Thomas Shiels was born July 12, 1819 near Biggar, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was the oldest son of Thomas and Barbara Jean (Cranston) Shiels. Thomas (the son) worked for the Prentice family as a coachman and groom. He worked on a farm called Muirlea Farm owned by John Prentice of Libberton. He fell in love with one of the bosses’ daughters, Elizabeth, and they were married on April 30, 1840. Elizabeth was well educated as she was from a good family. They had 4 children in Scotland, Robert Hunter (1839), Jane (1841), Thomas Prentice (1845) and John (1851).
They left Scotland in 1852 and emigrated to the United States, settling in Greenup, Illinois. While on route, the youngest child, John died and was buried at sea. Thomas was quite sick with Malaria when they were in Illinois and Elizabeth taught school and took in sewing to support the family. Elizabeth is noted as having a very strong character and being very religious. No one was allowed to do anything, not even cook a meal, on Sunday. While living there, they lost another son in infancy. William was born in 1854 and lived only four months. He was buried in the Prentice family cemetery and there is a marker there for John also, who was buried at sea. This is a private cemetery on the farm of James Prentice (Elizabeth’s brother) at Greenup, Illinois. Thomas and Elizabeth’s son Robert worked for uncle James and later married his daughter Elizabeth.
In 1860, Thomas, Elizabeth and their son, Thomas Prentice, moved to Canada. They lived within one mile of Thomas’s brothers, John and George. Thomas bought lot 16 in the 15th Concession of Grey Township in Ontario from his brother John. The two oldest children, Robert and Jane, remained in Illinois and both married there.
This land turned out to be rather poor so Thomas resorted to some of his groom experience from Scotland and became the local Vet. He was very good with animals and also had a reputation as a well driller and “witcher” for locating underground water.
Thomas and Elizabeth had two more children born while they live in Ontario, Elizabeth (Feb 3, 1860) and John (1862). In 1881, Thomas and Elizabeth adopted another son, James Grant (1876) James Grant’s mother had died when he was very young. When his oldest sister left home, the father could no longer look after the children so he peddled them off around the area to neighbours who could take them. James was the only one to be officially adopted.
When their son Thomas Prentice Shiels was married he received half of his Dad’s farm as a wedding present. Thomas P remained there till 1881 when he heard of homesteads being offered in the Dakota Territory. Thomas P, Margaret and family decided to move to Fort Ransom, North Dakota.
Thomas and Elizabeth continued to farm until 1886. Then, along with their youngest children, Elizabeth, John and James, they moved to Fort Ransom, North Dakota where their son Thomas Prentice Shiels had gone earlier. They started farming in the area just at the west side of Sheyenne Valley and continued to do so for a number of years. Thomas became a US citizen in October 1892.
Elizabeth was a very religious woman being a strict Presbyterian. She had a fine head of black hair with hardly any grey, even at the age of 76 when she died in 1891. She had a strong Scottish accent all her life. She always wore a little bonnet when she went out and a sunbonnet in the yard or garden. Sunday was always strictly observed in the Presbyterian way, going to church, read only the Bible, meals prepared the day before, and everyone were required to sit quietly all day on the Sabbath. She was obviously a very strong character, but Thomas was equal to the challenge. He would go over to his son’s place on Sunday to read the newspaper which came only once a week and his wife was never able to break him of this “terrible” habit.
An incident which reveals much about the times in which they lived tells of Thomas and a neighbour by the name of Barch getting into an argument about a fence line. Barch struck Thomas on the head with a sturdy stick causing some serious damage and profuse bleeding. He got to the house and his wife patched him up. By this time, some of the neighbours had arrived at the house and were relieved to see he was still on his feet. The neighbours became very indignant and dismayed, voicing their anger & inflaming the already angry Thomas. Thomas took his muzzle-loading shotgun off the wall & loaded it, intending that he and his neighbours should go after Barch. As he was going through the kitchen to join the “posse” at the back door, he bumped the gun against something and it discharged, the bullet striking him in the head. It was just a graze but there was more blood for Elizabeth to attend to and he carried the scar for the rest of his life. Thus closed the incident of the nearest thing to a feud or at least a shoot-out in our family. Thomas had a full set of teeth when he died and he never had a cavity or lost a tooth in his entire life. He did not smoke but he chewed tobacco as it was very popular at the time. After Elizabeth had died in 1891, he lived in a little place in the valley. He never put anything of Elizabeth’s away after she was gone, even her sunbonnet remained hanging on the wall. Later he moved out onto the prairie to Englevale where his youngest daughter, Elizabeth and James Tracy Logan lived.
While Thomas was living with Elizabeth and James, something happened that reveals a good deal about his character. Elizabeth was pregnant with her fourth child and was about to give birth. James went to fetch a neighbour lady to help with the delivery. Events happened quickly however and before James got back, his new daughter had been delivered. Thomas had taken over, going into the bedroom and shut the door. He delivered the baby, using his pocket knife to cut the cord, tied it off, wrapped the wee mite in a blanket and had it ready for the midwife’s attention. Thomas died there on May 30, 1897.
They had 8 children, Robert Hunter (1839), Jane (1841), Thomas Prentice (1845), John (1851), William (1854), Elizabeth (1860), John (1862) and an adopted son, James Grant (1876).
Detailed histories are provided for the following descendants. Robert, Thomas P, Elizabeth, John and James. A short history of the remaining descendants is included here.
Jane (Shiels) Reynolds 1841 – 1891 (G2)
Jane was born September 25, 1841 at Libberton, Scotland. She was the second child of Thomas and Elizabeth (Prentice) Shiels. She also emigrated to the United States with her parents.
Jane married William Reynalds and remained in Illinois when her parents moved to Canada in 1860. Jane and William lived around Greenup, Illinois. Jane and William raised a large family however little is known of this branch. Jane died in May 1891.
John Shiels 1851-1852 (G2)
John was born in 1851 at Libberton, Scotland. She was the fourth child of Thomas and Elizabeth (Prentice) Shiels. He travelled with his family when they emigrated to the United States. Unfortunately, John became sick and died on route. He was buried at sea and there was a marker put up for him when they arrived in Greenup, Illinois.
William Shiels 1854-1854 (G2)
William was born in April 1854 in Greenup Illinois. He was the fifth child of Thomas and Elizabeth (Prentice) Shiels. He only lived only four months and passed away August 4, 1854. He was buried in the Prentice family cemetery. This is a private cemetery on the farm of James Prentice (Elizabeth’s brother) at Greenup, Illinois.
The balance of the descendants of Thomas and Elizabeth can be viewed through the links below or from the drop down menu on the left.