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Ira W. Thomas was a Baptist minister in northwestern North Carolina. Born in Hiddenite in Alexander County, N.C., Thomas was educated at Wake Forest College. After graduating in 1872, he began his ministerial career and his first diary. He married Julia Garvey in 1874, and with her raised nine children, all of whom survived to adulthood.

Thomas had a long career in Baptist churches and associations in western North Carolina. Beginning in 1872, he served as an itinerant minister and teacher for Sulphur Springs (Hiddenite) and other Baptist churches in Alexander and Iredell Counties. He eventually settled in Caldwell County and served as pastor of Lower Creek Baptist Church in Lenoir, N.C.; First Baptist Church of Lenoir, N.C.; and First Baptist Church of Blowing Rock, N.C., which he helped found. Thomas also served as itinerant pastor for many other Baptist churches in Caldwell County, including King's Creek, North Catawba, Fleming's Chapel, Blair's Fork, Second Baptist of Lenoir, First Baptist of Whitnel, Pisgah, and Drexel. In addition to his pastorates, Thomas served terms as Superintendent of Public Instruction for Caldwell County, and was moderator of the Caldwell County Baptist Association. His obituary in the Granite Falls News described him as "one of the best men who ever lived in the county. He was a big-hearted, broad-minded person and was a friend to all. His work has been of the very highest character and he is well know and loved throughout the entire county, as well as the State."

The scope and intensity of Thomas's work is revealed in his diaries. In his entry for January 1, 1874 Thomas writes, "During the past year, I tried to preach 120 sermons and traveled about 2240 miles. I hope by the blessings of God to do more this year than I did last." Most of those sermons were preached in meetings held in private homes or in churches too small to afford a pastor of their own. And the miles were traveled by foot or on horseback over mountainous terrain and often in extreme weather conditions. Thomas describes baptisms, weddings, deathbeds, camp meetings, and Sunday Schools, and the effects of World War I on his community. He also describes the farming by which he and his family made a living, and his friendships and associations with other Baptist leaders and families.

Some of Thomas's diary entries are introspective; others are more prosaic, describing weather conditions and giving a brief list of the day's activities. The first diary entry, in 1872, details the young minister's work in Alexander county. The last entries, written just two days before his death, mark the occasion of his 74th birthday, and look back over a long career. In between, Thomas's diaries and sermon notes provide a glimpse into the daily life of a rural Baptist minister at the turn of the 19th century.

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