Oct 12, 2011

On The Genealogy Trail

I have long known that the Thomsons were quite the characters (and I married into the family anyway!)

But seriously some years ago Tom's grandfather, Don Thomson, shared some genealogical information he had received from another family member. He was quite proud to say that the Thomsons were related to Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress. And they were wealthy barons from Scotland. And their direct line came from a Revolutionary War soldier who was commended for bravery by General George Washington himself.

Being the genealogy buff I am, I was intrigued, and maybe even a little skeptical. Families often spread stories that are bent in flattering ways and passed down generation to generation.

I discovered that our Thomsons are related to Charles Thomson, who not only was a patriot and a well educated man who married into a wealthy family, but also translated from the original Greek the first American printed Bible. He was friends with Ben Franklin and had written down his memoirs. Before he died Charles burned his diaries, proclaiming that there was information that would not be flattering to our country's founding fathers and he wanted to preserve the legacy that Americans held dear. Oh, my. We will never know the nitty gritty it seems.

But all this pertains to a distantly related relative. I sought to find out more about Charles's cousin William from whom comes our Thomson line. It was said that he served at Valley Forge and was commended. The truth is he did serve at Valley Forge. He enlisted in January 1778 (yes that terrible winter we've all heard about) and he was 67 years old at the time! William's oldest son, Hugh, also served in a different PA regiment. William was an Adjutant Officer. I'm not sure how the army defined that at that time. Anyone know? You can find his name here spelled with a p: http://valleyforgemusterroll.org/regiments/pa9.asp
Inside Washington's HQ at Valley Forge

William did receive something from Gen. Washington, but it was not what Grandpa Don had thought. In May of 1778 William Thompson (Thomson) received a court martial. Here is the note attached to his file: Charged with failing to report when summoned by Major Francis Nichols. Thompson was acquitted; however was convicted of using "ill language." Washington understood the reasons for Thompson using the language and remitted the conviction.

We all got a good laugh over that. Not sure how old Major Nichols was but can't you see a 67-year-old man giving that young fellow a piece of his mind?
William Thomson's grave, Piney Creek Cemetery

William Thomson lived to the ripe old age of 89 (dying July 4, 1800) and was buried at Piney Creek Cemetery next to a Presbyterian church of the same name. There is more to the family story that I'd like to explore. It's said that he sold his farm with the plans of moving to Kentucky with his wife and his son and his son's family. But the American money he accepted for his farm turned out to be worthless. And his wife died. So they abandoned those plans and William moved to Taneytown, MD, and rented a farm there. It's there he died. Several other Thomsons are buried in this small cemetery (all spelled this way and not with a "p" or without the "h" as previous genealogists have claimed.)
Piney Creek Cemetery and Church in Taneytown, MD

The pastor of the church helped us find the graves. He was very interested. I'll blog more about the cemetery (and another interesting story about who is buried there) in another post later. And I'll share more about those Scottish barons as well. ;-)


  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this post .... how exciting to be able to authenticate family lore!