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Preserving the Past to Endow the Future

Jack Thomas

Some two years before Hardin County was formed, Jack Thomas, the son of Hardin Thomas and Hahetible "Hettie" Garrard, was born near Elizabethtown, in the vicinity of what is known as Claysville in the part of Hardin County, Kentucky that was then a part of Nelson County, Virginia. Hardin County was created in 1793 after Kentucky became a state in 1792. The date of his birth was February 7, 1790. He was a descendant of the early pioneers who settled this area. His maternal grandfather was Rev. John Gerrard, the first pastor of Severn's Valley Baptist church. He was a great-grandson of Jacob Van- Meter, and Major John Hardin was also his great-grandfather. General John Thomas was his great uncle.
While Hardin County was yet young, Jack Thomas became connected with the Circuit Court Clerk's office. The clerk, Ben Helm, needed a deputy and went to the school-house and examined the copy books and finding his writing to be the most attractive, he selected him to become his deputy, and his appointment was accordingly made April 23, 1808. He served in this capacity until 1810, the year in which Grayson County was formed. The first term of the Grayson Circuit Court was convened in July of that year in the woods where Leitchfield is now located. Judge Henry P. Broadnax was the first Circuit Judge, and his first official act after opening court was to appoint Ben Hardin as Commonwealth's Attorney. Two Justices of the peace sat with the Circuit Judge and the three constituted the court.
Next in order was the selection of a Circuit Clerk, and Jack Thomas and James W. Thornberry each were applicants for appointment. At that time Thornberry was twenty-one years of age, but Thomas was only twenty years of age. Judge Broadnax was not inclined to appoint Thomas because of a constitutional requirement that a Circuit Court Clerk must be twenty-one years old. Thereupon the two associate judges inquired of Ben Hardin if there was any way that they could legally vote for the appointment of Thomas, as they considered him qualified by reason of his experience as a deputy clerk. Mr. Hardin advised them they could appoint Thomas clerk pro tem, and with two votes out of three they made the appointment accordingly. Judge Broadnax resented the action of Ben Hardin in advising the justices that a clerk pro tem could be appointed, and he said to Hardin that if he had known that he was going to give such advice, he would not have appointed him attorney for the Commonwealth. However, Judge Broadnax, when Thomas arrived at the age of twenty-one years, appointed him to the office of Circuit Clerk.
This office, together with that of County Court Clerk, he held continuously for forty-one years. He was succeeded by his son, Edwin Thomas, Sr., who served as Circuit Court Clerk for a period of twenty-nine years. Jack Thomas was married to Jane C. Hundley November 12, 1812, and they spent their entire married lives in Leitchfield, where he built the first brick residence in the town. It is still standing and in a splendid state of preservation.
Together they reared a large family, and one of the daughters married Elisha Brown, who for some years was postmaster of Elizabethtown. The house in which Jack Thomas was born was built by the father of Abraham Lincoln, and it is probable that they were acquainted. Independent experts in the study of Thomas Lincoln's woodwork have attested that much of the finish work in the Jack Thomas House were the work of Lincoln. In a letter which Abraham Lincoln wrote to Samuel Haycraft dated May 28, 1860, Lincoln made reference to Jack Thomas and stated that he was familiar with his handwriting.
His death occurred July 5, 1865, and he is buried in the Thomas cemetery at Leitchfield. After the death of Mr. Thomas, his wife continued to live in the house until her death in 1872. His sterling character was attested by his friend Samuel Haycraft who, after his death, wrote concerning him the following: "He carried his heart in his hand—open, generous, frank. If he knew anything of the arts of duplicity, concealment or deception, I never knew him to avail himself of it. He was a gentleman of the olden time.

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