James P. Thomas was born in Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee. He was the son of Judge John Catron, one of the justices in Dred Scott v. Sandford case involving the constitutional rights of slaves, and a black slave named Sally. While Catron neglected his son, Sally earned enough money as a cleaning woman to purchase Thomas's freedom in 1834. Under Tennessee law, however, he was a slave as long as he remained in the state. He performed chores for his mother, mastered the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic in a drafty one-room school, and became an apprentice in 1841 in the barbershop of another slave, Frank Parrish. In 1846 he opened his own shop in the house where he was born while his mother still operated a laundry Located at 10 Deaderick Street within a few blocks of several banking houses the courthouse and ...
entrepreneur and adventurer, was born into slavery in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of a slave, Sally Thomas, and a prominent white jurist, John Catron. Catron, who ended his career as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, did nothing for his son. It was left to Sally Thomas to free him. By taking in laundry she scraped together $350 of the four hundred dollars demanded for his freedom. A sympathetic planter, Ephraim Foster, who knew of her fear that her spendthrift master would sell Thomas, lent her the balance. She repaid him, but in order to circumvent Tennessee law, which required newly manumitted slaves to leave the state or forfeit their freedom, Foster agreed to retain legal ownership of Thomas. Foster made it clear, however, that he did not consider Thomas his property.
As a child Thomas helped his mother in her laundry and attended a school for ...