Guide to the James Augustus Thomas Papers, circa 1900-1985
The bulk of the collection is comprised of correspondence and other papers (chiefly 1914-1940), relating primarily to James A. Thomas' relationship with a variety of organizations concerned with the Orient and Far Eastern affairs.
- Collection Number
- James Augustus Thomas papers
- circa 1895-1988
- Thomas, J. A. (James Augustus), 1862-1940
- 85.4 linear feet, 29,290 items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Material in English
The bulk of the collection is comprised of correspondence and other papers (chiefly 1914-1940), relating primarily to Thomas' relationship with a variety of organizations concerned with the Orient and Far Eastern affairs. Includes information on U.S. economic penetration of China, marketing of U.S. cigarettes in the Orient, the British-American Tobacco Co., U.S.-Chinese trade, domestic policies and financial development in China, political developments in the Far East, American foreign policy in the Orient (1920s and 1930s), and Thomas' efforts to bring Chinese students to Duke University and other North Carolina institutions. Additions to the collection include three letters pertaining or written to son, Jimmy, by his parents, gelatin silver photographs and a few negatives, a typed transcript, and three audiocassettes of an oral interview (by Duke Professor Emeritus Richard Watson) with Dorothy Q. Thomas, widow of James A. Thomas. Interview topics include her life in China and Petrograd (now St. Petersburg, Russia) where she taught school briefly; and the social life and customs in Bejing and Shanghai after she married Thomas in 1922. There are also negative microfilm reels of the series "China Through Western Eyes: Part 3, The Papers of J.A. Thomas c.1905-1923." Positive reels have been sent to the microfilm department. Correspondents include Herbert Hoover, Robert Lansing, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Sun Yat-sen.
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James Augustus Thomas, tobacco merchant and philanthropist, was born March 6, 1862 in Rockingham County, NC to Henry Evans Thomas and Cornelia Carolina Jones Thomas. At the age of 10, he started working in a tobacco warehouse and in 1881, he graduated from Eastman National Business College in Poughkeepsie, NY. He began working at the British-American Tobacco Company, Ltd. at its inception in 1902 and by 1904, he was serving as Managing Director in China. Thomas is considered the person largely responsible for introducing American cigarettes to China and other countries. He founded the Chinese-American Bank of Commerce and two schools for Chinese children.
He retired from the BATC in 1922 and settled in White Plains, NY. His association with the Dukes in the tobacco industry culminated in a relationship with Duke University. In 1928, Thomas donated his Far East Library to the university (see: http://library.duke.edu/lilly/about/thomasroom.html). He was a member of the Board of Trustees and also served as Chair of the Duke Memorial Association, which built the Memorial Chapel within Duke Chapel, wherein the remains of Washington Duke, James B. Duke and Benjamin N. Duke are interred.
In 1918, Thomas married Anna Branson who died 7 months later. In 1922, he married Dorothy Quincy Hancock Read on Nov. 21, 1922. They had two children: James Augustus Thomas, Jr. and Eleanor Lansing Thomas.
Thomas was the author of two books: A Pioneer Tobacco Merchant in the Orient (1928) and Trailing Trade a Million Miles (1931).
- British American Tobacco Company
- Black-and-white photographs
- China -- Commerce -- United States
- China -- Economic policy
- China -- Social life and customs
- Chinese -- United States
- Chinese students -- United States
- Cigarette industry -- East Asia
- Duke University -- History
- East Asia -- Foreign relations -- United States
- East Asia -- Politics and government
- Gelatin silver prints
- Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964
- Lansing, Robert, 1864-1928
- Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919
- Sun, Yat-sen, 1866-1925
- Saint Petersburg (Russia) -- Description and Travel
- Shanghai (China) -- Social life and customs
- Taft, William H. (William Howard), 1857-1930
- Thomas, Dorothy Q.
- Thomas, J. A. (James Augustus), 1862-1940
- United States -- Commerce -- China
- United States -- Foreign relations -- East Asia
- Watson, Richard
[Identification of item], James Augustus Thomas Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
The James Augustus Thomas Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 1952-1953, 1989, 1999, 2001, 2013, 2014.
Processed by Rubenstein Library Staff,
Encoded by Kimberly Sims, January 2011
Updated to reflect 2013 accession by Alice Poffinberger, February 2014.
Updated to reflect 2014-0097 by Alice Poffinberger, May 2014.
Updated to reflect 2013-0051 by Alice Poffinberger, September 2014.
Accessions were merged into one collection, described in this finding aid.