Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Thomas GARTH, Gentleman (1740-1812)

Signature of Thomas GARTH
Edna OTWELL > Edwin OTWELL > Maurice OTWELL > John F. OTWELL > Quintilla GARTH-OTWELL > John GARTH > Thomas GARTH

Thomas GARTH, son of John GARTH, was born about 1740 in Hanover Co., Virginia. There is no information on his mother. He was well educated, a wealthy businessman, trusted associate of Thomas JEFFERSON; he rose to a high level in local government, owned large tracts of land and earned the title “Gentleman”.

Family: At age 21, Thomas married his childhood friend Judith BOCOCK (1740-1806) in 1761 in Louisa Co., VA. They had at least 9 children: John (our ancestor), Ann GAINES, Thomas Jr., Sarah, Susannah DALTON, Elijah, Jessie Winston, Garland and Mildred FRETWELL.

Career and Property: Thomas invested in and leased many plots of land in Virginia. He farmed crops and raised livestock. His attorney on some of his legal documents was patriot Patrick HENRY.

In 1762, Thomas purchased 2 land patents in St. Anne’s Parish which is about 3.5 miles from where Thomas JEFFERSON built Monticello in 1769. Thomas GARTH appears for the first time in the index of JEFFERSON’s Memorandum Book 1767-1770, but the pages referenced are missing and it is unknown what this early connection was. He appears in a later memorandum book when JEFFERSON purchased his beef in 1771 and in a 1772 lease agreement for L11 sterling for land, stock and slaves. JEFFERSON purchased many supplies from Thomas, including butter, corn, fodder, pork, bacon, wheat, milk and tobacco. He had a long association with JEFFERSON.

JEFFERSON asked Thomas to purchase the adjoining land to his Shadwell estate. He later sold the land to JEFFERSON at a L85 profit. JEFFERSON then leased the land back to Thomas. 

Thomas also owned land adjoining Monticello and sold it to JEFFERSON- who later called this parcel Lego.  You can read the text of the document that sealed the deal; it went to auction in 2014 and sold for over $100,000.00 (http://www.rrauction.com/PastAuctionItem/3330668).  It was signed by Thomas and Judith and their daughter Ann GARTH-GAINES. (Contact Mary if you want to see a photo of it.)

By 1775, Thomas was overseer of all of JEFFERSON's holdings in Albemarle County.  Thomas appraised JEFFERSON’s cattle and in payment, received wagonage, glass and plank. He was also a witness for JEFFERSON on legal documents. JEFFERSON relied on Thomas’ advice on plantation management and Thomas was the steward for JEFFERSON’s plantations in Albemarle, Bedford and Goochland by 1776.

The Revolutionary War: During the war, the GARTHS agreed to ride between Albemarle and Tidewater to deliver papers and letters to ensure communication between the 2 areas.

On 9 November 1776, Thomas (and his friends, including JEFFERSON) signed a petition for equal and independent support for every religious denomination. This and other documents indicate that Thomas was a dissenter from the Church of England and may have been a Calvinist.

But, it is interesting that Thomas, in the early years of the Revolution, did not sign any documents or make any oaths refusing allegiance to King George III while his friends, family and JEFFERSON did. Some researchers question if he was a Tory sympathizer. However, by 1779, he served on a committee that determined whether property of sympathizers should be confiscated, so it is unlikely that he was. Also, during the Revolution, Thomas supplied the militia with thousands of pounds of food.

Back to business: Thomas was steward of Monticello for no more than 2 years in the early 1780s. When JEFFERSON was away at the Virginia House of Delegates and during his term as governor of Virginia, Thomas was expected to take care of JEFFERSON’s business affairs and pay his taxes. He also lent money to JEFFERSON who was often cash poor. In return, JEFFERSON paid him back not in wages, but in the money Thomas collected from JEFFERSON’s law accounts, notes and bonds. Thomas became rich on his land investments.

JEFFERSON described Thomas as being "excessively severe" with slaves during their very early association.  Some thirty years later, JEFFERSON was hiring an overseer and described one candidate as "brought up in the school of the Garths... his severity puts him out of the question."

In 1779, Thomas purchased 1,000 acres in Fredericksville Parish for L350 for his final home plantation.  He move into this new home in 1782.  At that point, he was no longer working for JEFFERSON. There is no indication of any issues between the two men; it is likely that Thomas had risen above his station from his wise land investments and had more opportunities in state and county government.   JEFFERSON lived in France between 1784 and 1789 and upon his return, Thomas was one of 13 Albemarle citizens to sign a letter asking JEFFERSON to continue in public office. 

Between 1783 and 1804, Thomas was a tax commissioner in Albemarle. He received a wage of $1 per day. Between 1786 and 1788, he was the Overseer of the Poor for the Virginia General Assembly. That position replaced the work that the Episcopal Church had done prior to dissolution. In 1791, he was appointed Justice of the Peace for Albemarle. By 1800, he owned 2,485 acres, 18 slaves and 14 horses.  During this decade, many roads were built in Albemarle. By 1805, he owned a stage wagon and a one horse carriage (both were taxable). Judith died about 1806. In 1807, he became the High Sheriff of Albemarle. He retired from office in 1808. We found him on the 1810 census in Frederickville, Albemarle Co.

Thomas died in October 1812 in Albemarle Co., VA. He had given most of his land holdings to his sons, but still owned over 3,000 acres. His estate was valued at over L3,000. His last wish was that a quarter of an acre of land in his apple orchard be set aside for a cemetery. This last wish was never granted and no one knows the location of his final resting place.


Davis, Rosalie Edith. The Garth Family: Descendants of John Garth of Virginia, 1734-1986. Dexter, MI: Thomson-Shore, 1988. Print.

Wiencek, Henry. "Master of the Mountain." Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016

Interesting Note:
Another descendent of Thomas GARTH was actress Tallulah BANKHEAD