Thursday, February 27, 2014

#52Ancestors #9 Mary Hilliard Thomas: The Story in the Will

52 Ancestors in 52 weeks. Amy Crow has posted a challenge on her blog 'No Story To Small'.

It can be hard to find the story of our female ancestors, especially when we go far back in time. I began with facts of my maternal 6th great grandmother and found a very descriptive story of her adult lifestyle.


  • Birth name:   Mary Hilliard born 1739
  • Parents:        Jeremiah and Mourning Pope Hilliard
  • Spouse:        Reverend Jonathan Thomas
  • Children:       Elizabeth, Charity, Teresa, Christian, Mary, Sarah, Jonathan, and Mourning
  • Religion:       Christian/Baptist
  • Will:               May 29, 1802 and proved August 1802
  • Death:           Bef. Aug 1802, Edgecombe County, North Carolina
  • Burial:           Toisnot Cemetery, Wilson County, North Carolina
                                I descended through her daughter Teresa.

Early Years and Marriage

Mary's father died when she was about two years old. Her mother would remarry three times. Mary was raised in North Carolina by her mother and two of her step-fathers.

Mary married the Reverend Jonathan Thomas on March 1, 1757 in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. All of their children were born in Edgecombe.

It's at this point that I asked myself....what is her story and where do I find it? There are several documents concerning Mary: Sons of the American Revolution Applications (her husband served in the American Revolution), dedicated headstone, the Last Will of her husband and Mary's Last Will. The documents concerning Mary were just dates...except for the wills. I asked myself: Who? What? When? Where? and How?

I took a closer look at their wills and some of the items they gave to their children. This gave me a visual look into Mary's home, lifestyle, and her story.

(The underlined words below are terms mentioned in their wills.)

Home Sweet Home

Their plantation was located along Toisnot Swamp in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. Boundaries have changed and today it's in Wilson County. A visitor approaching their plantation would see cattle, hogs, horses, sheep, a vegetable garden, corn growing in the field, a herb garden, orchards, and if the season was right, a field of flax.

Some of their horses were named: Champion, Deck, Bolton, Blaze, and Beaty. Mary used a sidesaddle which allowed her to ride a horse in a very fashionable and feminine way.,_printed_1889.jpg

Meals were cooked in a hearth. Mary used pots and hooks to prepare the meals. The hooks were used as handles to avoid touching the hot pots and for hanging the pots on the hearth.

The food was seasoned with herbs from the garden. The herbs would be stored until dry then Mary would crush them using her mottle spice mortar.

The family dined at the walnut table.  Meals were served from pewter basins (bowls) and large pewter plates (platters). The food was eaten from small pewter plates.

The tea kettle was used to heat water for tea. Mary and Jonathan would likely have an after dinner drink of Brandy that had been made in their Brandy still.

There was no shortage of featherbeds in their home. They gave away twelve featherbeds, bedding, and furniture in their wills.

Many of Mary's days were filled with making clothes, bed covers, and other cloth items for her family and home. Everything was made from scratch. Flax was prepared by breaking, separating the impurities, and then Mary used her flax hackle to split and straighten the flax fibers. Then the fibers were used on her spinning wheel. Once the flax was spun Mary would use her cloth loom to weave it into linen. The linen was used to make hand-sewn clothing and other household items.

A similar process was used to make woolen winter clothes. Instead of using her flax hackle, she used cotton cards. The card was pulled back and forth to clean the sheep's wool before spinning the wool.

Laundry had to be done. Once the clothes were hand-washed and dried outside in the sun a flat iron would be heated on the hearth and used to iron out the wrinkles in their clothes. Some of the items may have been stored in a pine chest.

Mary did not do all the work by herself. Her daughters would have helped as well as two slaves named Lettice and Phyllis. The family had five slaves. I will publish the slaves names in hopes that some of their descendants will be able to find their ancestor. Their names were Lettice, Gem, Dick or Deck, Phyllis, and Samuel.

Their property adjoined the property of the Meeting House. The Meeting House was also known as a Particular Baptist Church and Toisnot Baptist Church. The church has since been moved closer to Wilson. Mary would have been an active member of the church since her husband was the minister.

Mary's husband died in 1775 at the age of thirty-nine. She was left a widow with eight children whose ages ranged from four to seventeen.

Mary survived her husband by twenty-seven years. She never remarried and spent the remainder of her years on their plantation. Mary died in 1802 at the age of sixty-three. She is buried alongside her husband at the Toisnot Baptist Church Cemetery.


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