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Thomas J. White


Thomas J. White was born on July 8, 1845 in Somerset County, PA, the son of Perry G. and Charlotte (McClatchey) White. His middle initial sometimes has been given as "H." He was a pioneer of Iowa and served as a Union Army soldier in the Civil War.

When Thomas was a boy, he migrated with his family to Hopwood, Fayette County. There, in the mid-1850s, the mother died. Although his father later remarried to Mariah Minerd and they were all together for few initial years in Hopwood, an offer was made for Thomas and his younger sister Nancy to go to Iowa to be raised by an uncle and aunt, Charles M. and Martha McClatchey. 

The McClatcheys had arrived a few years earlier in the town of Pella, Marion County, where they established a woolen mill. Thomas and his sister made the move in about 1862 or 1863.

Just a few months after arriving in Pella, with the Civil War raging, the 18-year-old Thomas and his friend Alexander Moore both enlisted in the army, and were placed in the 33rd Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Company G with the rank of private. He stood 5 feet, 10 inches tall, with a fair complexion, dark hair and blue eyes.

Later, on Oct. 7, 1864, Thomas joined the 34th Iowa Infantry, Company G. The Osakaloosa Daily Herald newspaper said he served "in the Army of Gen. Steele in Arkansas, and later with Army of Gen. Candby on the Gulf of Mexico. During the army service he was in several battles, long campaigns, doing the work of a true soldier." 

In the latter part of October 1864, while stationed at Memphis, TN, he "was taken sick with Typhoid fever, and taken to Wash. Hosp'l at Memphis," noted an army report. "Fever settled in left lung, causing injury and disease of the lungs & weakness of the chest."

Having served in the army for 10 months and nine days, Thomas was discharged at Davenport, IA on Aug. 15, 1865. He returned to Pella.


Oskaloosa, Iowa streetscape, early 1900s


Restless, he relocated to nearby Oskaloosa, Mahaska County, where he secured employment in the Seibel Woolen Mill as a "fuller." The job is believed to have involved washing raw wool with soap and heat to create friction that shrank the wool and tightened its strength for weaving. He also learned the trade of masonry, where he progressed "through the grades, from hoe and hod to trowel wall. He was a good workman," said the Daily Herald. In about 1869, Uncle Charles McClatchey moved the family owned woolen mill to Knoxville, IA, and took in more partners, renaming the business Jones, McClatchey & Van Houten. The firm continued for four years until Charles retired.

Thomas was twice married. His first bride was Virginia F. "Jennie" Silvey (1861-1887). Their marriage took place on Feb. 25, 1879, in Mahaska County. He was age 34 and she 18 at the time.

They had three known sons -- John W. White, Thomas Henry White and Charles Jefferson White.

Thomas became friends in about 1876 with two Oskaloosa men who remained on close terms the rest of his life -- James W. Myers and James Sparks. Among the other friends made over the years was Harvey F. Fisk. 


Chief Mahaska statue in
Oskaloosa, a local landmark

Sadly, after eight years of marriage, Jennie was afflicted with a fatal case of consumption, better known as tuberculosis. Unable to recover her health, she passed away at the age of 26 on May 6, 1887. She was buried in the "old cemetery" in Oskaloosa, with J.B. McCundy serving as undertaker. A record of her death is on file in Mahaska County (Book 1, page 61).

In June 1889, suffering from wartime ailments that included rheumatism (chest and lung discomfort), heart disease, stomach problems and injured hearing, Thomas began receiving a government pension as compensation. He drew monthly payments until his death. [Invalid App. #714240, Invalid Cert. #491164]

He spent five years as a widower, and wed again on Nov. 18, 1892 to Iowa native Elvira Alice (Norris) Davidson (1872-1952). Rev. J.D. Guthrie officiated. Husband and wife were 27 years apart in age. Alice had been married once before, to Albert J. Davidson, and they divorced in Mahaska County in 1892 after just three years of marriage (District Court Record 6983, Book 15, page 541).

