View Full Version : Charles Thomson secretary of the Continental Congress (1774–1789) throughout its existence

Sunday, June 14th, 2020, 10:12 AM

Charles Thomson was born in the town of Gortede, parish Maghera, County Derry, Ireland, the first week in November, 1729. He was the son of John Thomson, one of the most respectable men of Ulster. His birth occurred at a time when Protestant emigration was robbing Ireland of thousands of her best people. More than twenty thousand left Ulster and settled along the Atlantic seaboard on the destruction of the woollen trade and the enforcement of the Test Act. Froude says:

"And so the emigration continued. The young, the courageous, the energetic, the earnest, those alone among her colonists who, if ever Ireland was to be a Protestant country, could be effective missionaries, were torn up by the roots, flung out, and bid find a home elsewhere; and they found fifty years later had to regret that she had allowed them to be driven." [1] (https://forums.skadi.net/#_ftn1)

Students and Teachers of US History this is a video of Stanley (http://www.stanklos.org/) and Christopher Klos presenting America's Four United Republics Curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The December 2015 video was an impromptu capture by a member of the audience of Penn students, professors and guests that numbered about 200.

Most of these immigrants sought a home in Pennsylvania, attracted by the reports of its great natural wealth, and by the fact that under the charter of Penn and the laws of the Province, they could enjoy civil and religious liberty.

John Thomson was a widower with six small children, William, Matthew, Alexander, Charles, John and Mary, determined to make a home for them in America. They set sail from Ireland in 1739, expecting to locate in Pennsylvania. The father was attacked with a violent sickness on the voyage, and dying within sight of the shore. His body was cast into the ocean near the capes of the Delaware. His expiring prayer was: "God take them up." The death scene was always very affecting to Charles, and referring to the occasion, he once said: "I stood by the bedside of my expiring and much loved father, closed his eyes and performed the last filial duties to him." The children were now left to the mercy of the sea captain, who embezzled the money which the father had brought with him, while they were turned on shore at New Castle. Their fate was a common one to thousands of immigrants at that time. The ordinary vessel of the eighteenth century was a pest-house of disease and misery. Mittelberger, in his "Journey to Pennsylvania in 1750," describes the sufferings that the Germans endured in crossing the Atlantic, as follows:

On landing at New Castle, the Thomson children were separated and it is quite possible that they were bound to serve as redemptioners.[2] (https://forums.skadi.net/#_ftn2) According to some authorities, William drifted to South Carolina, and in the Revolutionary War distinguished himself by his great bravery. Alexander became a prosperous farmer near New Castle. Charles resided for a time with the family of a blacksmith at New Castle, who thought of having him indented as an apprentice. John F. Watson relates:

"He chanced to overhear them speaking on this design one night, and determining from the vigor of his mind, that he should devote himself to better business, he arose in the night and made his escape with his little all packed upon his back. As he trudged the road, not knowing whither he went, it was his chance or providence in the case, to be overtaken by a travelling lady of the neighborhood, who, entering into conversation with him, asked him 'what he would like to be in future life.' He promptly answered, he should like to be a scholar, or to gain his support by his mind and pen. This so much pleased her that she took him home and placed him at school." [3] (https://forums.skadi.net/#_ftn3)

The name of the lady who thus befriended Charles Thomson is unknown; but her act of kindness changed the whole course of his life. He was also aided in his education by his brother, Alexander, and he soon became a student in the academy of Dr. Francis Alison, at New London, Chester County, Pennsylvania. In a spirit of gratitude, Charles afterwards presented his brother with a farm in the vicinity of New Castle.

While a student at the New London Academy, Charles Thomson got hold of some loose leaves of the "Spectator," and admiring its style, he so longed to possess the whole work that he walked all night to Philadelphia and returned the next day in time to be present in his classes. He was charmed with the study of Greek, and he actually walked to Amboy for the purpose of visiting a British officer there who had the reputation of being a fine Greek scholar. He was also a biblical scholar Upon graduating the Academy, Thomson became a teacher. While a student, Thomson made the acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin, and frequently sought his advice in regard to the prospects of a suitable vocation in Philadelphia. Being President of the Board of Trustees of the new Academy of Philadelphia,[4] (https://forums.skadi.net/#_ftn4) Franklin secure a position for Thomson at the school.8 The Trustees of the Academy held a meeting on December 20, 1750, and the minutes contain the following notice in regard to Thomson:

"Mr. Charles Thomson having offered himself as a Tutor in the Latin and Greek School, and having been examined and approved of by the Rector, is admitted as a Tutor in the Latin and Greek School at the rate of sixty pounds a year, to commence on the seventh day o January next."

