Charles Thomson
Overview
 
Charles Thomson was a Patriot
Patriot (American Revolution)
Patriots is a name often used to describe the colonists of the British Thirteen United Colonies who rebelled against British control during the American Revolution. It was their leading figures who, in July 1776, declared the United States of America an independent nation...

 leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

 and the secretary of the Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....

 (1774–1789) throughout its existence.
Thomson was born in Gorteade townland, Maghera parish, County Londonderry
County Londonderry
The place name Derry is an anglicisation of the old Irish Daire meaning oak-grove or oak-wood. As with the city, its name is subject to the Derry/Londonderry name dispute, with the form Derry preferred by nationalists and Londonderry preferred by unionists...

, Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, to Scots Irish parents. After the death of his mother in 1739, his father emigrated to the British colonies in America with Charles and two or three brothers.
Encyclopedia
Charles Thomson was a Patriot
Patriot (American Revolution)
Patriots is a name often used to describe the colonists of the British Thirteen United Colonies who rebelled against British control during the American Revolution. It was their leading figures who, in July 1776, declared the United States of America an independent nation...

 leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

 and the secretary of the Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....

 (1774–1789) throughout its existence.

Biography

Thomson was born in Gorteade townland, Maghera parish, County Londonderry
County Londonderry
The place name Derry is an anglicisation of the old Irish Daire meaning oak-grove or oak-wood. As with the city, its name is subject to the Derry/Londonderry name dispute, with the form Derry preferred by nationalists and Londonderry preferred by unionists...

, Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, to Scots Irish parents. After the death of his mother in 1739, his father emigrated to the British colonies in America with Charles and two or three brothers. The father died at sea, and the penniless boys were separated in America. Charles was cared for by a blacksmith in New Castle, Delaware
New Castle, Delaware
New Castle is a city in New Castle County, Delaware, six miles south of Wilmington, situated on the Delaware River. In 1900, 3,380 people lived here; in 1910, 3,351...

, and was educated in New London, Pennsylvania. In 1750 he became a tutor in Latin at the Philadelphia Academy.

During the French and Indian War
French and Indian War
The French and Indian War is the common American name for the war between Great Britain and France in North America from 1754 to 1763. In 1756, the war erupted into the world-wide conflict known as the Seven Years' War and thus came to be regarded as the North American theater of that war...

, Thomson was an opponent of the Pennsylvania proprietors' American Indian
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 policies. He served as secretary at the Treaty of Easton
Treaty of Easton
The Treaty of Easton was a colonial agreement in North America signed in October 1758 during the French and Indian War . Briefly, chiefs of 13 Native American nations, representing tribes of the Iroquois, Lenape-Delaware, Shawnee and others, agreed to be allies of the British colonies during the...

 (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
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, the leader of the anti-proprietary party, but the two men parted politically during the Stamp Act crisis
Stamp Act 1765
The Stamp Act 1765 was a direct tax imposed by the British Parliament specifically on the colonies of British America. The act required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp...

 in 1765. Thomson became a leader of Philadelphia's Sons of Liberty
Sons of Liberty
The Sons of Liberty were a political group made up of American patriots that originated in the pre-independence North American British colonies. The group was formed to protect the rights of the colonists from the usurpations by the British government after 1766...

.

Thomson was a leader in the revolutionary crisis of the early 1770s. John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

 called him the "Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. As a politician in colonial Massachusetts, Adams was a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution, and was one of the architects of the principles of American...

 of Philadelphia". Thomson served as the secretary of the Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....

 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
John Hancock
John Hancock was a merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as president of the Second Continental Congress and was the first and third Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts...

, president of the Congress, Thomson's name (as secretary) appeared on the first published version of the Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

 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" (The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 101, 1977). Thomson is also noted for designing, with William Barton
William Barton (heraldist)
William Barton was a Pennsylvania lawyer, scholar, and the designer of the Great Seal of the United States.- Family and Education :...

, the Great Seal of the United States
Great Seal of the United States
The Great Seal of the United States is used to authenticate certain documents issued by the United States federal government. The phrase is used both for the physical seal itself , and more generally for the design impressed upon it...

. The Great Seal played a prominent role in the January 14, 1784 (Ratification Day) ratification of the Treaty of Paris
Treaty of Paris (1783)
The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, ended the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain on the one hand and the United States of America and its allies on the other. The other combatant nations, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic had separate agreements; for details of...

. Britain's representatives in Paris initially disputed the placement of the Great Seal and President Mifflin's
Thomas Mifflin
Thomas Mifflin was an American merchant and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, a member of the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania, President of the Continental...

 signature, until mollified by Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

.

But Thomson's service was not without its critics. James Searle
James Searle
James Searle was an American merchant and delegate to the Continental Congress.He was born in New York, the son of Catherine Pintard and John Searle, but on coming of age moved to Madeira, where he engaged in business with his brother John for sixteen years. Between 1753 and 1759, he made several...

, a close friend of John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

, 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
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. 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 working on a translation of the Bible
Thomson's Translation
Charles Thomson's Translation of the Old Covenant is a very rare direct translation of the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament into English. The work took 19 years to complete and was originally published in 1808. Thomson is credited with having created the work with little to no help...

.

Thomson is depicted on the seven-cent postal card (and postal reply card), Scott Nos. UX68 and UY 25, issued in 1975. He was portrayed in the 1969 stage play and the 1972 film 1776
1776 (musical)
1776 is a musical with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone. The story is based on the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence...

by Ralston Hill
Ralston Hill
Ralston Hill was a stage actor, April 24, 1927 – October 19, 1996, and had many roles on Broadway, most notably Congressional Secretary Charles Thomson in the musical 1776...

.

Further reading

  • Schlenther, Boyd Stanley. "Thomson, Charles". American National Biography Online, February 2000.

External links

  • http://charlesthomson.com/
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