We first met entertainer Isaiah Prophet Thorne via passport applications, here. In 1941, Thorne wrote the Daily Times, asking for help locating his family.
Wilson Daily Times, 24 June 1942.
Isaiah Thorne’s family appears in the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Preston Thorne, 23; wife Julia, 22; William, 3, James, 1, Charity, 5 months, and Alice, 10; and John Bullock, 18.
In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Pettigrew Street, farmer Preston Thorne, 37; wife Edney, 36; and children William, 13, Eugene, 11, Hattie, 6, and Annie, 4.
On 12 March 1890, Hattie Thorne, 17, daughter of Preston and Edney Thorne, married Willis Grissom, 21, son of Willis and Carry Grissom, in Wilson.
Isaiah Thorne’s sister, Hattie Grissom Henry, died 21 November 1930 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born in Wilson County to Preston Thorn of Edgecombe County and Eddie Adams of Greene County; lived at 203 Vick Street; was a widow; and worked in nursing. Lydia Grissom was informant.
I have not found anything else about Thorne’s family, including anything about his father and brothers in Wilmington, North Carolina.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: blacksmith Isaac Thorne, 58; Edith Thorne, 55; and David Thorne, 11.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Henry Forbes, 48, domestic servant; wife Louisa, 43; and children Charles, 15, farm laborer, and Georgiana, 9; plus John Forbes, 21, selling tobacco, and Patsey Forbes, 70.
In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: blacksmith Isaac Thorn, 72; wife Luzana, 70; and roomers Tony Barnes, 52, laborer, and Hannah Barnes, 80, pauper.
Wilson native Isaiah Prophet Thorne‘s peripatetic lifestyle criss-crossing Europe as an entertainer required that he periodically apply for passport renewals and demonstrate his continued allegiance to the United States.
In the earliest document I’ve found, dated 1909, 24 year-old Thorne asserted that he was a singer, that he had left the U.S. in 1898, and that he was temporarily living in Berlin, Germany.
In 1915, his application required additional information revealing that his father was dead; that he was now working as a vaudeville artist in Naples, Italy; that he had last left the U.S. in February 1910; and that he needed his passport to travel in Italy, Egypt, Tripolitania [Libya], Greece, France, Spain and England “performing in vaudeville.”
This application contained a small photograph affixed to its reverse and appears to list a contact relative: Warren Thorne, 604 Spring Street, Wilson.
Two years later, Thorne again applied for a renewal, indicating that he was a theatrical performer who had left the United States in September 1907 (which conflicts with the statement above) and was now staying in Saloniki, Greece.
World War I was raging, and Thorne had joined the British Colonial Force. He was required to submit an Affidavit to Explain Protracted Foreign Residence and to Overcome Presumption of Expatriation. He confirmed that he had last been in the United States in 1907 and had spent the intervening years performing in England, Germany, Holland, Russia, Denmark, Romania, Turkey, Egypt, Italy and Greece. He claimed that he did not pay income tax because he made too little income, and he was not sure when he would return to the U.S., but was willing to do so “if called for service.”
The interviewing officer, American Vice-Consul H. Earle Russell, concluded that Thorne’s explanation for his protracted foreign residence was satisfactory and that he was “entitled to protection as an American citizen.”
In 1920, Thorne again applied to renew his passport. This application erroneously asserted that he had first left the U.S. in 1888 (when he was only 3), but revealed that his father was named Preston Thorne. It also yields a beautiful black and white image of the man.
Isaiah P. Thorne apparently never returned to the United States. I have found only one additional source of reference for his life — in the final pages of The Black Russian, Vladimir Alexandrov’s astounding biography of Frederick Bruce Thomas, the Mississippi-born son of former slaves who built a fortune of millions as the owner and impresario of renowned restaurants and nightclubs in Moscow and Istanbul: “Frederick died … on Tuesday, June 12, 1928, at the age of fifty-five. Because [his wife] Elvira was out of the country, all funeral arrangements were made by his friends. One of these was Isaiah Thorne, a black man from North Carolina who had worked for him at Maxim and who became his token executor.”; “Isaiah Thorne effectively adopted [Frederick’s sons Bruce and Frederick Jr.] when [their mother] Elvira was away ….”; “On November 25, 1930, at Thorne’s instigation, Fred and Bruce went to the American consulate general in Constantinople to apply for a passport” because “he wanted to help them escape the hardships of their lives in Turkey by taking them with him to North Carolina, where he had family.”; but “Thorne did not succeed in taking the boys to the United States because he could not raise the money ….”
Box 4495,Volume 002: Constantinople, Emergency Passport Applications, Argentina thru Venezuela, 1906-1925; U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line], http://www.Ancestry.com