Dates of Service: 1888-1895
1842: John William Thomas is born in Mathews County, VA. to parents Jessie & Matilda Thomas.
1866: John W. Thomas marries Mary E. White on December 23rd in Mathews County, VA.
1880: In the US Census, John W. Thomas, age 36, lives with his wife, Mary, and their 4 children. His occupation is listed as sailor.
1888-1890: John W. Thomas is appointed 2nd Assistant at Wolf Trap Lighthouse, VA. (screwpile), VA. His salary is $400/year.
1890-1893: John W. Thomas is appointed 1st Assistant at Wolf Trap Lighthouse, VA. (screwpile). His salary is $440/year.
1893: John W. Thomas is appointed 1st Assistant at Old Plantation Flats Lighthouse, VA. His salary is $435/year.
1893: On January 22nd, heavy ice floes cut off the lighthouse from the foundation.
1894: John W. Thomas is appointed 1st Assistant at Cherrystone Bar Lighthouse, VA. His salary is $435/year.
1894-1895: John W. Thomas is appointed Principal Keeper at Old Plantation Flats Lighthouse, VA. His salary is $575/year.
1895: John W. Thomas resigns from his position as Principal Keeper at Old Plantation Flats Lighthouse, VA.
1900: In the US Census, John W. Thomas, age 57, is widowed and living in Mathews County, VA. with his five children. His occupation is listed as a farmer.
1900: John W. Thomas dies at the age of 57/58. He is buried in James Cemetery, Susan, Mathews, VA.
Keeper John William Thomas Anecdotes:
In January 1893, Keeper Thomas was alone at the 23-year-old Wolf Trap Lighthouse. The lighthouse, located 3 miles from shore and sitting in 12-feet of water, was supported by wooden pilings, encased in cast iron. Keeper Thomas had been watching the ice build for several days, with a feeling of dread. Keeper Thomas prayed “long and fervently” for help when he saw smoke from a steamer in the distance.
As the steamer drew closer, Keeper Thomas decided to abandon the lighthouse and walk across the ice to the steamer, waving his hat to attract their attention. Keeper Thomas was able to reach the steamer, where it transported him further up the bay. Keeper Thomas attempted to reach land by crossing the ice again, however he fell through the ice in 8-feet of water, nearly drowning before he was finally able to reach land.
On January 22, 1893, heavy ice floes eventually split the lighthouse from the foundation. The lighthouse floated south for several miles before it was found with only the roof and lantern sticking out above the water. The lens and lantern room were salvaged from the structure before it was towed to Portsmouth.
Sources –Chesapeake Chapter Keeper Database, USLHS, Familysearch.org, Richmond Dispatch, February 2, 1893