THOMAS A. NICHOLS PART VIII
When adversity smacks you in the face you can succumb to it or surmount it. Sometimes you get stuck somewhere between. I would like to think that Thomas’s determination and perseverance permeates my genes. My empathy for his plight of one calamity after another is greater after a recent bike accident that broke my right wrist and pelvic bone. This followed a foot surgery that hindered my passion for exercise for 4 months. I set my blog aside temporarily, but now I can continue to tell Thomas’s tale.
Eager to return to a sense of normalcy in his community after the Civil War, Thomas joined two local organizations as a committed member. The first one brings us back to the black leather box mentioned in Part II and the the jewel encased in it. The significance of the jewel was lost for a couple of generations, so it has intrigued me to learn the history of it. It is a Masonic Jewel and signifies the great value Thomas placed on his membership in the organization. He joined the local Masonic Lodge, Anthracite Lodge No. 285, in 1866 two years after he returned home. The order embodied values Thomas cherished.
The Masons represent three great principles: brotherly love; relief in the form of charity and care for others through charitable giving and voluntary works; and truth. After he joined the Masons, Thomas quickly completed all three degrees, Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason, by December 27, 1867. Progressively he worked his way through the ranks as a Mason; Secretary 1870-1871; Junior Warden 1875, and 1879; Senior Warden 1880-1881; Worshipful Master 1882. The jewel was awarded to him upon completion of his term as Worshipful Master. The treasure passed on to his son John Matthew Nichols and then down the line to succeeding generations.
The term “Worshipful Master” does not mean the recipient of the position was worshipped by his fellow members, rather it designates one is “worthy of respect.” It is the highest honor within the Masonic lodge and the recipient is elected, often by secret ballot, by his fellow members.
The jewel and the symbols engraved on it are meaningful as well. An article by Mason Carl Davis clarifies the significance of the symbols in the Past Masters jewels. The term “jewels” signifies the moral tendency applied to the symbols.
1. The 47th Proposition of Euclid suspended from a square teaches one of the most important principals of geometry, the Pythagorean Theorem. The symbol is suspended from a square to show that the Past Master has learned how to make complex constructions from the simple angle of ninety degrees, which is symbolic of the knowledge and wisdom that he gained from his service.
2. The compass is a symbol that the Freemason “keeps himself within due bounds of all mankind.”
3. “The Masonic Eye is symbolic of the Eye of God. It is the symbol of his Divine watchfulness and His ever present care of the universe.”
4. “The Masonic gavel is an emblem of authority used by the Master of the lodge to show his executive power over the assemblage by punctuating its actions.”
5. The sextant is a tool of navigation used to plot a course of travel just as the Past Master had to navigate his course of his lodge.
The black leather box that encases the jewel has a story to tell as well. I was curious about the significance of “Mortimer Jewelers” and wondered how it connected to the Nichols family. Thomas’s younger brother, Mahlon Ransloe Nichols, fortunately has an unusual name that is easier to research. His third child and daughter, Sally, married William Horace Mortimer, maker of fine Jewelry and owner of the prominent Mortimer’s Jewelry store in Pottsville, PA. Mortimer’s jewelers may have supplied the jewels on a regular basis for the local Masonic order.
The second organization Thomas chose was the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). Founded April 6, 1866 in Decatur, Illinois many posts were soon established throughout the northern states. After the war soldiers sought a means to maintain connections and camaraderie with fellow veterans. Later the G.A.R. would also give political clout. Founded on the principles of “Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty” it mirrored the strong values of the Masons. Thomas joined the local John Ennis Post, No. 47, G.A.R., as a charter member March 27th, 1867. One of the first officers of the John Ennis Post, Thomas served as adjutant, the same role he served in the Civil War.
Life settled into a pattern again for 45-year-old Thomas. Each day he worked long hours as a clerk in the John’s Colliery in St. Clair. An average work day in 1870 was about 12 hours and the work week was 63 hours. Sundays were the only day off and Thomas toiled about 50.7 weeks out of the year. The 1870 census notes that the value of Thomas’s personal estate was $700, but he did not own his home as there is no noted value for real estate. Helena’s personal estate was valued at $175 and she was “keeping house”. What little leisure time Thomas had was divided between his family, the Methodist Episcopalian church , the Masons and the G.A.R.
In 1870 the two elder Nichols children were school age, John was 13 and Bertha 8. The closest school was the Nichols Street School Building, also known as the Brick school, built in 1862 and located on the east side of North Nichols street. (Note: Nichols street was named for another Nichols family and it is unknown if they are related to Thomas Nichols). The school contained four classrooms. Charles, the youngest Nichols child, at age 5 was still at home.
The next five years were uneventful in the records for Thomas and Helena. Spring of 1875 tragedy struck the Nichols family.
© 2014 copyright Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved.
Name: Thomas Ackley Nichols
Parents: Matthias Nichols and Sarah Ackley?
Spouse: Helena Knerr and Lillian Watson Bull
Children: John, Bertha, Charles and Mary, Florence, Howard
Relationship to Kendra: 3rd great grandfather
- Thomas Ackley Nichols
- John Mathews Nichols
- Mabel Elvina Nichols Hyde
- John Frederick Hyde Jr.
- Jean Hyde Hopp Eichorn