Thomas was born in Bristol, Pennsylvania thirty-six years after the Constitution was ratified.
When Thomas was seven years old, his father was impoverished because of sickness. They were forced to move, and his father put him and his siblings to work in a cotton mill.
Thomas worked in mills and as a calico printer until 1845 when, at the age of twenty, he quit work and left home to, as he put it, “shift for myself.”
He worked a series of odd jobs, earning five dollars per week at the most. Some of the companies he worked for went out of business, and at times he was unable to collect wages.
He finally found dependable work spinning cotton in Gloucester City, New Jersey, where he worked until March of 1847.
At the age of twenty-two, he traveled to St. Louis, joined up with pioneer companies, and headed west.
After a three-month journey by wagon, he arrived in Salt Lake City on September 25, 1847.
That winter he had little to eat but “rennet put into milk, which made curd, with a little cream on it, and also thistle tips for greens.” But he felt grateful for that, as many of the city’s inhabitants were forced to eat rawhide to stay alive.
The next spring, after securing five acres of land, he commenced plowing and planting.
Crickets devastated his crops that first year.
The next year he planted twenty-five acres, which again yielded little due to crickets and drought.
But that summer’s hardships were alleviated when he met miss Mary Ann, a pretty, curly-haired brunette, whom he married that year at the age of twenty-four.
1850 was a good year for Thomas and Mary Ann. In the spring, they moved into their own cabin on forty acres, enjoyed a good crop yield, and secured a few good animals. To top it off, Mary Ann gave birth to a “fine daughter,” also named Mary Ann, on December 14th.
But their good fortune was short-lived. Thomas wrote in his journal,
“During the winter, one of the horses died, and about the first of March my cow and calf also died. A large sow pig got poisoned and it died. I had three cats and they died. My dog — someone killed. This was about the amount of my livestock. I now had one horse left with which to continue farming…”
He put his head down and kept working, and they harvested enough that summer to keep going.
After a lifetime of persistent struggle, the man who had been doing a man’s work since the age of seven, wrote in his journal “a few words of encouragement to [his] children”:
“…you will see that in all of my ups and downs in the world that I had the spirit of perseverance. In my travels through life, when misfortune seemed to press down hard upon me, I always pressed forward the harder and would accomplish that which I undertook to do.
“And when famine and starvation stared me in the face, and hunger had so weakened my mortal frame, that when at labor I would have to sit down to rest in order to gain strength that I might perform my day’s work, still I hung on to my faith and integrity in the Lord…
“Therefore, my dear children, let nothing of an evil nature persuade you from a righteous course through life, and carry out your righteous decrees and be firm in your determinations.”
And so it is that any time I feel discouraged or ungrateful, I remember Thomas Sirls Terry, my fourth great-grandfather.
Stephen Palmer is a writer and entrepreneur devoted to helping people conquer limitations, maximize their potential, and achieve true freedom.
He is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, the founder of Life Manifestos, and the author of Uncommon Sense: A Common Citizen’s Guide to Rebuilding America.
He co-authored the New York Times bestseller, Killing Sacred Cows: Overcoming the Financial Myths that are Destroying Your Prosperity. He is also the co-author of The Conscious Creator: Six Laws for Manifesting Your Masterpiece Life.
Stephen and his wife are raising their four children in southern Utah.