Thomas A. Outten

The subject of this sketch was born near Concord, Delaware, on December 3, 1818. He was the son of Abraham and the grandson of Obed Outten, being the fifth generation from John Outten, the Pioneer. He was named for Dr. Thomas Adams, who was a practicing physician and a local preacher of the Concord Methodist Episcopal Church. Thomas was the oldest son of Abraham and Sophia Outten, but he had several sisters who were older than he was. All the children attended the Old Furnace School house, and the Methodist Church of Concord.

Thomas continued to live on the farm with his father until he was twenty-five years old. But after the death of his father in 1843, he sailed with Capt. James Boyce on the Nanticoke River, and on the Chesapeake Bay for several years. Then he returned to farming and, at the request of Billy Bolk, he moved to Western maryland, and continued farming at Ellicott Mills, now known as Ellicott City. But he was not pleased with that section very long, so he returned to Sussex County.

His next experience in farming was a Bridgeville, where he lived in the home of Mrs. Bob Dillworth, and while he was there, the writer was told, he met a young woman whose name was Charlotte Williams, daughter of John Williams, and niece to Mrs. Jane Fleetwood. Thomas was then in the 40th year of his age, but he had never before considered the subject of matrimony very seriously. After a few months, however, they were engaged to be married, and the date set was Old Christmas Day, January 6, 1858. They were to be married at the home of Purneil Fleetwood, but unfortunately, as the day approached, he was taken down with pneumonia, and could not leave his bed. Now, Tommy had overcome difficulties before, and a little distemper like pneumonia was not sufficient to change his plans. So he sent for his license, and sent for Rev. Jeremian Pastorfiled, the pastor of Bridgeville Methodist Episcopal Church, and he sent for Charlotte. The minister, and the bride stood by his bedside, while Mrs. Dillworth and the other invited guests stood about the room, and he was married in bed.

Soon after recovering from his serious illness, they began housekeeping in Concord, but at the end of the year they moved to a farm about a mile from Concord, where they lived twelve years, and where all their children were born. Thomas and Charlotte were the parents of five children. Three boys and two girls, and their names in the order of their births were: William Thomas, Mary Hester, Seth Purnell, Caroline Phillips, and John Perry.

William Thomas Outten, the eldest son of Thomas and Charlotte Outten, was born January 31, 1859.

The second child of Thomas A. and Charlotte Outten, was named Mary Hester. She was born March 10, 1861, and she was married to David M. Johnson December 13, 1881. They lived in West Seaford for a few years. Then they sold their home and bought a farm near Brown’s mill, about three miles from Seaford. After a few years on the farm they sold out and purchased a home in Galestown, where David died August 5, 1916. Hester then lived with her brother Seth P. Outten in Laurel, where she died September 10, 1936.

Hester and David were the parents of two children. Their eldest child was Walter Wellington. He was born in 1882, and he married Sally Craig. They were the parents of several children, but the writer does not know any more of them. Walter left his family near Seaford, and worked in Louisiana, the last time the writer heard of him. The second child of Hester and David died in infancy.

The second son of Thomas and Charlotte Outten was named Seth Purnell. He was born on a farm near Concord, Delaware, February 28, 1864.

The second daughter of Thomas and Charlotte Outten was named Caroline Phillips. She was born July 27, 1866, and she married George W. Bradley, her own cousin, November 15, 1883. They were the parents of five children: John, Edward, Adella, Elmer, who married and left one daughter, and May, who married Kelly Turner, and they have two daughters: Mildred Caroline, born January 9, 1930, and Florence Irene, born May 19, 1932. Caroline died May 31, 1895, in the twenty–ninth year of her age, and was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery at Seaford.

The fifth and youngest child of Thomas A. and Charlotte was John Perry Outten, born July 14, 1869. (see Sketch)

The writer regrets exceedingly that he remembers so little about his father. He was more than fifty years old when I was born, and, of course, I can only remember him as an old gray-headed man. I was only a schoolboy, a student at the Conference Academy, when he died, and I had been away from home a very great deal previous to his death, for several years. So when I decided to write this memoir of him, I thought I should like to know something about his boyhood and early life. Then I talked with John Cannon Short, who told me that he new my grandfather, Abraham Outten, and had visited his home. Henry White Baker told me that he went to school with my father at the Old Furnace Schoolhouse. Daniel Boyce and many other old people told me of many amusing incidents that they remembered about his early life, that had impressed their minds when they were associated with him.

Some of the old men with whom I talked seemed to take real pleasure in telling me huge jokes about this great physical strength and endurance. Daniel Boyce of Wilmington told me that he cut the wood and kept an oxcart hauling all day, and when night came, he was two loads ahead. It was on the George Green farm, and the wood was hauled about a quarter of a mile. He said Tommy often cut and put up three cords of wood in a day. And when husking corn in the field, he could always keep an ear of corn I the air on its way to the heap. He also had a great skill in cutting tops. It was said that 10,000 hills in small corn was a big day’s work, but one day he cut 16,000 hills for George Green in very heavy fodder.

