Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Didymus Thomas (1812-1887)


   The annals of the New York State Assembly have proven to be one of the better resources out there when it comes to finding oddly named politicians. Since this project came into being, over 100 politicians have been discovered that have walked the hallowed halls of the New York State legislature. Unfortunately, many of these men and women have minute amounts of information on their lives available online, but every now and then one of them really surprises you.......
   Today's article is a perfect example of what copious amounts of research can do. The man shown above is Didymus Thomas, a little-known resident of Oneida County who served one term in the New York State Assembly. Thomas was discovered on the Political Graveyard in 2010, and other than that sites mention of his assembly service, little else could be found on him. A random Google search also yielded minimal results information wise, and I had given up hope on finding out more about his life. Thomas remained an otherwise elusive figure until late last year, when I happened to be searching through archived county history books on www.archive.com (mentioned along with the Political Graveyard in this blog's introduction.) The former site has numerous instances of archived literature detailing the histories of almost every county in New York state, including one particular one centering on the history of Oneida County.
   The book in question was published in 1878 under the title The History of Oneida County, New York and Some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. As I perused the biographies page I stumbled across the name of Didymus Thomas, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that a substantial biography of him (along with the portrait shown above) was featured prominently in said book. The majority of the following information was found in the aforementioned work.
   Didymus Thomas was born in Steuben, New York on May 24, 1812 to Thomas Thomas (not a typo!) and his wife Mary Hughes Thomas, who were both natives of Wales. The couple immigrated to the United States in 1800, and eventually settled in the village of Steuben in 1804. Didymus (whose name means "twin" in Greek) attended schools local to the Steuben area and also worked at farming. As a young man he worked as a schoolteacher, and later settled into a career as a general merchandiser and store owner. He married in 1835 to Ms. Lydia Pierce, with whom he had one daughter, Lydia Marion (1835-1905). The Thomas's marriage was was short-lived, as Lydia Pierce Thomas died at age 25 in August 1840. Didymus remarried sometime in the 1840s to Ms. Eliza Griffin, who died in 1882.
   The History of Oneida County also makes note of Thomas's later career as a cheese manufacturer. In his later years, Thomas built a large structure on his property (shown below) devoted to the manufacture of the dairy product, and it's mentioned that it was "one of the best patronized factories in the vicinity."


       This sketch of Didymus Thomas's home appeared in the 1878 book "History of Oneida County".


   Thomas's cheese factory closed within a few short years of opening, due to the "onerous duties imposed", as well as the "unreasonable exaction of patrons". After this endeavor, he engaged in real estate transactions for a number of years, in addition to his earlier mercantile pursuits.
   Didymus Thomas was also politically active in his native county, serving at various times as magistrate, postmaster, justice of the peace and township supervisor for the village of Remsen. Sources of the time mention him as a "Free Soil Democrat, but never failing by his vote or influence, to promote the cause of temperance." In 1859, the citizens of Oneida County elected Thomas to the New York State Assembly, where he served a one year term. His term in the legislature may have been short, but the History of Oneida County gives note that he represented his district "in a manner highly creditable to himself and most satisfactory to his constituents". Thomas's sterling character and integrity are also attested to in the "History of Oneida County", which notes that he was "an exceptionally rigid temperance advocate, having never made use during his life of alcoholic stimulants or tobacco in any form."
   Thomas died in Steuben on March 7, 1887 at age 74. One source lists his cause of death as a "shock of paralysis" which he sustained on the day preceding his death. Both Didymus and his wife Lydia were interred in the Capel Ucha Cemetery in the town of Steuben. In an aside note, the town of Remsen, NY named a library in honor of Didymus Thomas some years after his death, proving that he isn't a totally forgotten historical figure!


An article on Thomas' Assembly nomination, published in the Rome, NY Citizen.

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