Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Alexander Thompson Papers, 1793-1932

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, May 2011

Summary Information
Title: Alexander Thompson papers
Creator: Ricca, Richard F.
Inclusive dates: 1793-1932
Extent: 1.5 linear feet
The Alexander Thompson papers consist of the papers of three generations of Thompsons: Captain Alexander Thompson (1759-1809), Colonel Alexander Ramsey Thompson (1793-1837), and Reverend Alexander Ramsey Thompson (1822-1895). These papers document the military service of Captain Thompson in United States army (1793-1809); Colonel Thompson's military service (1819-1837); attempts by Colonel Thompson's widow Mary Thompson to secure a military pension (1838-1849); and the career of Reverend Thompson, a Union Army chaplain and Presbyterian minister, along with his family letters (1850-1932).
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:

1998, 1999. M-4024, M-4070.

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:

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


This collection is organized into five series:

  • Series I: Correspondence and Documents
    • Subseries I: Captain Alexander Thompson
    • Subseries II: Colonel Alexander R. Thompson
    • Subseries III: Reverend Alexander R. Thompson
  • Series II: Diary
  • Series III: Photographs
  • Series IV: Religious Writings
    • Subseries I: Sermon and Ecclesiastical History notes
    • Subseries II: Hymns
  • Series V: Printed Material
    • Subseries I: Newspaper Clippings
    • Subseries II: Miscellaneous Printed Material

Each series and subseries is ordered chronologically.

Biographical/Historical Note

Captain Alexander Thompson (1759-1809) was born in New York City to James Thompson and Margaret Ramsay. Alexander married Abigail Amelia DeHart in 1784, and they had six children. Thompson fought in the American Revolution, first in a militia company commanded by Silvanus Seely (1777), and later as a lieutenant in John Lamb's artillery (1779-1783). In 1786, Thompson became a captain in the New York Militia Regiment of Artillery, and in 1794, President George Washington commissioned him to the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers stationed at Governor's Island (1795). His next posts were at Fort Niagara (1798) in New York, and Fort Lernoult in Michigan Territory (1800). He returned to New York City in 1802, and in 1806 became the military storekeeper at West Point, where he aided in the construction of the military academy there. He died at West Point on September 28, 1809.

Colonel Alexander Ramsay Thompson (1793-1837) was born in New York and was the youngest son of Captain Alexander Thompson and Abigail DeHart. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1812, and was commissioned 1st lieutenant in the 6th Infantry. During the War of 1812, Thompson fought in Canada under General James Wilkinson, and participated in the Battle of Plattsburg. After the war, Thompson served as captain at Fort Niagara, and in 1816 he married Mary Waldron Nexsen (1790-1858). They had one son who died in infancy. Over the next 20 years, Thompson rose to the rank of colonel and served at forts in New York, Michigan, Kansas, Louisiana, and Florida. He was killed in the Battle of Okeechobee during the Seminole War in 1837.

Reverend Alexander Ramsey Thompson (1822-1895) was born to Janette Nexsen and William Robert Thompson, brother of Colonel Alexander R. Thompson. He graduated from New York University in 1842 and soon after entered the seminary at Princeton. In 1846, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister, and later that year married Mary Carpenter. They had eight children. For the next 15 years, Thompson preached at various churches in New York and New Jersey before settling in Bridgeport, Connecticut. During the Civil War, Thompson served as chaplain of the 17th Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers. In 1862 he moved his family to New York City and took up a ministry at the 21st Street Dutch Reformed Church. There, he devoted much of his energies to supporting the New England Soldiers' Relief Association. At the end of the war, Thompson was awarded a Doctorate of Divinity from New York University, and in 1871 became the chaplain of the Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. Thompson died in 1895.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Alexander Thompson papers (653 items) consist of the papers of three generations of Thompsons: Captain Alexander Thompson (1759-1809), Colonel Alexander Ramsey Thompson (1793-1837), and Reverend Alexander Ramsey Thompson (1822-1895). The collection is comprised of 494 letters and documents, 1 diary, 25 photographs, 103 religious writings and hymns, and 30 items of printed material. These papers document the military service of Captain Thompson in the United States Army (1793-1809); Colonel Thompson's military service (1819-1837); attempts by Colonel Thompson's widow, Mary Thompson, to secure a military pension (1838-1849); and the career of Reverend Thompson, Union Army chaplain and Presbyterian minister, along with his family letters (1850-1932).

