According to one source, after T.O. Ellis’ mother died, his father left him and his two sisters to be raised by his uncle, William Gilliam and his wife Charlotte Fisher, while he (Josiah Shelton Ellis) fought in the War of 1812.
As a young man, T.O. "attended Mount Pleasant Academy, professed religion and joined the Methodist Church, for this cause his Father disinherited him and drove him from home."￼ His father was living in Tennessee at the time. T.O. became a minister and a school teacher at the age of 19.￼ He married Sarah Babb in 1830 in Missouri and the ceremony was performed by Rev. John Scripps, a well-known Methodist minister.￼ In 1834 he was living in Washington County, IL, where his son William Josiah was born.￼ According to one family history, at about this time he wrote his father "a good long Religious letter, on the receipt of which his father leaped from his bed, (he had not walked for many months), and ran through the Streets of the town in which he lived, crying at the top of his voice, "Tom had Religion," and that he would give the last Negro he had to see Tom. He ordered his "Will and Testament" to be changed and wrote for Thomas to come home, that he might see him once more before he died. Thomas Oliver hastened to see his father, but Death had done its work before he arrived. The news that his father had forgiven him, and of his complete reconciliation and his great desire to see him, so pleased Thomas Oliver that he refused to allow the Will to be changed."
Sarah died in 1836 and in 1837, Thomas married Elizabeth Long. As an itinerant preacher, he was sent to the Mississippi Swamps when the notorious bandit John St. Murrell was active the area. By 1838, the family had relocated to Tippah County, Mississippi. T.O. studied medicine under Dr. Dyer around this time and continued to be active as a preacher. He became an ordained deacon on 6 Nov 1842 at Holly Springs, Mississippi, associated with the Memphis Conference of the Methodist Church, which allowed him to administer baptism, marriage and burial rites in the absence of an elder. In one history of the area, a physician named Ellis was noted to be living in the hills near Orizaba, Tippah County￼ but it is uncertain if this is T.O. Ellis. Ellis completed his medical studies in 1846￼ and moved to Upshur County, TX￼ where he is found in the tax rolls of 1847, owning no land, but having horses, cattle, hogs and professional instruments valued at $237.￼
By 1848, he owned 320 acres in Upshur County￼ which was first granted to M.D. Greer.￼ His half-brother George was also noted in the tax rolls of Upshur County. T.O. became a church elder in 1848.￼ In 1849, Ellis owned land, 3 horses, 18 head of cattle and hogs valued at $725.￼ At the time of the 1850 census, his stepson, V.R.B. Gray, age 18 and a physician named N.or A. B. Ellis were living with the family￼ and he is still found in the tax rolls, with the addition of a wagon and watch as miscellaneous property.￼ The tax rolls of 1851 show a drop in value and the cattle and hogs are not listed. The property is noted to be located on Sabine Stream.￼
In 1852 the family relocated to Smith County￼ but still owned the land in Upshur County, possibly as late as 1856. On the 30th Aug 1853, T.O. Ellis was appointed a trustee of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in Tyler, TX.￼
On the 2nd of January 1854, T.O. Ellis & bro. wrote a promissory note to Harvey Lindsey or bearer for $350 for a house and lot in Tyler.￼ (This was in Block 7 adjoining the town square and appears to have been a drug store). Eleven days later, T.O. Ellis and brother purchased 42 acres from Benjamin Scott￼ (which was sold in 1856 to R.B. Long). The Ellis family appears in the 1854 census of Smith county school children￼ and T.O. Ellis received 13 votes for school trustee in the 1854 election returns.￼ T.O. also appears in the tax assessor rolls owning two lots in Block 2 valued at $238 and T.O. Ellis and brother have merchandise valued at $500.￼ The following year was troublesome. Harvey Lindsey had sold the promissory note for the drug store to F.J. Ham, a land trader. When the Ellis’ failed to pay up on the note, Ham sued, and George Ellis was served with papers. T.O. Ellis was never served. George’s statement is difficult to read, but since he didn’t sign the promissory note, he probably wasn’t inclined to pay it. George was ordered to pay Ham $359 and the lot was sold.￼ T.O. Ellis appears as delinquent for 1854 taxes in 1855.￼
