewed as destructive and counter to their efforts to “civilize” native-Americans. On the other hand, Sabbath schools were being kept and meetings occasionally held. “The Commissioner invited all denominations to hold meetings with the Indians (Clum 1871, pg 436).”


Schools taught by Caroline Thomas, Daniel W. and Mary J. Lewis (Commissioner of Indian Affairs 1872, pg 212 and 219)


It is with no small degree of satisfaction that I am able to report the continued improvement of this tribe. All the men have adopted the dress of citizens, and, by reference to the interesting report of Caroline B. Thomas, teacher of a Winnebago school[22], we may conclude that, if the good influences which now surround the Winnebago children are continued for a few years longer, the women as well as the men will eventually wear the costume of the white*. This will be a long step gained in the path that leads toward civilization. The annual election of the chiefs by the tribe is also an important step in the right direction; thus fitting them for a higher plane of civilization. Their crops during the year have generally yielded abundantly, with the exception of the oat crop, which was nearly destroyed by hail. At the commencement of the wheat harvest, about two hundred of the men of the tribe requested passes from their agent to leave the reservation, and assist the neighboring farmers in gathering their wheat. One of the farmers afterward reported to the agent that these Indians worked equally as well as white laborers, and that without their assistance it would have been impossible to obtain sufficient labor to secure their crops (Walker 1872, 212 and 219).”

Howard White, U. S. Indian Agent of the Winnebago Tribe, to Wm. II. Macy. Clerk of the Indian Committee, New York:

Thy favor of late date is at hand. I agree with thee in thinking that the services of an energetic woman to teach the squaws housekeeping, and how to take care of the children, and the sick, would be of great value, particularly in the spring, when the Indians commence living in their new houses. * * * * * *

"I have succeeded in engaging three competent teachers, viz, Caroline Thomas, who was with us last year (indicating she arrived in 1871); Howard A. Mann, of Illinois, an exemplary young man, and a successful teacher, though not a member of our Society; and Lucy A. Lamb, of New Jersey. The attendance of the three schools has averaged 100 and is increasing. * * * * About twelve of the new dwelling-houses for the Indians have been completed; the fifty are to be finished by the 15th of Fifth month next; they contain five rooms, are made warm and convenient, and are superior to most of the white farmers' in this neighborhood.

The industrial school building has not been commenced, as we have been testing the clay; two kilns of bricks have just been burned near the site that I have selected for the building, and they prove to be of an excellent quality. We expect to have the building completed, so as to open the school the 1st of Ninth month. I have recently purchased for the Indians 50 cooking stoves, 50 box stoves, 40 wagons, and 40 sets double harness. (H. I. White 1872, pg 680)*****


In October, 1873, the Winnebago reservation was under the supervision of the Society of Friends and was measured at 128,000 acres and sported three day school as well as a “splendid,” nearly complete industrial school. Daily attendance was 250 pupils. There was also a Sabbath school (O'Connor 1873, October 23).


Two day schools at commencement of my administration taught by Caroline Thomas and Lucy A. Lamb. Report of Taylor Bradley. US Indian Agency to the Honorable Edward Smith, Commissioner of Indians, written at Winnebago Agency, Dakota County, Nebraska, September 10, 1874 (Editor 1874, pg 518 and 519). According to the Inspector for the Eastern Division, Office of Indian Affairs, that year the school system was very efficient, though the attendance was small (Inspector, Eastern Division on Winnebago Agency, Nebraska 1874, Dec 16).


Two day-schools were in operation at the commencement of my administration, taught by Caroline Thomas and Lucy A. Lamb. A building for a third one was erected and partly finished, which was completed, and a school opened therein the first of the present year, with Mary E. Bradley as teacher. The three schools were well attended until the new chiefs used their influence against attendance, and by the close of the term it was very difficult, and almost impossible, to get the children to the school-house.”


Caroline Thomas was shown as a teacher for the Winnebago, along with Lucy Lamb as well as A.M. Janney (Superintendent of Schools) and Cosmelia Janney[23], Teacher, the latter two of Virginia. Thomas’ compensation was $600 (Superintendent of Public Documents 1876, pg 367).


Nothing on Thomas this year.


