Captain Thomas Berry was born on September 21, 1821 in Maryville, Blount County, Tennessee. Thomas joined the military and served as a first lieutenant in Company D of the Battalion of Georgia Mounted Volunteers during the Mexican War from September 1847 until he was discharged in July 1848. The following year, he joined a group of about 15 people from Floyd County who departed Rome, Georgia on March 6 for the California gold rush during which he was unsuccessful.

Thomas married Frances Margaret Rhea in Cherokee County, Alabama on April 10, 1860. They lived on a plantation in the Turkey Town area, a few miles east of Gadsden in Cherokee County (later Etowah County). Less than a year after marriage, Thomas rejoined the military as a Confederate officer in the Civil War, enlisting in Company A, 31st Regiment, Alabama Infantry, on March 3. He initially was a first lieutenant, then assistant quartermaster (May 7, 1862), and promoted to captain (Oct. 14, 1862). He surrendered at Vicksburg, Mississippi with his unit on July 4, 1863, following a Union siege. He was paroled on July 9, 1863 and returned to the Alabama area where he continued serving in the capacity of assistant quartermaster.

After the Civil War, Thomas moved to Rome, Georgia. In July 1866, Thomas Berry bought his first property in Floyd County, Georgia, a home on Howard St. (now east Rome’s 2nd Ave.) that he purchased for $7,750. It was said that Thomas borrowed $50,000 from Northern banks since he paid all his debts at the beginning of the war, and he used that money to buy other properties, including space for a business on the “cotton block,” the southernmost block of Broad St. in downtown Rome. In July 1871, Thomas bought the Berry family home property, later called Oak Hill, for $9,000.

Thomas and his younger brothers, James and John, and several others were partners in Berrys and Company, a wholesale and retail grocery distributor and buyer and seller of cotton. The company made high-interest loans to Georgia and Alabama farmers, securing the loans with liens on crops and mortgages. The business was quite successful from the late 1860s to the early 1880s; in 1882 the name of the business changed to Montgomery, McLaurin, and Company. Thomas suffered a stroke around 1885 which necessitated a reduction in his business activity.

Thomas fathered eight children between 1861 and 1878: Jennie (Eugenia), Martha, Isaac (Ike), Rebecca (Bessie), Thomas, Lila, Laura, and Frances. Following the death of his brother, James, Thomas also raised three of James’ children, Charlie, Mary, and Sarah. Thomas liked to go horseback riding with his daughter, Martha, and visited the local families in log-cabin homes of the highlands region in northern Georgia. Captain Berry, a comparatively wealthy merchant, cotton buyer, and plantation owner, was well known by the people living in the surrounding areas; he often received requests for assistance and had a genuine desire to help his neighbors. In the back of the Berry family Bible, Thomas wrote: “The Retired Merchant Farmer with no income is growing poorer. Must make his children go to work. Teach them the value of time and economy with work while it is day work in the seed time. Work in the harvest. Master work. Be brave. Don’t be afraid of work or tools.” Captain Thomas Berry died on January 18, 1887.