The couple produced two more children -- Bessie May Beitel and Clarence Lester (or "Leslie") White.

When the federal census was enumerated in 1900, the mixed family made its home in Oskaloosa, with the family residence located on Eighth Avenue West. Thomas' occupation that year was as a brick mason, with his two teenage sons laboring as coal miners. Nellie Risney, age 14, worked as a servant in their home.

Thomas sister Mary Frances Turner died in 1904 back in his old hometown of Uniontown. He was mentioned in her newspaper obituary, which stated that he was living in Iowa. 

To support Thomas' claims for increased pension funds circa 1907-1908, his married sisters Nancy E. McDonald in Comstock, NE and Charlotte J. Ingles in Hopwood, PA signed affidavits attesting to his age. Sister Charlotte penned the following on Dec. 12, 1907: 

I am a sister of said Thomas J. White - my father and mother are both dead many years, also our oldest sister Mary - and brother John E. White. I have made diligent search for my father's family bible - in which the names and ages of all my brothers and sisters were recorded - but I am unable to find said bible - though I have often seen said Bible and read the ages of our family in the same. I have always kept a careful account of the ages of each of our family - brothers and sisters and I know well that my brother Thomas J. White said soldier was born July 8" AD 1845 in Summerset County Penna. and while I am younger than he - about 4 years - I know well the ages of all my brothers and sisters having learned the same from mother - father, and our family Bible.

On Feb. 17, 1908, sister Nancy wrote as follows: 

I am a sister of Thomas J. White, said soldier. I can remember him as far back as I know any person. My mother died when I was a child - shortly after her death brother Thomas J. White, said soldier, and I were taken to Iowa - and resided with some of our folks until grown. We often talked about our ages and I know that the folks gave my birth day as 26 day of March AD 1856 and that my brother Thomas about 12 years older than I am - or July 8, 1845 which latter date lacks some 3 months of making him 12 years older than I am. I have all my life kept up writing and talking with my own folks and I feel sure that this is the correct date of birth.

Sadness enveloped Thomas in December 1908 when he learned that sister Charlotte, despondent over her failed marriage and her daughter's elopement, took her own life in the basement of her home in Hopwood, PA, using a razor.

In 1910, the census again shows the family in Oskaloosa, at 922 South D Street South, with Thomas laboring as a brick mason for house-building, with 17-year-old daughter Bessie earning money as a servant in a local boarding house, and 15-year-old son Lester working as a laborer in a furniture store. At times in the mid 1910s their post office was Beacon, Mahaska County.

Thomas and Alice adopted a young girl, Alberta A. White, born on June 4, 1914. The girl's father was a native of Pennsylvania, and her mother was from Iowa, but nothing more is known.

In 1920, the Whites made their home at 607 Sixth Avenue East in Oskaloosa. Thomas, age 75, was retired, and five-year-old Alberta White lived under their roof. Circa 1915, his monthly pension payments were $19, but by 1921 they had grown to $72 each month.

Thomas suffered from hardening of the arteries in his later years. Dr. K.L. Johnston made a house call on June 20, 1920, and reported that "I found patient suffering with disease of heart, vascular renal sclerosis, in advanced condition. He was confined to his house and bed much of the time, requiring the aid of another personal continually...." Dr. J.C. Barringer, in the employ of the Veterans Administration, had to visit Thomas' home for a mandatory examination because the old soldier was so infirm. "This claimant is ... totally and permanently helpless from disease of the heart and senility...."

He died of their effect on June 17, 1921, at the age of 76. Funeral arrangements were handled by E.M. Cheesman. Longtime friends James W. Myers and James Sparks attended the burial. He was laid to rest in the soldiers' lot of Forest Cemetery near Oskaloosa.