Caroline Thomas was shown as a teacher for the Winnebago, along with Lucy Lamb as well as A.M. Janney (Superintendent of Schools) and Cosmelia Janney[23], Teacher, the latter two of Virginia. Thomas’ compensation was $600 (Superintendent of Public Documents 1876, pg 367).


Nothing on Thomas this year.


For the Winnebago Reserve Agency in Blackbird County[24], Nebraska, Caroline Thomas, age 40 (slightly off the year Quaker Thomas was born), was shown as a Boarder and Teacher, born in Pennsylvania, as were her parents. Appeared to be living with other boarders under Howard J. White of New Jersey, Indian Agent (US Bureau of the Census 1880).

Life After the Indians

One of the important questions was what happened to Ms. Thomas after she ended her tour teaching the Winnebago. This unfortunately is a mystery. To help me, Ms. Dana Dorman, a researcher with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania provided some assistance. While what Ms. Dorman found didn’t prove anything, none the less, the avenues of research could be of value when examining other Quaker related instructors in who ended up in Loudoun.

First checked was the Society’s online catalog,, for either Thomas or Fell-related manuscript collections. No luck. There was also the main manuscripts card catalog, known as PC1 and not available online. This catalog includes (old) item-level cataloging for some of the Society’s largest collections, so it’s helpful as a name index. Unfortunately, nothing is cataloged for Caroline/Carolyn Thomas. They did have a few letters from an Edward Fell to Benjamin Fell between 1828-1840, but those don’t seem helpful for this task.

The Philadelphia city directories (call # MFilm XR 816) were also checked to see where Caroline had lived during her time in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, there was no listing for her in 1880, 1885, 1891, 1895, or 1896. There is a “Caroline Thomas” in the 1880 directory, but she is listed as the widow of James, so this isn’t the right person.

So with no evidence that Caroline was living as an independent person in Philadelphia, there was the potential “Fell” entries in 1885 and 1895, but they also didn’t reveal anyone listed at that address on N. 15th St. In 1885, an Edward H. is listed as living at 1538 N. 12th, which is certainly in the right general neighborhood; he’s working as a bookkeeper. In 1895, there was no Edward H. – perhaps he had moved to Elwood by then.

Next was the online database “Pennsylvania Historical Newspapers.” Caroline’s death notice from 1896 was there, a blurb at the bottom-right corner of page (Editor 1896). This indicates that the 15th Street address was the undertaker’s: Clement Woodnutt. He was a Quaker[25] (Advertisement 1897).

All of this might mean Caroline didn’t live in Philadelphia at all or perhaps lived with her sister & brother-in-law both in Philadelphia and Elwood.

There was also the Fair Hill Burial Ground web site (, and the online resources there. According to their interment records available online, Caroline was buried in section 312, which also holds Charles E. Thomas (1833-1918) and Rebecca W. Thomas (1803-1876). None were listed as members of a particular monthly meeting, though the obituary for Rebecca from the Friends Intelligencer (also on the Fair Hill site) lists her as a member in the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting. Rebecca died in 1876; Caroline returned to the Philadelphia area after her mother’s death and therefore couldn’t have been living at her mother’s home.

Meanwhile, in the Fell interment listings, there were some Fell burials in the next section: 313. Edward H. (1841-1905), Susan T. (1859-1934), and their two children (Mary W. and Edgar T.) are the only Fells buried in section 313, so I assume that’s her sister and brother-in-law. Susan isn’t listed as a member of the meeting, but she *is* listed as in the Race Street district.

Next steps:

If Caroline’s sister Susan & Edward were living in Elwood, NJ, and they too were buried in Fair Hill, it seems at least possible that Caroline lived only in Elwood after 1879 – not in Philadelphia. It might be worth looking for more evidence of her there, perhaps in a local newspaper or Quaker records from that area? The Atlantic County Historical Society may be of help. Another avenue of attack might be to track Edward’s listings in Philadelphia city directories, to see if we could pin down where the family was living during this time frame. However, with no concrete evidence showing that Caroline was living with them, that may not be worth our time.

  • Howard Ashman Fell, nephew of Caroline Thomas, born 17 Jun 1869, died in 1959 in Philadelphia.
  • His sister Rebecca Thomas Fell born 12 Jan 1877 married Charles Budd Browning about 1896 in Philadelphia or Haddonfield, NJ and died 28 Dec 1935.
  • Their mother Sarah Thomas Fell was born in Maryland in 1842.
  • Edward H. Fell, son of Aaron Fell and Ann Duer was born 26 October 1840 and died 17 May 1905 in Philadelphia.


