Saturday, 8 January 2011

William L Thompson (1847 - 1909): great-grandson of Ballymena emigrants


William L Thompson was born in the river town of Smith's Ferry, Pennsylvania. He and his family later moved 5 miles westwards along the Ohio River to to East Liverpool, Ohio where they attended the church known today as the First Evangelical Presbyterian. Thompsons pretty much owned the entire town, and William donated 100 acres of land to the people to be used as open parkland, which is still today called Thompson Park. There are a few biographies of him online, but his most well-known hymn is "Softly and Tenderly", which is said to be the hymn which has been translated into the most languages. He also wrote "Lead Me Gently Home, Father". Soon he was a famous songwriter, but he resisted many invitations to move to the city of Chicago, and remained among the rural country communities, travelling among them on a horse and buggy cart singing his songs to rural people. When his friend, the famous evangelist DL Moody lay dying, he asked for Thompson and told him "Will, I would rather have written 'Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling' than anything I have been able to do in my whole life."

• In 1890, James E Campbell, Governor of Ohio, addressed The Second Congress of the Scotch-Irish Society of America with a talk entitled "The Scotch-Irish in Ohio" (click here for the text).

• The 1999 book "A People Set Apart - the Scotch-Irish in Eastern Ohio" is available here on Amazon.

"Softly and Tenderly" and "Lead Me Gently Home Father" remain classics today. Here are two videos from YouTube of the late great Johnny Cash performing them:

GENEALOGY: William L Thompson's father was Josiah Thompson. In the early 20th century, a descendant of the same name, Josiah VanKirk Thompson, carried out exhaustive research into the genealogy of many families in the region. From his notes in 1930 he wrote "...I have a letter dated Dec 6, 1930 from George C. Thompson of the C.C. Thompson Pottery Co of East Liverpool O who says he has learned of my interest in the Thompson genealogy & says he is a grandson of Josiah Thompson (with whom I once corresponded) & whose grandfather came from Ballymena, Ireland where many Thompsons are buried in the Presbyterian Churchyard there & he had no trouble in connecting his family with those now there. He says his ancestors were Scotch & left Scotland by reason of religious persecution about three centuries ago & settled in the north of Ireland at Ballymena..."

His research shows that John, William and Thomas Thompson left Ulster around 1740 and emigrated to America, settling near Newville in Pennsylvania. The Thomas was JV Thompson's g-g-grandfather. Thanks to Chuck Thompson for sharing this information on his Thompson genealogy website here.