Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 19 March 1850

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Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 19 March 1850

Postby dbennett » Sun Mar 19, 2017 5:41 am

March 19, 1850 is the date commonly accepted for James Edward (Uncle Ed) Thomas (1849/50-1933). However, this date is likely incorrect. The bottom line upfront is we do not know what date he was born. This date has been given by several sources over the years, but it now it actually pertains to a cousin of his by the same name.
Findagrave.com (and other genealogical sites) lists the birth date for James Edward Thomas as March 19, 1850. The entry on findagrave.com has a photo of the headstone with the date March 19, 1855, but the text from the family member that posted it says "Gravesite Details Birth year on marker is incorrect" and states the birth year is 1850 and not 1855.

We know that James Edward Thomas was buried in an unmarked grave in 1933 with just a couple of footstones marking the location. A few years ago (maybe 1990s or early 2000s) someone took the initiative to have a headstone erected on Uncle Ed and his wife's, Sarah, grave and this headstone had the date of his birth as March 19, 1855.

Much of the following information is from a series of emails from Dulcimore Dan, aka Dan Cox, who has studied this extensively and has copies of birth/death records for many of the folks discussed here.

Dan told me that according to the 1900 census our James Edward Thomas was born in April 1849.

In addition, Dan told me some of the information posted for James Edward Thomas, aka Uncle Ed, by various people on several genealogical sources was not our Uncle Ed’s information, but the data of his cousin by the same name, James Edward Thomas, who was the son of Green Thomas, and lived outside Whitesburg, in Letcher County, Kentucky. Adding to and perpetuating the cornfusion Dan told me some of the family members of Uncle Ed’s cousin, James Edward Thomas, son of Green Thomas, think erroneously he’s the famous dulcimer maker.

Speaking of cousins with the same name, even Uncle Ed’s wife, Sarah Louella Neece, had a cousin Sarah, daughter of Hugh, with the same first name and middle initial “Sarah L.” as hers. The cousin of our Uncle Ed was married to a "Sarah Belle Triplett". Apparently, this is where some sources say Uncle Ed’s wife was named “Sarah Bell.

Now then, what we do know about our James Edward Thomas is that was born in Letcher County, and also lived part of his life on Big Doubles Creek in Knott County, Kentucky. He is credited with being one of the first to build the Cumberland-Style dulcimer. L. Allen Smith describes Uncle Ed’s double bout style “...characterized by round shoulders, narrow waists, and mortised ribs, or ribs that are mortised into the tuning head and tailpiece blocks...” (page 81 of A Catalogue of Pre-Revival Appalachian Dulcimers). It is reported that Thomas began to make dulcimers in 1871 and made dulcimers for about 62 years. He made an estimated 1,500 instruments in his lifetime and influenced many dulcimer makers. He sold them as a traveling peddler through remote areas of Kentucky, carrying them on his back or in a pony cart. His instruments cost $3 for Poplar and $5 for Walnut. Ralph Lee Smith wrote in the 1993-04 issue of Dulcimer Players News Vol. 19 No. 4, "More than any other person, James Edward Thomas deserves credit for introducing the Appalachian dulcimer to the world."

~Uncle Ed01.JPG
Last edited by dbennett on Sun Mar 18, 2018 4:55 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 19 March 1850

Postby kwl » Sun Mar 19, 2017 1:24 pm

Here is a photo of a dulcimer made by James Edward Thomas near the end of his building carerer. It is number 1465 and dated 1931. When I received it, it was in disrepair and non-playable. John Huron repaired (and rebuilt) it and took the photo.

Ken
"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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Re: Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 19 March 1850

Postby dbennett » Sun Mar 18, 2018 4:59 pm

Uncle Ed Thomas03.JPG
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