At about this time the family moved to Parker County, Texas￼ where T.O. Ellis and his son, William Josiah, filed for land. The Butterfield stage route had opened up the western part of Texas, and settlers began to move there in hopes of avoiding malaria in the east.￼ T.O. was one of the founding members of the Goshen Methodist Church.￼  The Rev. Pleasant Tackitt related that the church was held in a log cabin built by Mr. Eubanks.￼ Tackitt recalled T.O. Ellis in his memoirs, and noted that in 1855, Parker County was “rich and waving grass was green and velvety...the buffalo had moved a little farther west. The different tribes of Indians were under treaty...there was no hostile foe to molest or disturb the peace of the family. The beautiful running streams of clear, pure water, the grand and noble forests...”￼ T.O. Ellis is found in the Parker Co. tax rolls owning 160 acres in 1856.￼
Court records of Smith County, TX, indicate that in the fall term of 1856, Thomas Ellis (indexed as T.C. Ellis) of Parker County and John McKinley were delinquent on a promissory note to Thomas Hayes in the amount of $111.42. The debt was incurred in 20 Nov 1854 in Smith County for merchandise “for the benefit of my (T.O. Ellis) family.” It was to have been paid by the first of January. One payment of $20.40 was made in 1855, and three additional payments were made in 1856, including one payment made in $10.00 of pork. A summons to court was delivered to T.O. Ellis on 31 Jan 1857.￼ The case was dismissed on 16 Jun 1857,￼ likely because the Ellis family no longer lived in Smith County.
On April 7, 1857, T.O. Ellis and his family and his son William Josiah and his wife and baby began their journey across the plains in a covered wagon to California. They traveled in a large train via the Southern Route. In November they arrived at El Monte, Los Angeles County.￼  ￼ The Southern Route probably went through Dallas, Waco, Odessa, and El Paso in Texas, then into Mexico at Chihuahua to Casas Grandes, Coralitos, Janos and Guadalupe Pass to Agua Prieta, Santa Cruz and Tubac, up into Tucson and to the Gila River, then down to Yuma and to Chino Ranch in California.￼ Family records substantiate this route and includes a mention of Warner’s Ranch after Yuma.￼￼ 
T.O. Ellis was appointed Presiding Elder of the Los Angeles District in 1858, but was discontinued from that post at his own request in 1860, likely due to the relocation to Tulare County. He served in Los Angeles and El Monte before the move.￼ ￼ ￼  It is possible that Ellis’ moves were partially inspired by his contacts in the Methodist church. Orceneth Fisher, a Methodist minister and officer lived in Washington County, Illinois in the 1830’s, in Texas from 1839-1855 and transferred to California in 1855.￼ Ellis lived in Illinois in the 1830’s, moved to Texas about 1846 and left for California in 1857.
By the time of the 1860 census, the family had settled in Visalia, Tulare County, CA.￼ T.O. was active in the ministry at this time, performing marriages in the area.￼  ￼ T.O. stated that he came to California to preach the gospel, and he was appointed Assistant Preacher in Visalia and King's River Circuit of the Methodist Church in 1863.￼ He also served on the board of the Visalia Select Seminary￼ and was elected Superintendent of Schools in 1862 after having been appointed to fill a vacancy.￼  ￼He did not complete his term because the family relocated to San Luis Obispo in 1863.￼ While in Visalia, he opened a medical practice.￼ ￼ Visalia was a turbulent town during the Civil War. T.O. Ellis testified in the trial of Senator Thomas Baker, who was charged with treason for expressing his anti-Union sentiments in a speech given at the Methodist Church.￼ The Ellis family sympathized with the South during the Civil War￼ and likely left Visalia due to their political position. A newspaper article of the time noted that Rev. T.O. Ellis preached a proper sermon, and then turned the pulpit over to a Rev Webb who preached an abolition prayer, which emptied half the pews.￼
The family lived in San Luis Obispo from August to Sept 1863.￼ ￼T.O. hints at a difficult relationship with his eldest son, W.J. Ellis in several of his letters. It sounds as if W.J. had been marked for revenge, perhaps over financial or political matters, as they wish to keep the proposed sale of their property secret. He was also avoiding the military draft. The two families (W.J. and T. O.) lived on adjoining property on 160 acres near the American Graveyard.￼ T.O. wrote that the land was 1200 yards south of San Luis Obispo, and 9 miles north of the ocean.￼ He reported that they lived at the Sacket place, a house with 3 rooms and there were 30 acres in crop. Four of his daughters were not living at home at this time.￼ T.O. maintained some interest in the claims that his son-in-law, W.H. Davis, mined. ￼The family left San Luis Obispo and lived briefly in Hornitos, Mariposa County, and a letter written in 1864, refers to the children having been vaccinated.￼ His youngest son, Robert Lee, was born in Hornitos.￼
