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Column #64

Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree

The Fat Quarters
Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree

John Files Tom was a major player in Texas history. Born in Tennessee in 1818, he moved with his family to Texas in 1835 and when he was 17, he joined the volunteer army fighting for Texas’ independence from Mexico.

He served under Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston, participating in several of the most famous battles of that war. During the battle of San Jacinto—which the Texans won and which ended the military conflict—a musket ball shattered Tom’s knee. He recovered from that injury and went on to serve as a Texas Ranger during the Civil War.

Before his death in 1906, he also served as sheriff of Guadalupe County and was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. Tom was married twice: first to Mary Ann Moffitt, with whom he had four daughters, and after her death, to Nancy Henderson; they had eight children together.

One of those eight children was the grandmother of noted Sherman, Texas quilt artist and pattern designer Shirley Fowlkes Stevenson. In 1984, Shirley decided that she wanted to make an historical quilt to commemorate the 150th birthday of Texas in 1986, and she looked no further than her own great-grandfather for inspiration.

For two years Shirley worked on an album quilt, Capt. Tom, A Tall Texan, which features her original appliqué scenes from Tom’s remarkable life. The quilt has won numerous awards and it was chosen for inclusion in Lone Stars III: A Legacy of Texas Quilts, 1986-2011, the third in the trilogy of books documenting great Texas quilts by Karey Patterson Bresenhan and Nancy O’Bryant Puentes. It was also chosen to be part of the inaugural exhibition at the Texas Quilt Museum in La Grange, Texas.

La Grange is a delightful small city in east central Texas, and the Texas Quilt Museum is a welcome addition there, bringing many new visitors to the community. The mayor of La Grange, Janet Moerbe, is especially excited about the Museum. She was fully expecting to be awed and inspired by the quilts on display, but she was definitely not expecting to see a relative of hers depicted in one of them. Imagine her surprise when, entering the space and seeing Captain Tom, A Tall Texan hanging on the wall, she realized that she was looking at a depiction of her great-, great-uncle’s life.

Janet Moerbe’s great-, great-grandfather was John Files Tom’s brother. The mayor knew all about Captain Tom, because she had recently completed all the research and paperwork necessary to become certified as a Daughter of the Republic of Texas (DRT). DRT membership is limited to descendents of those who served Texas prior to 1846, when Texas ceased being a separate country and became one of the United States.

Shirley Fowlkes Stevenson is also a member of the DRT, but she did not know about Janet Moerbe’s great-, great-uncle. The two women are planning on getting acquainted when Shirley visits the museum in the near future. No doubt their shared ancestry will be high on their list of conversational topics. It seems as though Captain Tom is still making history.


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Archived blogs:

Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here

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