Thomas Beals was born in 1719 in Chester County, Pennsylvania to John and Sarah (Bowater) Beals, two prominent Quakers whose ancestors, according to family legend, arrived in America with the William Penn. He married Sarah Antrim on September 12, 1741 in Monacacy, Maryland, and the couple had five sons and eight daughters: Mary (b. 1742); Mary (b. 1743); Sarah (b. 1743); Thomas (b. 1745); Patience (b. 1747); William (b. 1750); Daniel (b. 1753); Elizabeth (b. 1755); Margaret (b. 1757); Hannah (b. 1759); Rachel (b. 1763); John (b. 1763); and Jacob (b. 1768). Like his parents, Thomas was a prominent minister in the Quaker church, and he and his family moved to Cane Creek, North Carolina to join the meeting house there in 1748.
That’s when the many adventures and misadventures of Thomas Beals began. After founding a new Meeting House at New Garden in present-day Guilford, North Carolina, Thomas traveled widely throughout the Northwest Territory to promote the Quaker church’s interests, even making his way as far north as Fort Wayne, Indiana. On one visit to the Shawnee and Delaware tribes in the Clinch Mountains in 1775, Thomas and his nephews–Bowater Sumner, William Hiatt and David Ballard–were arrested by the British for allying with the tribes. Just before they were to be put on trial for their lives, Thomas asked permission to talk to the officers and soldiers in the fort and explain the cause of their visit.
“Shortly afterwards [Thomas] preached so powerful a sermon that the officers allowed him and his party to proceed on their way without trial. A soldier in the fort near the reservation was converted and attached himself to the Society of Friends, with which he remained until his old age. Before the missionaries proceeded on their journey the attitude of the soldiers toward them had entirely changed and the officers did everything in their power to speed them on their way.” Thomas attempted another visit to the Shawnee and Delaware tribes two years later, but he was arrested again by the authorities at Fort Duquesne and was sent back. A third and final visit also ended in Thomas arrest, although he was allowed him to hold a meeting for the soldiers before returning home.
According to a number of accounts, Thomas “had a prophetic vision that the spiritual truth eventually would be scattered all over that goodly land [Ohio], and that the greatest gathering of Friends in the world would take place in this country,” and the latter half of this statement, at least, did come true. Thomas and his family continued to work toward realizing the first half of his “prophetic vision,” spreading the Quaker’s beliefs about pacifism and equality in Blue Stone, Chillicothe, Westfield, Lost Creek and Ross County. The Beals family experienced many hardships on the journey–Thomas’ nephew was put to death in Chillicothe, and they “suffered greatly from lack of the necessities of life”–but they stuck to their goal.
Thomas passed away on August 29, 1801 in Highland County, Ohio at the age of 82, and it’s a tragic story: Daniel, John and Jacob Beals, sons of old Thomas Beals, came with their widowed mother [to the Meeting], and were first to communicate the sad intelligence of the death of the venerable and loved Thomas, the preacher, which…was caused from a hurt received by his horse running under a stooping tree. He died in a few hours afterwards in the woods on the banks of Salt Creek, Ohio.” Thomas was buried in a coffin of “regular shape” hewn out of a solid white walnut tree:
“His sons and others who were with him found it utterly impossible to get plank or any material out of which to make a coffin, so they went to work and cut down a walnut tree and made a trough, which they covered with a slab. Thus prepared, they performed the sad rites, and the remains of the pure and good man were left to repose amid the profound solitudes of the unbroken forests. The Friends meeting of Fairfield, Highland County, have recently sent down a committee for the purpose of enclosing the grave, which was done by erecting a permanent stone wall around it.” Thomas Beals had a long life full of adventures and misadventures, chasing after that which he believed in; I’d say that’s a life well-lived.
For more information on Thomas and Sarah (Antrim) Beals, as well as their descendants in the Northwest Territory, read History of Hamilton County, Indiana: Her People, Industries and Institutions by John F. Haines.