The Thomases, a large and prosperous pioneering and agrarian clan, settled in Southwest, Virginia in 1761. Two generations after settlement the family patriarch, John Lafayette Thomas, and his family migrated from Smyth County, Virginia, to Burke's Garden, a garden of "Eden" located in adjacent Tazewell County. A deeply faithful man, John and his wife, Elizabeth, raised their eight children with a God-fearing Lutheran faith. However, this was no assurance that life itself would treat the clan well.

The seven sons were raised to be hunters, farmers and protectors of the clan in a harmonious community of neighbors who were friendly and always available to lend a hand in this utopian world. They all found romance and adventure in their remote mountainous homeland and, occasionally, encounters with death that they had not bargained for.

When this ideal and peaceful life was violently interrupted by the outbreak of war, the seven Thomas brothers took up arms together with neighbors and kin to fight for the southern cause. The story follows the clan through their tribulations of fierce guerrilla style fighting in rough mountainous terrain as they encounter the Union Army while other family members were left behind in "Eden" to manage the farms. The whole clan struggles to farm and live amidst events that ravage their agrarian way of life.

At the War's conclusion the Thomases who survived endured many years of turbulent Reconstruction. Yet they grew together as a family. John's son, Samuel, became a successful timber man who moved the clan toward a renewed prosperity in "Eden." One of Samuel's sons, James, continued this success by educating himself and then being appointed a professor in the Education Department at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

Because of James' adaptable genius and the entrepreneurial spirit he had learned from his father's timber business, he founded what would become Old Republic Life Insurance Company in Birmingham. The epic saga of the Thomas clan comes to its full fruition in 1956, on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, as Dr. James Thomas oversees the relocation of the company's headquarters to the Old Republic Life Insurance Building. This culminating event affirmed the clan's intellectual honor, its ability to prosper and its heritage of overcoming tribulation and surviving tests to its faith of "Eden."

david eden


2017-03-14, 16:28
Bill Browning, Special Events Coordinator/Media Contact, Barrington Hall

David gave a very clear and informative presentation that was also engaging. Unfortunately we only had an audience of fourteen but everyone, as far as I could tell (I usually watch audience reaction) stayed engaged throughout the evening. David’s lecture seemed to flow easily and he presented well. In addition the presentation lasted approximately an hour, just right for our venue, and he answered a number of questions after the presentation without hesitation and knowledgably. The fact that there were a fair amount of questions from a small audience speaks well, I believe, of his presentation. We have a fairly well educated attendance base. Meaning when our guests are bored with a presentation they usually do not have many questions if any. Overall I think the presentation went well.

Screening the DVD interviews before his presentation began was fun. Thank you for setting this up. I greatly appreciate it.


Bill Browning