Another huge joke was this: He and Dr. Robert Ellegood were both considered to be expert wrestlers, so the fun makers of the neighborhood planned a match between the two, and it took place near the Concord Mill dam. They wrestled half a day, and neither one threw the other. Tommy was then only seventeen years old, and Dr. Ellegood was much older.

Sometime after this Mrs. Ellensworth requested him to marry her daughter, who was a cripple, and offered him horse and card, and all necessary farming implements, but Tommy did not accept the generous offer.

He was only five feet and ten inches tall, and never weighed more than 160 pounds, but the writer heard it said that he could chop more wood, cut more tops, husk more corn, skin more white oak bark, and split more rails in a day, than any other man in the whole community. In those days tests of skill were usual, and he always figured as an expert. He attended woodcuttings, fodder sawings, corn-huskings, rail splittings, and log rollings.

While this useful work was in progress, the women of the same families were in the house, quilting, sewing, spinning and weaving. In the evening, when the work was done, a great supper was served. Then the young folks always held a frolic, while the old folks palavered over the events of the day. They sometimes cut up high jinks, and continued frolicing until morning.

Physically he was a strong man, and he never seemed to get tired. He got out of bed every morning at three o’clock the year around. He never heard of an eight-hour day; his day’s work was from sun to sun. He cut wheat with a cradle scythe for forty consecutive years, and he always led his hired men in the field. He seldom took even a Saturday afternoon off from his work, but when he did, took pleasure in going fishing. The favorite sports of his early manhood were cock fighting, wrestling, and quoit pitching with horse shoes. Checkers and dominos were also a favorite pastime, and in all these games he was regarded as an expert.

The writer has sometimes wondered if such sports and games were not more fascinating, and certainly they were more healthful and profitable than running to ball games, moving pictures, and horse races, and driving up and down the highways in automobiles at breakneck speed, endangering other people’s lives. But if such games and sports as have been described were those of a century ago, what kind of entertainment will the young people indulge in a hundred years hence?

Sometimes he was requested to do things just for accommodation, that other people did not care to engage in. While he was working for Warren Jefferson near Bridgeville, that astute and high-minded gentleman shocked the whole communiity by committing suicide. He deliberately walked around the corner of his house and shot himself with a horse-pistol.

While Jefferson was lying in state, Thomas was requested, according to the custom of the times, to sit up all night in the room with the corpse. It was a little lonesome to sit there by himself while the old grandfather clock ticked away in the corner. But suddenly, about one o’clock, and while the house was perfectly quiet, one of the clock weights fell, knocked the clock door open, and rolled clear across the room. Tommy said his hair stood on end for a minute, but he soon got himself together, and continued his lonely vigil till morning. Tradition said the Jefferson house was always haunted after that.

He became a Christian in 1842, when he was twenty-four years old, and, if the writer remembers correctly, it was a result of a campmeeting held at Ross’s Woods, near Seaford, under the preaching of Rev. Joshua Thomas, the Parson of the Islands. That was the only time that Joshua Thomas ever preached in Delaware. He joined the Methodist Episcopal Church in Concord, and never removed his membership to any other church.

The stories that have been recorded in this narrative were told me by old friends of my father, all of whom are now gone, and I wrote some of them down as I listened. It is worthy of notice that not one of them reflects, in any way, upon his moral character, but , knowing him as I did in his old age, it was difficult for me to realize that in his early life he would answer the description that was given of him. But the record that follows will contain only such facts as came under my own personal observation.

Perhaps I should give a little description of him as I remember him. He was a patriotic American citizen, and he always voted the Democratic ticket. He told me that he was drafted twice during the Civil War. After the first draft he prepared to go into the service, but he was not called, and he was drafted again in 1864, but he was then forty-five years old, and was exempted.

He was not a highly educated man, but he was well informed on all practical subjects. His voice was clear and he pronounced every work distinctly. His eyes were blue, his complexion light, and his hair was long and curly. He shaved once a week, but he always left a fringe of beard around his face in the good old-fashion style.

His conversation was always clean, and his manner pleasing. On Sundays he wore a Prince Albert coat and a high silk hat. He was always kind and generous, and always bright and cheerful.

He enjoyed a huge joke, and he could tell one well. He had a lot of witty stories and humorous speeches with which he would entertain children, but he was especially proficient in quoting Scripture and poetry. He was not a wealthy man, and he did not crave riches, but he always had enough to live on, and to live well. It was a great pleasure to him to visit his friends and to have them visit him, but it was his greatest delight to be associated with his own family, to work for their living, and to furnish them with all the pleasure he possibly could.

