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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History

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Hon. John E. Thomas

Source: "Portrait and Biographical Record - Published 1894 by Excelsior Publishing Co., Chicago" Pages 498 - 500

Hon. John E. Thomas, President of the Dairymen's Bank, Sheboygan Falls, lawyer, and publisher of the Sheboygan County News, has been a resident of Sheboygan Falls since September 1, 1849. He was born in Rensselaer County (in what is now the suburbs of Albany), N. Y., November 27, 1829, and is a son of Henry and Lucy (Torry) Thomas. His father was born in Kinderhook, Schoharie County, of the same State, and his mother in Berkshire County, Mass. The former was a farmer and hotel-keeper by occupation. The parents are both now deceased.

John E. was educated in the English branches in the common schools, and in the classics and higher branches under the instruction of an excellent private tutor, Herr August Harpprecht, who was a graduate of Wittenberg (Germany) University, and a fine classical scholar. On the completion of his studies, our subject accepted a clerkship in a large dry-goods and silk house in Lockport, N. Y., which position he filled for four years in a creditable manner. He also studied medicine two years, but, not fancying that profession, abandoned a further pursuit of it.

In the summer of 1849, he set out for the West, seeking a field of operation in which he might establish himself in business. He went at first to Chicago, which at that time was not an attractive place, owing to its low and marshy surroundings. Pools of stagnant water, covered with a slimy scum, existed where now stand massive business blocks. Their appearance was suggestive of malaria and fever, and to settle there seemed to be courting sickness and death. Mr. Thomas remained but a short time on the site of what has since proved to be the most wonderful city in America. Leaving Chicago with little regret, he made his way to Southport, now Kenosha, Wis. However, he remained there but a short time, and, continuing his way northward through the State, finally came to Sheboygan Falls, then but a frontier hamlet of a few houses. It was on the 1st of September, 1849, when he stuck his stakes, deciding to make that place his home. He soon engaged in merchandising, in which he continued until 1853, when he erected a furniture factory, beginning in a small way, and inventing and making some of his own machinery. He increased his facilities and gave employment to from twenty-five to thirty men, selling his goods principally in the lake towns, Chicago people being the largest buyers.

In 1856 he entered upon the study of law, and in 1858 was admitted to the Bar, at once opening an office in Milwaukee, in the office of H. L. Palmer and Joshua Stark, where he soon built up a good practice. However, Sheboygan Falls continued to be his home, and he maintained his connection with the furniture factory until 1862. In 1865, Mr. Thomas discontinued law business in Milwaukee, and opened an office at Sheboygan Falls, where he has since continued the practice of his profession, in connection with banking and journalism, besides being more or less engaged in the discharge of official duties. Mr. Thomas prospered in his affairs, and at an early day began to loan money. In 1878, in order to realize on a loan he had made, he bought in the office of the Sheboygan County News, and has since been its proprietor and editor, being assisted in its management by his son and daughter. In November, 1881, Mr. Thomas, in company with his eldest son, Stedman, established the Dairymen's Bank at Sheboygan Falls, which has, by judicious and conservative management, had a very successful career. The son is the managing resident partner.

In March, 1853, Mr. Thomas was united in marriage in Sheboygan Falls with Miss Clara A. W. Cole, a daughter of Nathan and Chloe Cole, and a sister of George C. Cole, of Sheboygan. Mrs. Thomas was born in Schenectady, N. Y., and came to Sheboygan Falls with her mother and brothers, John Beekman and George C, about 1840. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas have four sons and two daughters. Mary E. resides in Oak Park, Chicago. Stedman married Miss Rosa E. Cole, and is his father's partner in the Dairymen's Bank, of which he is manager. William C. wedded Miss Minnie Guyett, and is managing partner of the Sheboygan County News. Charles H. was graduated from the Wisconsin State University, being the Valedictorian of his class, and has for the past few years held the responsible position of superintendent of the shipping department of the great manufacturing company of Rathbone, Sard & Co., of Aurora, Ill. Mattie Bolles was connected with the management of the Sheboygan County News until recently; and Harry Edmund is also connected with that paper, as book-keeper and collector.

In politics, Mr. Thomas is a Democrat, of Greenback antecedents. He ran for Congress on. the Greenback ticket twice, and received a flattering vote. He also was a candidate for Attorney-General on the People's party ticket, and received the largest vote of any candidate on that ticket. He favors a Government money system of full legal tender treasury notes, based on a gold and silver reserve, if the people so desire. Mr. Thomas is a member of the Bi-Metallic League of the United States, and Vice-President thereof{sic} for Wisconsin, and has been actively identified with the political and educational history of Wisconsin. His first office was that of Town Clerk of Sheboygan Falls, prior to the incorporation of the village of that name; he was also Town Superintendent of Schools, and one of the members of the first Board of Trustees of the above village, afterward holding the office of President in that body several times. Mr. Thomas also represented his village in the County Board, having been Chairman of that body, and was County Superintendent of Schools of Sheboygan County. For six years he was a member of the State Board of Regents of Normal Schools, being Secretary of the Executive Committee of that honorable body, and was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Institute at Delavan for the deaf and dumb, and for two years was Treasurer of the Board. In 1862 he was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly, and served in the sessions of 1862 and extra session of 1863. In the fall of 1863, Mr. Thomas was elected a member of the Wisconsin Senate for the years 1863-64. In the extra session of the Assembly in 1863, he was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, succeeding Hon. H. L. Palmer. In the Senate session of 1863 and 1864, he was-a member of the Standing Committee on Contingent Expenses, to which was referred a special message of the Governor, asking for a relief fund for sick and wounded soldiers in field and other hospitals outside of the State. Mr. Thomas recommended, for the committee, the bill that provided for such relief, and was credited with the report, although not Chairman of the committee. While in the Senate in 1863, he was made Chairman of the Special Committee appointed by the Lieutenant Governor (as President of the Senate) on the question of responsibility for damage done by rioters. This was a delicate duty for a man in public life, but Mr. Thomas discharged the important duty with firmness and impartiality, and in a manner to commend him to the State Government and the people. His report led to the granting of relief by the State to the sufferers by the Ozaukee County "draft riot."

At the time of the formation of the excellent Normal School system of Wisconsin, Mr. Thomas took an active part in the matter, and was afterward largely instrumental in securing the adoption of the plan that provided for the establishment of several schools, instead of one large school, the wisdom of which has been fully confirmed in the success of the existing system.

Mr. Thomas is a Royal Arch Mason, a member of St. John's Lodge No. 24, A. F. & A. M., of Sheboygan Falls, and of Harmony Chapter No. 10, R. A. M., of Sheboygan. He is the owner of considerable real estate within the platted portion of the village of Sheboygan Falls, and has an interest, in connection with his eldest son, in farming lands just outside of the above place, besides which he has property interests in the city of Sheboygan, and real estate in other States. Mr. Thomas is a member of the Sheboygan County and Wisconsin State Bars, and of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States, and is a lawyer of ability and high standing. He is a Vice-President of the State Historical Society. Possessed of superior business qualifications and sound judgment, self-reliant, earnest and an indefatigable worker, he never fails to command respect and confidence among those with whom he is associated. The Dairymen's Bank, which is owned by Mr. Thomas and his son, takes high rank among the five reliable financial institutions of Sheboygan County. Mr. Thomas' life has been a busy and useful one, his business ventures successful, and while he has accumulated a goodly share of this world's goods, he has ever maintained his integrity beyond question, and caused his name to be associated in an honorable manner with the business interests of his county, and the educational and legislative history of the State.

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