Tom Ross

Tom Ross

Tom Ross: Ancestor was all thumbs

Book chronicles family history


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

Find more columns by Tom here.

— Have you ever wondered how powerful your golf or tennis grip might be if you had two thumbs on your business hand?

I learned during the weekend that one of my ancestors, Thomas Slayton, who was born in the late 19th century, had two thumbs on his left hand.

And I’m not making this up.

My name is Thomas Slayton Ross, and it turns out I’m just one of many doubting Thomases in the Slayton clan. The first Slayton in Massachusetts was a Capt. Thomas Slayton, whose nuclear family of 10 established itself in Brookfield, Mass. He was born in England in 1682 and immigrated to America in 1707.

I’ve been learning the past few days all about my Slayton ancestors who lived and died in the 18th and 19th centuries in New England and upstate New York.

The eldest of my four younger sisters, Anne E. Ross, sent me a copy of a remarkable old book, “History of the Slayton Family: Biographical and Genealogical” last week. The book, written in 1898 by Asa Slayton, is remarkable for the rich history of my pioneer ancestors that it illuminates, but also for the way my sister put it into my hands.

The book is long since out of print and predates copyright law by a quarter of a century.

Still, it’s available for order on the Internet. An entity called Nabu Press scanned a copy that was in the collection of the Wisconsin State Historical Society and the 300-page volume can be purchased for $23, complete with clear photographs of ancestors I have never glimpsed before.

But you want to know more about the Thomas Slayton who had three thumbs. I am a southpaw, and the historical record does not indicate whether Thomas Slayton signed with his left hand or his right hand.

However, we know he was born in 1775 and moved with his family at age 3 to Woodstock, Vt. He became a farmer, and I can only assume that an extra thumb helped him hang tight to his horse-drawn plow while he turned the stony soil of New England.

My favorite Thomas Slayton played a pivotal role in the settling of the Holland Purchase, a vast tract of land bordering lake Ontario north of what is now Buffalo, N.Y.

Thomas was headed for Canada when he left his home in Vermont, but his wagon broke down, and he stopped to clear trees from a couple of acres and built a temporary cabin. The soil was so good he stayed to farm.

Pulled westward, Thomas moved on to the frontier of Southern Michigan in 1815 and died in that region in 1823.

Of more direct interest to me is my great-great-grandfather Samuel Ransom Slayton. He was born in 1830 and lived in Woodstock until 1852 when he crossed the Great Plains in an ox-drawn wagon, arriving first in California. He later moved to the Willamette Valley of Oregon, where he established several farms while making side trips to the California gold fields.

In 1856, Samuel served for three months as a volunteer in the Rogue River Indian War.

Samuel married Eliza Jane Savery in 1858 and, after moving several more times, finally settled on an 800-acre ranch near Prineville, Ore., which became very familiar to me in my youth.

My great-grandfather Edgar Truman Slayton continued ranching the Slayton homestead and married Jessie May Welch in 1894. It is their cattle branding iron, with a simple “S,” that I’ve been entrusted with.

Jessie May was the mother of my paternal grandmother, Lura Mildred Slayton Ross, and my great-aunt, Mabel Slayton Graffenberger, whose births are recorded toward the end of a marvelous family history.

The Slaytons were patriots and pioneers — at least seven Slaytons fought in the Revolutionary War and 61 fought on the side of the Union in the Civil War.

Sadly, I learned this week that Mark B. Slayton, born May 5, 1847, in Stowe, Vt., was killed in the Civil War. He enlisted in the 17th Vermont Infantry just a couple months shy of his 17th birthday in 1864 and was killed during a charge at the battle of Petersburg on July 30 of that year.

The Slaytons raised large families, founded towns and civic institutions and built grand homes. And they headed West until they ran out of frontier.

I can’t promise you that you will be able to find a reproduction of a book chronicling your family’s history as rich as the one my sister uncovered. But I can promise you that it’s worth looking.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email


rhys jones 5 years, 9 months ago

Thanks, Tom, for a most entertaining read. My own short tale is less detailed, but hopefully as entertaining.

I'll have to check with the family genealogist on the Jones side for pre-Revolutionary detail, beyond the Lighthouse Harry (?) story I recall Dad telling, but includes a few other notables in the chart. Of more interest was great-great-Grandpa, who enlisted in the only Union regiment in the Civil War from Arkansas. He was shot off his horse, wounded twice, escaped twice... then after the war, walking home with new hammer, neighbor sics dog on him (must've been lingering hard feelings) so he kills dog with hammer, walks home to the farm. Sheriff shows up with warrant, gunfight ensues, Sheriff gets shot -- "and that's when the Joneses left Arkansas."

Of more recent interest on that side is my grandmother Clara, nee Paxton. She held a PhD in Mathematics and helped NASA on the early Gemini and Apollo programs. Her nephew -- my second cousin -- is Tom Paxton, folk singer of note. She passed the math gene on to Dad, then on to me, which is now why I am a slave of computers.

I know a little more about Mom's side, which goes back to George Bellman, Poet Laureate of Sweden, then through the Kirkbrides of Scotland, and through Wales somewhere, where I picked up that weird first-name spelling. Another George Bellman bought shares in the Indiana-Illinois Land Company shoartly after the Civil War and plodded west to homestead in the Ft. Lupton area, but didn't like dirt, I guess, because he moved on to Boulder to build carriages, and was allegedly involved with the founding of that town. My earliest documentation of a Colorado heritage dates back to a marriage certificate issued in Boulder County in 1871. That's what justifies my Pioneer license plates, which gather few miles these days.

Grandpa Brown's side -- Mom's Dad -- proves almost as interesting. A couple of generations before him, and in a direct line, is John Brown, Civil War activist of note. A reading of his writings reveals that he was quite literate and well-spoken, almost seemingly justified in the drastic measures he undertook.

So one of those folks might explain the outbursts which spew from this source occasionally. Thanks again, Tom, heritage is a fascinating subject!


rhys jones 5 years, 9 months ago

... all those words to edit, and that dang typo slipped through. Maybe "shoartly" is a real word, to this limey spellchecker...


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