Charles Thomson was active in colonial resistance against Britain for decades. During the French and Indian War, Thomson was an opponent of the Pennsylvania proprietors' American Indian policies. He served as secretary at the Treaty of Easton (1758). In 1759, Thomson published a book entitled, "An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawenese Indians from the British Interest." In preparing this work he made a careful study of all the Indian treaties and deeds, and it contains an interesting account of the relations between the various tribes and the English. In the introduction, he speaks as follows concerning the alienation of the Indians from the British interests

It has been to many a Cause of Wonder, how it comes to pass that the English have so few Indians in their Interest, while the French have so many at Command; and by what Means, and for what Reasons those neighboring Tribes in particular, who, at the first Arrival of the English in Pennsylvania, and for a long Series of Years afterwards, shewed every Mark of Affection and Kindness, should become our most bitter Enemies, and treat those whom they so often declared they looked upon as their Brethren, nay as their own Flesh and Blood, with such barbarous Cruelties.

The passage of the Stamp Act brought him into the arena of politics. He was allied with Benjamin Franklin, the leader of the anti-proprietary party, but the two men parted politically during the Stamp Act crisis in 1765. Thomson threw his whole soul into the cause of the colonists, laboring with so intense a zeal that he became known as "The Sam Adams of Philadelphia."

http://charlesthomson.com (http://charlesthomson.com/)

The main driving forces behind Presbyterian emigration to the ‘New World’ were religion and resentment at government misrule.

Short History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland ... (http://www.lisburn.com/books/history-presbyterian/history-presbyterian-1.html)

Chapter II (http://www.lisburn.com/books/history-presbyterian/history-presbyterian-1.html#II)

Charles Thomson (November 29, 1729 – August 16, 1824) was an Irish-born Patriot (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriot_(American_Revolution)) leader in Philadelphia (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia)during the American Revolution (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Revolution), and the secretary of the Continental Congress (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_Congress) (1774–1789) throughout its existence.

Early Life

Thomson was born in the town of Maghera (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maghera) in County Londonderry (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/County_Londonderry), Ireland (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Ireland) to Scots-Irish (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotch-Irish_Americans) migrants.[1] (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_note-Glazier_1999_p._762-1)[2] (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_note-Glazier_1999_p._205-2) After the death of his mother in 1739, his father, John Thomson, emigrated to the British colonies in America with Charles and two or three brothers. John Thomson died at sea, his possessions stolen, and the penniless boys were separated on arrival at New Castle, Delaware. Charles was first cared for by a blacksmith (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blacksmith) in New Castle, Delaware (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Castle,_Delaware), and was educated in New London, Pennsylvania (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_London,_Pennsylvania). In 1750 he became a tutor in Latin (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin) at the Philadelphia Academy (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia_Academy).

Political leadership

During the French and Indian War (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_and_Indian_War), Thomson was an opponent of the Pennsylvania proprietors' (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_colonial_governors_of_Pennsylvan ia)American Indian (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_Americans_in_the_United_States) policies. He served as secretary at the Treaty of Easton (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Easton) (1758), and wrote An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanese Indians from the British Interest (1759), which blamed the war on the proprietors. He was allied with Benjamin Franklin (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin), the leader of the anti-proprietary party, but the two men parted politically during the Stamp Act crisis (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamp_Act_1765) in 1765. Thomson became a leader of Philadelphia's Sons of Liberty (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sons_of_Liberty). He was married to Hannah Harrison, daughter of prominent Quaker Richard Harrison.[3] (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_note-3)

Thomson was a leader in the revolutionary crisis of the early 1770s. John Adams (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Adams) called him the "Samuel Adams (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Adams) of Philadelphia". Thomson served as the secretary of the Continental Congress (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_Congress) through its entirety. Through those 15 years, the Congress saw many delegates come and go, but Thomson's dedication to recording the debates and decisions provided continuity. Along with John Hancock (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hancock), president of the Congress, Thomson's name (as secretary) appeared on the first published version (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunlap_broadsides) of the Declaration of Independence (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independenc e) in July 1776.

Thomson's role as secretary to Congress was not limited to clerical duties. According to biographer Boyd Schlenther, Thomson "took a direct role in the conduct of foreign affairs." Fred S. Rolater has suggested that Charles Thomson was essentially the "Prime Minister of the United States".[4] (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_note-4) Thomson is also noted for designing, with William Barton (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Barton_(heraldist)), the Great Seal of the United States (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Seal_of_the_United_States). The Great Seal played a prominent role in the January 14, 1784, (Ratification Day (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratification_Day_(United_States))) ratification of the Treaty of Paris (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Paris_(1783)).[5] (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_note-5) Britain's representatives in Paris initially disputed the placement of the Great Seal and Congressional President Thomas Mifflin (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mifflin)'s signature, until mollified by Benjamin Franklin (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin).[6] (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_note-6)

But Thomson's service was not without its critics. James Searle (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Searle), a close friend of John Adams (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Adams), and a delegate, began a cane fight on the floor of Congress against Thomson over a claim that he was misquoted in the "Minutes" that resulted in both men being slashed in the face. Such brawls on the floor were not uncommon, and many of them were promoted by argument over Thomson's recordings. Political disagreements prevented Thomson from getting a position in the new government created by the United States Constitution (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Constitution). Thomson resigned as secretary of Congress in July 1789 and handed over the Great Seal, bringing an end to the Continental Congress. He spent his final years at Harriton House (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriton_House) in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryn_Mawr,_Pennsylvania) working on a translation of the Bible (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomson%27s_Translation). He also published a synopsis of the four evangelists in 1815.[7] (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_note-7) In retirement, Thomson also pursued his interests in agricultural science and beekeeping.