I remember one Sunday when I was a small child, he took the whole family to a camp-meeting that was held in front of Mount Zion Church, and we all had a great day. But whether he took the family or not, he nearly always took me with him. On one occasion we visited his sisters Mary and Nancy, at Concord. And on another occasion we visited his cousin William Lingo, who was the son of Seth Lingo and his father’s sister Rachel.

The Lingoes lived on the opposite side of the Nanticoke River, but father called, and the boys came over in a boat to ferry us over. While we were there young Eli requested father to go to his fish house and inspect some barrels of fish that he had caught and salted for winter use. I went with him into the old shack, and saw several barrels of fish. Then I went out, and stood in front of the door. But father stopped exactly in the door, and instantly a huge black water snake that had been lying on the lintel above the door, coiled itself entirely around his body. Did my blood chill? Was I scared? Everyone present was greatly alarmed, but the snake soon found its way to the ground, and father walked away just about as unconcerned as if nothing had happened.

And on another occasions I have seen him in great danger, but he never seemed to realize it. He absolutely knew no fear, and in my childhood I thought he was the bravest man in the world. He was never excited over anything, and very seldom angry. he never spoke a cross word, nor a bad word, never was intoxicated. He never uttered an oath, and never told a smutty yarn in his life.

But he was one of the most gullible and easily deceived men that I have ever known. He seemed to think that everybody was as honest as he was, and he never suspicioned that anybody would do him an injustice. So I saw him worried just once. It was about the end of the year 1881, and he had not looked over his business accounts for a long time. But at long last he decided to make a settlement and find out how he stood financially.

So early one morning, he dressed up in his best suit, and went away with a smile. He did not have a receipt, nor a notebook, nor a scrap of paper, nor any figures by which to prove anything. Why should he keep a private account, or jot down his investments, or bother about a handful of receipts? No, no, it might be a reflection upon the other parties concerned, and possibly express doubt about their integrity.

A few hours later he came home, but his simile was gone; so was his money. And without saying a word, he went to his room, took off his good clothes, and went to bed. I was a small boy, but my mind was strangely impressed with the proceedings. A few moments later mother went to his room and I went with her. Father was in bed. She did not ask him any questions, and she did nto chide him for this negligence in not keeping his own accounts. But she spoke kindly to him, and assured him that we would get along all right any way. She also encouraged him to begin all over again, and in a few moments she had him out of bed. He was then sixty-two years old, and he was nearly shocked to death. I do not know the extent of his loss, and I do not think that he ever told anybody. But I remember that the man who took the advantage of him, a few years later lost all he had, went bankrupt, and he died like a pauper. His son, who was a lawyer, told me in 1910, that he had just finished paying his father’s debts, but some of them were never paid. Did it pay?

In 1882, he moved to a small farm near Farmington in Kent County, Delaware, and after two years he moved to a large farm near Harrington. But he excessive and inordinate expressions of the energy and strength of his early life soon began to materialize in premature old age, and when he was sixty-five, he was compelled to begin a retire life. He lived five years longer, but he was never in good health.

He died on Saturday, November 9, 1889, in the seventy-first year of his age. His funeral was preached in the old Methodist Episcopal Church in Seaford on Monday following, by the Rev. George Brace, a local preacher of Prospect Church, and a friend of the family, from the text, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be”. And he was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery, where a large monument has been erected by his children, on which are inscribed the words of Alexander Pope in the manner in which he often quoted them. “The noblest work of God, an honest man”.

After father died mother made her home with her daughter Hester, near Seaford. She survived him nearly fourteen years, and she died of pneumonia, May 3, 1903, aged seventy-five years, one month and twenty-one days. Their home life was ideal, and they were the most perfectly congenial couple that I have ever known. I have heard him say many times that he and mother had never spoken a cross word to one another. She was not only a good wife and mother, but she was also a consecrated Christian, who every day went into her “secret closet, and shut the door, and prayed to the father that seeth in secret.”

Father was a great Bible reader, and he had committed most of it to memory. He enjoyed entertaining his friends with Bible stories, and whenever he had an audience, he would quote some long passage of Scripture, or tell the story of some great Bible character. He prayed well in public, always asked a blessing at this table, and he lived his religion.

The last time I saw him, he told me that he had something to tell me, but he could not tell me then. “If I find out that I am going, I will send you a telegram.” I gave him my hand, and said “Good bye,” and with a smile he said “John, be a good preacher.” Those were the last words I ever heard him speak. The remainder of the story is only a memory, and it is too pathetic for me to write.

Written by Rev. John Perry Outten converted to Hypertext by Karen Stephens