Wednesday, October 21, 2020

52 Ancestors - QUITE THE CHARACTER: Tom Frazier

House in Boonesville, Albemarle Co, VA
where some deserters were kept in the basement 
and then killed near the end of the Civil War.
Tom Frazier escaped from here.
photo courtesy Norm Addington

The first statement in the Thomas J. Frazier lineage posted on the Shiflet Family website says everything about my 2X great-grandmother’s cousin: “reportedly had 32 children.”  He married twice and lived openly with his good friend’s widow. According to legend these three women were not the only ones in his life, and not all were white – not a big deal today but surely scandalous in his time.

Along the Skyline Drive
A gentleman named George Foss interviewed many older residents of Greene County, Virginia to collect the tales that had been passed down from generation to generation. His book From White Hall to Bacon Hollow includes stories of moonshine operations, black magic and witch-women, feuds, childhood games and riddles, and more. Tom Frazier featured in several of those stories, mostly about his dodging the Civil War.

Here is an excerpt of one story told by Robert Shiflett about Linus/Linkus Shiflett and Tom Frazier, both considered war dodgers or deserters during the Civil War:

At various times Tom Frazier had been captured but he always escaped, but when they captured him and Linkus Shiflitt on this occasion they carried 'em to the outskirts of Staunton in a little brick buildin' I have heard Tom Frazier himself, I have set on his knee and heard him tell about it. They were to be shot at sunrise next mornin' and they had the coffins brought in -- pine boxes. So that night when they manacled 'em together, all the guards were asleep. There was only one door to this little brick buildin' leadin' out of it and there's one sentinel at the door. Tom Frazier said that he begged Linkus all night to make a break for it. Tom Frazier's hands were smaller than his wrists so he had slipped the handcuffs off of his hands which freed Linkus as far as bein' burdened with another man. He had nothin' but the handcuffs on his wrist. Tom Frazier told Linkus he'd kill the guard at the door if he would go with him. Said Linkus kept sayin' "No," he was going to trust in the Lord. And Old Man Tom, I know he lacked a lot from bein' a righteous man at the time, but he told Linkus that the Lord helps them that help themselves. "If you trust in the Lord you gonna be shot at sunrise if you don't try to help yourself." And accordin' to his narration, there was a rail fence 'bout a hundred yards maybe from the cabin across open fields. He'd waited till daylight and then the other guards begin to stir and he couldn't go. Linkus still had his fiddle accordin' to Tom. They had heard of his reputation as a violin player -- as a fiddler -- and so, accordin' to Old Man Tom Frazier, they made Linkus set on his own coffin and play the fiddle for 'em. And when they came in to serve breakfast, Tom said all the guards' rifles was stacked in front of the door in the yard. He said naturally he didn't have much appetite so he got up from the table ahead of ev'rybody else and he moved around the table toward the guard standin' in the door. And said he was movin' like he was unconcerned till he got near the door. He knocked the guard down, jumped through the door and made for the woods about a hundred yards away on the other side of a rail fence. And said all of the guards ran out and one by one they grabbed the rifles and started shootin'. He said he jumped to the right, jumped to the left, zig-zagged and bullets was passin' him and he said when he heard six rifles fire he knew that they were out of guns for the time being…. So when they called for the other rifle -- they had to run inside to get it -- he'd almost reached the woods and when he got to the rail fence instead of tryin' to jump it or climb over it, he just dived over the top of it. And he said as he did, the rifle ball busted the top rail right under his stomach but he fell to the other side unhurt. He said while they had the empty rifles -- ev'ry rifle was empty -- Linkus still wouldn't run. And they come back and tied him and shot him. 

Hilda Yates told this story about Tom Frazier:

They'd come to take him to the war and every time they'd get him and start with him, he'd always outdo 'em….The way he got away, he had a little black mare, he said all he had to do was just pull up on the reins and lay his hand behind him and she let into kickin' so fast you couldn't count it…. Said they had him just fixin' to take him and he just pulled up his reins, laid his hand on this little mare and she let into kickin', throwin' her feet ev'ry which-a-way. And those officers scattered and then she just whirled and said she was like a bird -- she was gone. Just sailed away with her. And they said that he got away so many times that they even dug graves and buried logs and said that was the grave Old Man Tom Frazier was buried in. I 'member when old man Tom Frazier died. They caught him I don't know how many times. He got away ev'ry time.

Robert Shiflett told yet another story about Tom Frazier:

Civil War bullets
from wikimedia commons
Tom Frazier was about the only man that survived in this section from the war as a hunted man. They
captured him innumerable times and he always managed to escape. Once they decided to take him to Richmond when they caught him and handcuffed him beside a guard on the train, and Tom picked a seat beside the window. And he was a slight built man, very wiry and strong but of small stature. And so when the guard dozed off, Tom slipped the handcuffs off -- as I mentioned before, his hand was smaller than his wrist; he could expand the tendon in his wrist when they handcuffed him and the handcuffs would be tight, but after he relaxed he could slip them off. So when the guard began to nod, Tom raised the window -- it was hot weather -- and he waited until the train was crossin' the river and he dived off the train into the river. Left the guard sittin' there with the empty handcuffs. He had a bullet -- a mini-ball -- right against his skull, right under his scalp, and I used sit on his knee when I was a kid and looked like I could push that ball back and forth a little ways. Great big lump, there. A mini-ball is pretty good sized bullet, you know. He was a wild character and he was pretty tough all of his life. He was a fightin' man any time anybody saw fit to challenge him....

Tom Frazier was definitely a legend in his own time. I wish I had a picture of this most interesting character.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.


© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. You really have some fascinating stories about this ancestor! Thanks for sharing.

  2. He was like a cat with nine lives! Very interesting character!


  3. Wouldn't you love to have heard him telling his stories, quite a character!

  4. Fantastic! truly a character. Thanks for sharing.