Meet Treasurer Lillard

History of Tennessee Treasurers

Learn about the treasurers who have served the State of Tennessee and compare annual reports from prior decades.

Atha Thomas

Atha Thomas

15th Treasurer; Years Served: 1886–1889

Tennessee County of Residence: Williamson

Place of Birth: Williamson County, Tennessee

Date of Birth: October 5, 1829

Date of Death: January 2, 1901

Political Affiliation: Conservative

Treasurer's Report: 1886-88


On October 5, 1829, Atha Thomas was born on the family farm near Franklin, Tennessee, in Williamson County. He was the son of William and Eliza (Bass) Thomas. Treasurer Atha Thomas’s father, William, had migrated to Middle Tennessee in 1796, coming from Nottoway County in South Central Virginia. He moved to Williamson County in 1801, settled on a farm there in 1808, and later purchased 300 acres of land on January 6, 1810.

On April 8, 1810, William Thomas married Eliza Bass from Brunswick County, Virginia. During the 31 years of their marriage, Eliza gave birth to 12 children, three daughters and nine sons, including the future Treasurer, Atha Thomas.

Treasurer Atha Thomas was raised on the family farm, working there with his parents and siblings, but given "school advantages" in the winter. At the age of 17, he entered Salem Academy in Rutherford County, Tennessee, studied there two years and then went to Wirt College in Sumner County, graduating from the college at the age of 20. After that, he taught school, but then attended Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, as a law student. After completing his law studies, he was admitted to the bar, but he decided to not practice law at that time.

In 1855, Treasurer Atha Thomas married Sarah E. North, who was the daughter of Reverend Henry B. North, a prominent minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Sarah died following the birth and subsequent death of their only child, William Henry Thomas, in October 1857. Treasurer Atha Thomas returned to the teaching profession and headed the Thompson Male Academy that was located in Williamson County. He taught at the academy until 1861.

During the Civil War, Treasurer Atha Thomas was associated as a teacher with the Harpeth Academy and the Franklin Male Academy. After the war ended, Treasurer Atha Thomas entered the practice of law in Middle Tennessee in 1865. A Whig before the Civil War, Treasurer Atha Thomas became active in state Democratic Party politics after the war. During the turbulent years of the Reconstruction Period, he was elected as a member of the House of Representatives. He served in the 36th General Assembly from 1869 to 1871 and represented Williamson County. At the same time he served, one of his brothers, Dorsey B. Thomas, was speaker of the Tennessee State Senate.

On November 30, 1881, Treasurer Atha Thomas married Bettie Sikes. They had three sons: Atha,Woodlief and Spencer Martin Thomas. In 1883, Governor William B. Bate appointed Treasurer Atha Thomas as the new state treasurer, a move approved by the state legislature. Treasurer Atha Thomas served as State Treasurer until April of 1885 when his successor James W. Thomas took the position. After his service in the post was completed, Treasurer Atha Thomas was appointed as a member of the state's Board of Railroad Assessors.

Only one year later, in 1886, Treasurer James W. Thomas’s chronic case of dysentery began to take a toll on his health. Eventually, on October 25, 1886, he passed away. As a result of the unexpected vacancy, Governor Bate appointed the former State Treasurer, Atha Thomas, to fill the position. As a result of becoming State Treasurer again, Treasurer Atha Thomas withdrew from his position on the Board of Railroad Assessors. During his second time as State Treasurer, Treasurer Atha Thomas served from 1886 to 1889.

Following his time as a state official, Treasurer Atha Thomas returned to practice law in Franklin, this time in partnership with William House. Treasurer Atha Thomas was an active member of the Methodist Church in his community, serving as a trustee and delegate to annual and general conferences of the church. Also, he was a Mason of High Degree. He died at the age of 73 in Franklin on January 2, 1901, and was buried at the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Franklin.

Reference: “Death of Honorable Atha Thomas,” The Nashville American, 3 January 1901; William S. Speer, Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans: Biographies and Records of Many of the Families Who Have Attained Prominence in Tennessee (Easly, SC: Southern Historical Press, 1978); Mary Ann (Thomas) Pope, Record of the Thomas Family from 1772 to 1903 (Connie Maxwell Orphanage Press); Robert M. McBride and Dan M. Robison, Biographical Directory of the Tennessee General Assembly, Vol. II (Nashville: Tennessee Historical Commission, 1979); “Atha Thomas: Governor Bate Fills the Vacancy in the State Treasurership,” Daily American, 27 October 1886, p.4.

Contact Us

Have questions about the history of the Tennessee Treasury?  We're here to help!

Heather Sczepczenski, Treasurer's History Project

(615) 741-2956

Mailing Address

Tennessee State Treasurer
Tennessee State Capitol, 1st Floor
600 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd
Nashville, TN 37243-0225