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 Details

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

Collection Overview

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.

More Biographical / Historical Info

Using These Materials

A majority of collections are stored off site and must be requested at least 2 full business days in advance for retrieval. Contact Rubenstein Library staff before visiting. Read More »

warning Access to the Collection

Collection is open for research.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

warning Use & Permissions

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

More copyright and citation information

How to Cite

[Identification of item], James Augustus Thomas Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Contents of the Collection

1895-1915 May (also includes information folder)
Box 1
1915 June-Dec.
Box 2
1916 March, 1920
Box 3
1920 Apr.-Sept.
Box 4
1920 Oct.-1921 Mar.
Box 5
1921 Apr.-Aug.
Box 6
1921 Sept.-1922 Jan.
Box 7
1922 Feb.-May
Box 8
1922 June-Dec.
Box 9
Box 10
1924 Jan.-Oct.
Box 11
1924 Nov.-1925 Aug.
Box 12
1925 Sept.-1926 Mar.
Box 13
1926 Apr.-1927 Feb.
Box 14
1927-1928 Mar.
Box 15
1928 Apr.-Nov.
Box 16
1928 Dec.-1929 June
Box 17
1929 July-Dec.
Box 18
1930 Jan.-May
Box 19
1930 June-Dec.
Box 20
1931 Jan.-May
Box 21
1931 June-Oct.
Box 22
1931 Nov.-1932 Apr.
Box 23
1932 May-Nov.
Box 24
1932 Dec.-1933 Apr.
Box 25
1933 May-Sept.
Box 26
1933 Oct.-1934 Feb.
Box 27
1934 Mar.-June
Box 28
1934 July-Nov.
Box 29
1934 Dec.-1935 May
Box 30
1935 June-Dec.
Box 31
1936 Jan.-Apr.
Box 32
1936 May-Sept.
Box 33
1936 Oct.-1937 Feb.
Box 34
1937 Mar.-June
Box 35
1937 July-Oct.
Box 36
1937 Nov.-1938 Jan. 14
Box 37
1938 Jan. 15-Mar.
Box 38
1938 Apr.-June 17
Box 39
1938 June 18-Sept.
Box 40
1938 Oct.-1939 Jan.
Box 41
1939 Feb.-June
Box 42
1939 July-Dec.
Box 43
1940 Jan.-June
Box 44
1940 July-1941 Jan.
Box 45
Thomas family correspondence, 1948-1988
Box 45
Duplicates, 1922, 1940 Oct.
Box 46
Papers, undated
Box 47
Papers, undated
Box 48
Addresses and Writings; Thomas and others, mostly printed
Box 49
Banks; British America Tobacco Company
Box 50
British American Tobacco Company Bulletin; Chambers of Commerce
Box 51
Charities, Misc.; China International Famine Relief Commission
Box 52
China Monthly Trade Reports; Church Committee for China Relief; Executive Committee Minutes
Box 53
Church Committee for China Relief; Misc.; Clubs and Societies
Box 54
Consumer Publications; Council on Foreign Relations
Box 55
Duke University; Hospitals
Box 56
Imperial Tobacco Company; Institute of Pacific Relations
Box 57
Insurance Companies; Schools, Colleges, Universities
Box 58
Shanghai American School; Tennessee Valley Authority
Box 59
Tobacco Industry, Misc., Yenching University
Box 60
Miscellany; Pictures
Box 61
Interview with Dorothy Q. Thomas: transcript and 3 audiocassettes, 1985 Dec. 16-17, letters to James A. Thomas, Jr., 1938-1939
Box 62
Box 63
Framed Chinese landscape of woven fabric
Box 64
Clippings, 1926-1932
Oversize-folder 1

Historical Note

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: 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).

Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.


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.

Processing Information

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.

Other Notes

Thomas, James A.. A Pioneer Tobacco Merchant in the Orient. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1928. Thomas, James A.. Trailing Trade a Million Miles. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1931.