An American Family History

John Joseph Thomas

The Province of Upper Canada was established in 1791 to accommodate Loyalist refugees from the United States. It included all of Southern Ontario and part of Northern Ontario.

John Joseph Thomas was born in January, 1850 in Ontario.  His parents were John Morgan Thomas and Mary Lewis

At the time of the 1871, census he was living in a boarding house in Hamilton, St. George Ward and his occupation was given as piano finisher.

He married Maria (Mary) Jane Campbell (Jennie) on February 6, 1873 in Hamilton, Ontario. Maria was born about 1850 in New Jersey and was the daughter of Robert and Margaret Campbell.

John and Maria's children were:
Robert John Thomas (1874),
Margaret M. Thomas (1876), and
Charles Edward Thomas (1880, married Grace Marion Lindsay).

John served in his brother Charles' firm as manager from 1878 to 1884 and was supervisor of the piano department at Bell Piano and Organ in the 1920s.

At the time of the 1881 census they were living in Hamilton, Ontario. In 1891 they were in Guelph City, Wellington, Ontario.

Their son, Robert, was killed in 1896.

Sept 9, 1896 – Toronto Star, Page 1
Guelph Boy Murdered
Guelph, Sept. 9
Two years ago Robert Thomas, son of J. J. Thomas, foreman for the Bell Organ and Piano Company, left for San Francisco to join a ship on a whaling cruise northward. Early in March of this year young Thomas, in company with several others left Herchell Island, off the coast of Alaska, en route for the Alaska Gold Fields.

While trading with the natives, the natives turned on Thomas and his companions and in the melee which follwed Thomas was fatally shot and several of the white men were wounded, while others of the party escaped.

The news of the murder reached Guelph yesterday, five months after the occurence. It was conveyed through the influence of Rev. I. O. Stringer, recently arrived missionary, by way of the northern mission station. (courtesy of Kelly)

At the time of the 1911 census they were in Wellington and John was still manufacturing pianos.

John died when he was 65 on December 22, 1915 in Wellington, Ontario of arteriosclerosis and cerebral hemorrhage.

Globe and Mail – December 23, 1915, p. 5
Veteran Piano Manufactuer Passes Away At Guelph
Special Despatch to The Globe
Guelph, Dec. 23 – After an illness that has extended over several months, Mr. J. J. Thomas, Superintendent of the Bell Piano works since 1887, passed away at his home on Yorkshire Street this morning. In June of last year he underwent an operation for cataract on the eye, and ever since then his health has gradually failed. He was an expert in anything connected with the manufacture of pianos.

He was born in Toronto in 1850, and entered his brother’s factory in Hamilton some years later, where he subsequently became Superintendent. He left there to come to Guelph when the Bell Company first began to make pianos. He took an active interest in healthy sports, being Past President of the Guelph Cross Country Association. He was a member of St. James’ Anglican Church, being church warden there for some years. He also belonged to the Masonic Order and Canadian Order of Foresters.

His wife and one son, Charles, Manager of the Dunsmuir Mines, at Victoria, B.C., survive. His brother, E. G. Thomas was founder of the Thomas Organ & Piano Co., Woodstock. (courtesy of Kelly)

Maria died on August 1, 1916.

Globe and Mail, August 7, 1916, p. 6
Much regret is felt over the very sudden death of Mrs. J. J. Thomas of Guelph, who passed away last Tuesday while on a visit to her sister, Mrs. E. Hubert Stirling, 125 Delaware Avenue. 

She was the widow of the late John J. Thomas, Superintendent of the Bell Piano Company. Besides Mrs. Stirling she leaves an only son, Charles E. Thomas of Victoria, B.C., two sisters, Mrs. H. G. McMahon of Hamilton and Mrs. F. W. Galloway of Oxbow, Sask., also one brother, William Campbell of Chicago. The funeral will take place from her late residence at Guelph on Wednesday next on the arrival of her son from the west.

The first European settlements in Ontario were after the American Revolution when 5,000 loyalists left the new United States.


In Producing theFull Iron Frame
John J. Thomas' Claim Regarding His Fathers' Invention.

The Toronto Star prints an interesting letter from John J. Thomas, superintendent of the piano department of the Bell Piano & Organ Co., of Guelph respecting the establishment of the piano manufacturing industry in Canada, in which he corrects a recent statement in that publication that the first piano manufactured in Toronto was about 1847 by John Thomas. This error is set right as follows:

My father the late John Thomas, started piano manufacturing in Montreal in 1832, and in 1839 removed his business to Toronto and manufactured pianos in Chewitt's buildings, on which is the present site of the Rossin House.

In 1844 he built and removed to the building now standing immediately west and adjoining the Princess Theatre on King Street. A stone is in the front of this building with the inscription, Harmony Place, 1844. This building was used as a wareroom, with manufacting shop in rear and above. I might state that the first organs in St. Michael's Cathedral, Holy Trinity Church, and, I think St. George's Church, were built on these premises, and most of the parts of these original organs are now embodied in the present ones.

I have in my possession a patent deed issued to my father in the year 1840 for what is now known and universally used as the full metallic frame (Chickering claims 1843). I have also a diploma issued to John Thomas & Son, Toronto for a piano exhibited at the first exhibition of all nations in the Crystal Palace, London, England 1851. This piano was built in Toronto. Some few years ago I saw an upright piano in Messrs. Heintzman & Co.'s repair shop built by my father in Montreal in 1833.

from The Music Trade Review, p. 16

Children of John Morgan Thomas
and Mary Lewis
  • Charles Lewis Thomas
  • Thomas Lewis Thomas
  • Elizabeth Sheppard Thomas Musson
  • Susannah Matilda Thomas
  • Eliza Mary Thomas Treahy
  • Jane Eliza (Jennie) Thomas Belford
  • Francis John Thomas
  • Mary Sophia Thomas
  • Celia Ann Thomas Brodie
  • Mary Sophia Thomas
  • John Joseph Thomas
  • Edward George Thomas


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    ©Roberta Tuller 2020
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