At his death, the Daily Herald said Thomas was "a true soldier -- an industrious, decent citizen -- a good husband and kind father. Through prayers and suffering, he found our Savior, passing away in the Christian belief. Having lived a life of toil and health 75 years, it's well that the ending of his life follows well the words of Robert J. Burdette, the soldier:"


"And again they are playing the regiment into camp.
The fifes blow softly as flutes. 
The roll of the muffled drums, tender as the patter of rain on autumn leaves times the slow steps of old soldiers with the Dead March to which 
We listened so oft when life was in the spring time: 
There's no sorrow there, John; 
There's neither cauld nor care, John. 
The day is aye fair 
I'  the Land o' the Leal."


As a widow, Alice applied for and began receiving her late husband's Civil War pension payments. [Widow App. #1175887, Widow Cert. #905289, XC #2704577] Circa 1928, her home was at 300 East Miss Boulevard in Bettendorf, Scott County, IA. At some point she moved to Des Moines, Polk County, IA, and her postal addresses were 1337 Bluff Street, 914 West Seventh Street (as of 1937) and 833 Sixth Street (beginning in 1947).

Occasionally she carried on correspondence about her pension with the Veterans Administration in Washington, DC. She is believed to have been a member of, or at least a friend of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans' and widows' lobbying organization. In 1947, Amy Noll of the GAR's Des Moines chapter wrote to the Veterans Administration to request assistance with payments being made to Alice. The Veterans of Foreign Wars also represented her interests for all benefits due her from the federal government.

By 1942, the amount of her pension payment was $40 each month, and in 1952 it had grown to $51.60. 

She passed away in Des Moines on Sept. 23, 1952, at the age of 80.


~ Son John W. White ~

Son John W. White (1880- ? ) was born on Oct. 18, 1880. Nothing more is known. 


~ Son Thomas Henry White ~

Son Thomas Henry White (1882- ? ) was born on Sept. 7, 1882 in Oskaloosa, Mahaska County. 

At the age of 17, he worked in and around Oskaloosa as a coal miner. 

Thomas wed Katie Stahl (1885- ? ), daughter of Abediah and Nina (Herriman) Deael, on Feb. 15, 1905. The nuptials were held in Marion County, IA. Thomas was age 22, and Katie 20, at the time of marriage.


~ Son Charles Jefferson White ~

Son Charles Jefferson White (1885- ? ) was born on Sept. 5, 1885 in Oskaloosa, Mahaska County. 

At the age of 14, he worked in and around Oskaloosa as a coal miner. 

On Sept. 11, 1907, at age 22, Charles wed 17-year-old Etha Leota Crouch (1890- ? ), daughter of Sylvester and Sylvia (Anderson) Crouch. The ceremony was held in Knoxville, Marion County, IA.


~ Daughter Bessie Mae (White) Beitel ~

Daughter Bessie Mae White (1893- ? ) was born in April 1893 in Oskaloosa, Mahaska County. At the age of 17, in 1910, Bessie lived at home and was employed as a servant in a local boarding house. 

She married Fred E. Beitel (1891-1925) the day after Christmas 1910, in Marion County, IA. She was age 21 at the time, and he was 22. He was the son of Nellie Beitel. 

They are not believed to have reproduced.

When the federal census was taken in 1920, the Beitels made their home in Davenport, Scott County, IA. Sadly, Fred died in 1925, at age 34, after just 15 years of marriage. His passing occurred in Beacon, Mahaska County, and burial was in the Beacon Cemetery.


~ Son Clarence Lester White ~

Son Clarence Lester (or "Leslie") White (1896-1951?) was born in October 1896 in Oskaloosa, Mahaska County.

During World War I, Clarence enlisted in the U.S. Army and returned home without injury.

On July 6, 1920, at the age of 24, he wed 24-year-old Esther Reick (1896- ? ), daughter of W.H. and Mary Jane (Stakey) Reick. The ceremony was held in Davenport, Scott County, IA.

While this needs to be confirmed, he may have died in 1951 and with burial in Highland Memory Gardens Cemetery in Des Moines.


~ Daughter Alberta Arlene White ~

Adopted daughter Alberta Arlene White (1914- ? ) was born on June 4, 1914 in Lakonta, Mahaska County.


Copyright 2003, 2013-2014 Mark A. Miner