The family settled at King's River in 1866￼ and T.O. Ellis filed for a homestead on 3 April of that year.￼ The Ellis home was on 160 acres,￼ 3 miles from Centerville, Fresno County. They had cattle, poultry and acres of fruit trees. To support themselves, they sold produce as well as having some income from the medical practice.￼ The town of Centerville was founded as a result of frequent flooding along the Kings River. An earlier settlement, Scottsburg, had been located closer to the river.￼ Dr. Ellis held religious meetings as well as filling in for other ministers. In 1866 T.O. wrote, “We have had a glorious Camp meeting with 29 accessions to our Church. It was a good time. I never saw a Revival I had more confidence in than this.” In the same letter he complained about the hogs getting his corn.￼
In January of 1867, T.O. Ellis was quite ill and it was thought he would die. A letter describes a serious bout with “Quinsy” or tonsillitis, and an abscess. He directed other physicians in his own care.￼ A W. E. Ellis, physician and clergyman is listed in the 1867 Business Directory of Centerville, Fresno Co., CA.￼
T.O. Ellis was elected superintendent of Fresno schools sometime before 1868. In his yearly report to the State Superintendent of Schools (O.P. Fitzgerald, an old colleague from the Methodist church), he included a four page letter describing the status of education in Fresno County. His salary was $250/yr. Ellis was very fond of orthography (spelling) and lectured to other teachers about it during the teacher’s institute,￼ and promoted the cause of more orthographic instruction and expresses his dismay over the change of textbooks.￼￼ He continued as superintendent of Fresno County Schools in 1869.￼ He apparently lost the next election, as Mr. S. H. Hill is the superintendent in 1870. Hill comments that his predecessor had made promises but failed to assist the Alabama school district in their organization. T.O. Ellis is now listed as holding a teaching certificate in the reports for 1870 and 1871, during Mr. Hill’s tenure.￼￼ 
In April of 1871 Ellis proved up on the land he homesteaded under the Homestead Act of 1862. His two witnesses attested to the fact that there was a home, corrals, a well, smoke house and orchard on the property and that the family had lived there for five years.￼ He received the certificate in June of 1872.￼
T.O. Ellis resumed the superintendent’s office for the 1871-1872 school year. He refers to Mr. Hill as his “honorable predecessor.”￼ He also used the report to point out the superintendent’s salary ($600/yr) is less than the male teachers of the district are paid and the superintendent is also required to hold a teacher’s certificate. He lists October 15 of 1869 as the day he received his teacher’s certificate. He also requested that the State Superintendent favor them with a visit during their upcoming teacher’s institute.￼ In the following year, the request was fulfilled, and T.O. Ellis praised the event highly, particularly the new methods of instruction that were described.￼ The salary was also raised to $900 for the year. In this report he also requested that a law authorizing boarding schools for the Indian and colored children of the county be passed, since they are too scattered about to provide adequate education. He also favored a more equal apportionment of school support, since some districts could afford 8 months of school and others only five.￼
Ellis continued as superintendent in 1874￼ and 1875￼ although some pages of the reports from 1873-1875 are not written in his hand. He noted in his report of 1875 that he was dangerously ill for three months and unable to hold a teacher’s institute.￼ He again requested efforts to reform the monetary support for the schools.￼  This was apparently his final year as superintendent.
In 1876, he sold 2 5/8 acres to AM Turpin.￼ Ellis sold 80 acres to H.D.Silverman in April of 1877.￼ A patent is noted to be at the land office for Thos. O. Ellis in the 6 Jun 1877 Fresno paper.￼
T.O. Ellis remained involved in the Methodist Church, participating in the District Conferences.￼ He also continued to perform marriages, including one at his home in Dec of 1876.￼ In February of 1879, the Fresno Expositor reported that he had returned to his home on the King’s River after living in Fresno for three months.￼ HIs daughter, Elizabeth, died in October of 1878 in Fresno. He was also delinquent in his taxes in the same issue of the paper.￼ He preached his last sermon the Sunday before he was confined to bed with the illness that would take his life. He died in 1879 of erysipelas (a streptococcal infection).￼  
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