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[1] According to the US Census for Loudoun (1870), William O. Robey was born in 1819 in Fairfax County, was an African-American and both a minister and a public school teacher who lived in Leesburg. He died September 21, 1888 in Loudoun. According to the 1860 census for Leesburg, he then worked as a blacksmith.

[2] According to US Census for Loudoun (1870), Sarah Steer (born 1840) lived at home at the residence of her father Samuel Steer, and worked as a Public School teacher. She was also an editor of a Waterford antislavery newspaper. A decade earlier, according to the 1860 Census, she had no occupation. In 1850, she lived with her family in Baltimore where her father worked as a clerk. In 1880, she was still living at home, but then had no occupation. In 1904, she married J. Edward Walker. By 1890, she was head of the household and her sister Ella Steer (born Nov, 1843) had become a school teacher. According to the 1910 Census, Sarah had passed away, leaving J. Edward Walker as head of household inside of which Ella lived, though by then with no occupation. With them was her brother William. Of course, by then they were all of retirement age. She came from relative comfort, as her father in 1870 was a tax assessor worth $11,000.

[3] The records are located at National Archives at Washington, DC - Textual Reference (RD-DC-1), National Archives Building, 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20408

[4] Probably when she instructed adults.

[5] Clearly, Thomas saw some threat by politicians against her flock; but precisely what the threat was is not clear.

[6] Distinguished Research Professor, University of Georgia.

[7] For Quakers, the term First Day School equates to what other Christians call Sunday School.

[8] Dates were done the Quakers way, 11th, month 11th, 1868.

[9] Not sure who this was as of yet. So far, the only student we know was an adult female name Susan Webb

[10] Probably Sydney B. Smith B'v't Capt.

[11] Sarah Steer was an instructor in Waterford for at least five years. Unlike some, her family was quite well, her father being a tax assessor in 1870, worth $11,000.

[12] This was probably “The Golden Shore” by Charles H. Dunbar, which was very popular between about 1860 and 1900.

[13] Edmund Willets (b. 1800) was an important Quaker who lived in Westbury, Nassau County on Long Island, New York.

[14] I suspect she means Leesburg, due to the way they treated her.

[15] This is probably a reference to the Leesburg school. On January 17, 1869, in a letter from Sarah Steer, instructor in Waterford to Friends of Philadelphia we were also informed that “The school house in Leesburg is not finished. I think the roof is on; but no windows, and the building not plastered; at last accounts, they had stopped work on it.” (Society Secretary 1869, pg. 20). Source: Society Secretary. 5th Annual Report of the Friends Association of Philadephia for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen. Paperback, Philadelphia: Merihew and Sons, 1869. Also in a letter of December 8th (already referenced in this report) from Thomas, she lamented that with the departure of Captain Smith, the school in Leesburg was unlikely to proceed.

[16] A good project would be to identify Susan Webb and her descendants. In 1870 in Lincoln lived a 27 year old white woman of that name, daughter of a farm laborer named Robert Webb. A “mulatto” of that name lived in Mt. Gilead in 1880. She would have been 27 in 1870. I suspect she is our Susan, as the letter referred to her as a “woman pupil.”

[17] Theodore Tilton was an American newspaper editor, poet and abolitionist. He was born in New York City to Silas Tilton and Eusebia Tilton. He also advocated for women’s rights.

[18] Stanzas were from John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).written in 1865. See American Quaker poet and advocate of the abolition of slavery in the United States

[19] One of the odious policies of the government at the time was to consider Indian religions as superstitions. In fairness, though that a general perception of the American population.

[20] This kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul policy was just the start of generations of mismanagement of Native-American money by the government.

[21] Pushing out the Medicine Men offered two advantages. It assisted white doctors in their ability to use their medicine, which must have had health benefits. But more importantly for the government were the political benefits of pushing out leaders who resisted occupation for those willing to submit white rules.

[22] Unfortunately, the report has not survived in Department of the Interior records. I am hopeful it is in Swarthmore.

[23] Likely Cornelia

[24] Blackbird (1855-1888) Formed from Burt County and dissolved to Thurston County.

[25] An examination of Clement Woodruff records did not illuminate where Caroline was living at the time of her death