As Secretary of Congress, Thomson chose what to include in the official journals of the Continental Congress.
He also prepared a work of over 1000 pages that covered the political history of the American Revolution. After leaving office, he chose to destroy this work in an effort to preserve the myths of War of Independence leaders as heroes, stating his desire to avoid "contradict all the histories of the great events of the Revolution. Let the world admire the supposed wisdom and valor of our great men. Perhaps they may adopt the qualities that have been ascribed to them, and thus good may be done. I shall not undeceive future generations."[8] (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_note-bowling-8)[9] (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_note-9)
According to the publisher's note of the Historical Printing Society edition of Thomas Jefferson (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Jefferson)'s Notes on the State of Virginia (1894), edited by John Leicester Ford[1], Charles Thomson contributed a 25-page appendix to the original English publication, published by John Stockdale of London in a run of approximately 200 copies. In 1853 JW Randolph and Company [2] republished the work incorporating various materials from the Estate provided by Jefferson's literary executor Thomas Jefferson Randolph. The new publication corrected some errors in the original Stockdale publication, including an error in the original publication which Jefferson made note of in a 1785 missive to Thomson: "... Pray ask the favor of Colo Monroe in page 5, line 17, to strike out the words 'above the mouth of the Appomattox,' which makes none sense of the passage ...". The Historical Printing Society publication removes Thomson's notes from the appendix and instead offers them in footnote form throughout the work according to the original plates to which they refer.

Later life

According to Thomas Jefferson (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Jefferson), writing to John Adams (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Adams), Thomson became senile in his old age, unable to recognize members of his own household. "Is this life?" Jefferson asked. "It is at most but the life of a cabbage; surely not worth a wish."[10] (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_note-10)


^ (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_ref-Glazier_1999_p._762_1-0) Kelly, Joseph J. (1999). "Pennsylvania". In Glazier, Michael (ed.). [I]The Encyclopedia of the Irish in America (https://archive.org/details/encyclopediaofir0000unse/page/762). Notre Dame, IN (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notre_Dame,_Indiana): University of Notre Dame Press (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Notre_Dame_Press). p. 762 (https://archive.org/details/encyclopediaofir0000unse/page/762). ISBN (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISBN_(identifier))978-0268027551 (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:BookSources/978-0268027551). Charles Thomson, from Maghera, County Derry, called 'the Sam Adams of Pennsylvania' by John Adams, was secretary of the Continental Congress.
^ (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_ref-Glazier_1999_p._205_2-0) McCarthy, Joseph F. X. (1999). "The Declaration of Independence". In Glazier, Michael (ed.). The Encyclopedia of the Irish in America (https://archive.org/details/encyclopediaofir0000unse/page/205). Notre Dame, IN (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notre_Dame,_Indiana): University of Notre Dame Press (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Notre_Dame_Press). p. 205 (https://archive.org/details/encyclopediaofir0000unse/page/205). ISBN (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISBN_(identifier))978-0268027551 (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:BookSources/978-0268027551). Another late signer was Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737–1832), the only Roman Catholic signer.
^ (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_ref-3)https://archives.upenn.edu/exhibits/penn-people/biography/charles-thomson (https://archives.upenn.edu/exhibits/penn-people/biography/charles-thomson)
^ (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_ref-4) Rolater, Fred S. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 101, 1977
^ (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_ref-5)Yale Law Avalon Project, Treaty of Paris Ratification (http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/parisrat.asp)
^ (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_ref-6) The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Vol. 6 Franklin to Hartley, Passy, June 2, 1784. (http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?hlaw:1:./temp/~ammem_XRut::#0060811)
^ (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_ref-7)A synopsis of the four evangelists by Charles Thompson (https://archive.org/details/synopsisoffourev1815thom)
^ (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_ref-bowling_8-0) Bowling, Kenneth R. (1976). "Good-by "Charle": The Lee-Adams Interest and the Political Demise of Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress, 1774-1789". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 100 (3): 314–335. JSTOR (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/JSTOR_(identifier))20091077 (https://www.jstor.org/stable/20091077).
^ (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_ref-9)Nathaniel Philbrick (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathaniel_Philbrick), "Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution," (New York: Penguin Books, 2016), p. xiii-xiv
^ (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_ref-10) Jefferson, Thomas (1 June 1822). "From Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1 June 1822" (http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu/founders/default.xqy?keys=FOEA-print-04-02-02-2840). Letter to John Adams. The University of Virginia Press.
^ (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson#cite_ref-11)American Antiquarian Society Members Directory (http://www.americanantiquarian.org/memberlistt)

Further reading

Schlenther, Boyd Stanley. "Thomson, Charles". American National Biography Online (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_National_Biography_Online), February 2000.

Charles Thomson: A Patriot's Pursuit Hardcover –by Boyd Stanley Schlenther, 1 Jun. 1990.

Charles Thomson