Thomas Arthur (25 July 1749–8 September 1833), member of the Convention of 1788, was probably born in the part of Lunenburg County that in 1753 became Bedford County. He may have been one of the sons of the John Arthur whose will was proved in Bedford County in January 1793. Thomas Arthur married Sarah Dickson on 29 November 1782, but whether this was his first marriage and whether he had any children are not known.

Arthur lived between the Staunton and Blackwater Rivers in the southern part of Bedford County. He held only the lowly office of road surveyor early in the 1770s before he became a justice of the peace on 26 October 1778. With his neighbors he signed a petition to the General Assembly on 9 November 1779 that asked for the formation of a new county from parts of Henry and Bedford Counties. Although that attempt failed, Arthur's group persisted, and the legislature created the new county of Franklin in 1785. He was in the upper 10 percent of the taxpayers in the new county, and he was one of three men named to oversee the surveying of the boundary line between Franklin and Henry Counties.

Arthur was appointed one of the first justices of the peace for Franklin County. The men with whom he served were a contentious lot, and Arthur was the chief gadfly. In May 1786 he protested to the governor against the appointment of another justice, Hugh Innes, as colonel in the county militia, but the governor issued the commission nonetheless. In August 1787, just two months after he had been considered for the office of sheriff, Arthur was accused of refusing to pay his taxes and advising others to refuse, too. The Franklin County Court acquitted him, perhaps because the jurors and many of the county's citizens shared his presumed antipathy to the payment of taxes during a time of inflation and a shortage of cash. In the following year the justices of the peace successfully recommended that Arthur be appointed the county's militia colonel.

In 1787 Arthur was elected to a one-year term in the House of Delegates, and on 3 March 1788 he was elected to the convention called to consider ratification of the proposed constitution of the United States. Arthur did not take his seat in Richmond until 9 June, a full week after the other delegates had begun the debates. He did not speak during the convention. On the critical vote on 25 June 1788 he joined Patrick Henry and other antifederalists in voting for amendments to the constitution prior to ratification. When that motion was defeated, Arthur voted against ratification.

Arthur either did not seek or did not gain reelection to the House of Delegates. Early in 1791 his increasingly troubled relationship with his fellow justices in Franklin County came to a head. On 25 February 1791 the county lieutenant suspended Arthur from his duties as colonel because of accusations that he had committed forgery four times since 1788. He was also accused of perjury, lying, and knowingly receiving more money than he was entitled to for his assembly service. One of Arthur's alleged forgery victims was Thomas Prunty, a former deputy sheriff, who on 8 December 1789 swore that he went in fear of his life from Arthur. Early in January 1790 Arthur was forced to take out a bond to keep the peace, but he violated the bond by going about the county armed. Early in March 1791 the other justices refused to hold court if Arthur was present and petitioned Governor Beverley Randolph to remove him from the bench. Randolph was hesitant to interfere in local matters and took no action, but by August 1791 Arthur had ended the controversy himself by moving from Franklin County.

Arthur went west to Kentucky and was living on the Wilderness Road, in an area that had become Knox County in 1799, when he offered a saltworks for sale or rent in 1803. He probably farmed and may also have engaged in other businesses. Thomas Arthur died in Knox County, Kentucky, on 8 September 1833 and was buried in the family graveyard near Barbourville.

Sources Consulted:
John S. Salmon and Emily J. Salmon, Franklin County, Virginia, 1786–1986: A Bicentennial History (1993), 66–68, 78–79, 81–83, 216; Bedford Co. Will Book, 2:100–101; marriage recorded in Bedford County Deed Book, 7:343; John P. Kaminski et al., eds., The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution: Ratification of the Constitution by the States, vols. 8–10: Virginia (1988–1993), 9:588, 10:1538–1541, 1557, 1565; Lexington Kentucky Gazette, 31 May 1803; Malle B. Coyle and Irene B. Gaines, Kentucky Cemetery Records (1972), 4:69, gives birth and death dates from gravestone.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by John S. Salmon.

How to cite this page:
John S. Salmon,"Thomas Arthur (1749–1833)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 1998 (, accessed [today's date]).

Return to the Dictionary of Virginia Biography Search page.

facebook twitter youtube instagram view more