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Charles Thomson


Of all the patriots of the Revolution, no man was better acquainted with the men and events of that struggle, than Charles Thomson, who was the permanent Secretary of the Continental Congress for more than fifteen years. He was born in Ireland in 1730, and at the age of eleven years was brought to America in company with three older brothers. Their father died from the effects of sea-sickness, when within sight of the capes of the Delaware. They landed at New Castle, in Delaware, and had no other capital with which to commence life in the New World, than strong and willing hands, and honest hearts. Charles was educated at New London, in Pennsylvania, by Dr. Allison, and became a teacher in the Friend's Academy, at New Castle. He went to Philadelphia, where he enjoyed the friendship of Dr. Franklin and other eminent men. In 1756, he was the secretary for the Delaware Indians, at a great council held with the white people, at Easton ; and that tribe adopted him as a son, according to an ancient custom. With all the zeal of an ardent nature, Thomson espoused the republican cause; and when the first Continental Congress met, in Philadelphia; in September, 1774, he was called to the responsible duty of secretary to that body.1 At about that time, he married Hannah Harrison (the aunt of President Harrison), whose brother, Benjamin, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Year after year, Mr. Thomson kept the records of the proceedings of Congress, until the new organization of the government under the Federal Constitution, in 1789. But the demands of public business did not wean him from books, of which he was a great lover. He had a passion for the study of Greek authors, and actually translated the Septuagint from the original into English. He made copious notes of the progress of the Revolution, and after retiring from public life, in 1789, he prepared a History of his own times. But his sense of justice and goodness of heart, would not permit him to publish it; and a short time before he died, he destroyed the manuscript. He gave as a reason, that he was unwilling to blast the reputation of families rising into reputation, whose progenitors were proved to be unworthy of the friendship of good men, because of their bad conduct during the war. So the world has lost the most authentic civil history of the struggle for independence, ever produced. Mr. Thomson died on the 16th of August, 1824, when in the ninety-fifth year of his age. He then resided at Lower Merion, Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, where he was buried. In 1838, his nephew removed his remains to Laurel Hill Cemetery over which is a handsome monument, bearing an appropriate inscription, composed by John F. Watson, Esq., the Annalist.

1 Watson relates that Thomson bad just come into Philadelphia, with kis bride, and was alighting from his chaise, when a messenger from the delegates in Carpenter's Hall came to him, and said they wanted him to come and take minutes of their proceedings, as he was an expert at such business. For his first year's service, he received no pay. So Congress informed his wife, that they wished to compensate her for the absence of her husband during that time, and wished her to name what kind of a piece of plate she would like to receive. She chose an urn, and that silver vessel is yet in the family.

Source: Lossing, Benson J. Eminent Americans: Comprising Brief Biographies of Leading Statesmen, Patriots, Orators and others, Men and Women, Who Have Made American History. New York: John B. Alden, 1883. Pages 46-47.


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Last modified December 24, 2004