Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
George Thompson Papers, 1784-1831

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, February 2010

Summary Information
Title: George Thompson papers
Creator: Thompson, George, 1748-1834
Inclusive dates: 1784-1831
Extent: 0.25 linear feet
The George Thompson papers contain letters and documents primarily concerning Kentucky politics and conflicts between Native Americans and white settlers at the close of the 18th-century and during the war of 1812.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1967. M-1421 .

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

George Thompson Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The papers are arranged chronologically.


George Claiborne Thompson was born February 7, 1749, in Fluvanna, Virginia, the son of Joseph Thompson and Sarah Claiborne. Left impoverished at the age of 14 after his father died and his older brother inherited the family estate, Thompson worked as a "striker" for a blacksmith to support himself and his younger brother. A family friend and client acted as Thompson's benefactor after discovering his situation, and Thompson received an education and a start in business. In 1773, he married Rebecca Burton, with whom he had a son, also named George Claiborne Thompson. At the start of the Revolutionary War, he was a captain in the British militia, but he joined the American forces in May 1775 and rose to the rank of colonel. In 1777, he was the commanding officer at Williamsburg. He was twice elected to the Virginia Assembly in 1779 and 1780, and in 1781, he served as an aide to General Lafayette.

After the war, Thompson worked as a surveyor and a politician and settled on a 2000-acre estate, "Shawnee Springs," a few miles north of Harrodsburg, Virginia, which became part of Kentucky in 1792. Beginning that year, he served as a judge in the Quarter Sessions court, and in 1799, he became a member of the Kentucky Assembly for Mercer County. He died March 22, 1834.

George Claiborne Thompson, Jr., (1778-1856) served in the Kentucky Mounted Volunteers and was with William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe; he served in several other engagements in Tecumseh's War during the War of 1812. He became speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1821.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The George Thompson papers contain 32 items (29 letters and 3 documents) spanning 1784-1831. The materials relate to George Claiborne Thompson, who served as a Virginia colonel in the Revolutionary War and a surveyor and politician thereafter, and his son, George Claiborne Thompson, Jr. Isaac Shelby, the governor of Kentucky, wrote the first 4 letters in the collection between 1784 and 1788 to the senior Thompson. The first three contain details related to the surveying of land in present-day Kentucky, including information on geographical features, the expense of making surveys, and land claims. In the fourth letter, dated November 14, 1788, Shelby described a case of an African American man who was brought from Maryland to the "District of Kentucky" and had applied for his freedom under the Acts of Assembly of 1778 and 1785. Shelby noted that the case might "open the way to every negroe in the District to take the same steps."

A substantial number of letters in the collection concern Native Americans, particularly their ongoing clashes with white settlers. On June 1, 1790, George Thompson wrote to James Madison, describing a three-hour battle on the Ohio River between his party and 61 "Indians," who took two boats and other property. He also reported several other incidents, including the killing of John May by natives and the scalping of three white children in the area. Other correspondents reported on engagements with Native Americans in the War of 1812. On February 20, 1813, Isaac Shelby related an account by Frenchman Adelard Labbedie of the Battle of River Raisin, including the surrender of General Winchester and the killing of wounded American prisoners by "about 10 Indians."

The George Thompson papers also shed light on American and Kentucky politics in the late-18th and early-19th centuries. They include U.S. Senator John Breckinridge's discussion of the Louisiana Purchase and the surrender of New Orleans (November 4, 1803), Isaac Shelby's rationale for not running for Congress (April 23, 1803), and several reports on the Kentucky legislature by George Thompson, Jr. On October 16, 1821, he wrote to his father informing him that he, Thompson, Jr., had been named speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives for the new term. The collection closes with several undated legal documents stemming from lawsuits over Kentucky land between George Thompson, Sr., and several other men.

Subject Terms

    • Harrodsburg (Ky.)
    • Indians of North America--Illinois.
    • Kentucky--Politics and government--1792-1865.
    • Louisiana Purchase.
    • Northwest, Old--History--War of 1812.
    • River Raisin, Battle of the, Monroe, Mich., 1813.
    • Slavery--Law and legislation--United States--History.
    • Slavery--United States--Legal status of slaves in free states.
    • Surveying.
    • United States--History--War of 1812--Campaigns.
    • Breckinridge, John, 1760-1806.
    • McDowell, William Anderson, 1789-1851.
    • Meaux, John G.
    • Shelby, Isaac, 1750-1826.
    • Thompson, George Claiborne, 1778-1856.
    Genre Terms:
    • Correspondence.
    • Legal documents.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    George Thompson papers,  1784-1831 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    An item from the George Thompson papers, dated September 29-30, 1812, is housed in the Postal History collection.


    Johnson, E. Polk. A History of Kentucky And Kentuckians: the Leaders And Representative Men In Commerce, Industry And Modern Activities. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1912.