The Correspondence and Documents series (494 items) is made up of three subseries, one for each Alexander Thompson represented in the collection.

The Captain Alexander Thompson subseries (255 items) consists of letters and documents related to Thompson's army career, including 37 military records (pay rolls, musters, and accounts) and 14 provisional returns. The bulk of the letters are to and from the war office in Philadelphia and from fellow army officers. These provide administrative documentation for the fledgling American military, as well as specific details on Thompson's assignments at Governor's Island, West Point, Fort Niagara, and Detroit. Topics covered include his efforts to provision and pay his troops, fortify his outposts, and recruit soldiers.

Items of note include:

  • April 19, May 7 and 24, and June 20, 1795: Letters from Thompson to New York Governor George Clinton, concerning the French navy and the fort at Governor's Island
  • July 9, 15, and 18, 1795: Letters between Colonel Louis de Tousard and Thompson concerning prisoners, troops, and musicians at Governor's Island
  • December 5, 1795: Letter fromThompson to Alexander Hamilton concerning a lawsuit involving Thompson's professional conduct at Governor's Island
  • March 29, 1796: Letter to Thompson warning of a mutiny on Governor's Island
  • September 14, 1800: Letter from Thompson to Rivaldi concerning small pox at Detroit
  • February 17, 1801: Letter from Thompson to Major Moses Porter, concerning filling the United States officer corps with Americans instead of foreign commanders
  • January 20, 1803: May 1 and August 24, 1807: Letters and bills to and from Thompson and Secretary of War Henry Dearborn concerning payments for travel
  • October 15, 1804: Instructions from Thompson to Doctor Frances La Barons concerning trading for pelts at Michilimackinac
  • September 1807: News from a friend in St. Louis describing army activities there

The Colonel Alexander R. Thompson subseries (137 items) documents his post-War of 1812 military career, and his wife's efforts to secure a pension after his death. These include letters from fellow officers and friends, a few retained copies of Thompson's letters, and 55 letters to and from Mary Thompson and various prominent government officials concerning military pensions. In many of Mary's letters she described episodes in her husband's military career, including wounds and sicknesses suffered while on duty.

Items of note include:

  • November 27, 1816: Captain Kearny at Sackets Harbor to Thompson concerning securing pay to Mrs. Niblock for washing clothes for the army
  • January 12, 1817: Major W.J. Worth at Sackets Harbor to Thompson describing a celebration at the newly build Madison Barracks
  • May 13, 1833: George Brooke at Fort Howard (Green Bay) to Thompson describing his journey across Lake Huron
  • August 28, 1833: Benjamin F. Larneal to Thompson concerning shipping a piano to Michigan
  • April 28, 1836: Thompson to his nephew Alexander Thompson, describing the encampment and fortifications at Camp Sabine, Louisiana, and the lawless state of Texas - "the country is consequently infested with robbers and pirates
  • February 21, 1837: Mary Thompson to General Winfield Scott seeking a promotion for her sick husband
  • March 6, 1840: Mary to her brother-in-law William Thompson, relating her difficulties securing a pension
  • 1842-1845: Letters to and from Mary Thompson to New York Governor Hamilton Fish and members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, including John Jordan Crittenden and Thomas Hart Benton
  • October 8, 1847: E. Backay at San Juan to Mary Thompson containing a description of the Mexican-American War
  • March 13, 1853: Department of the Interior to Mary Thompson concerning her request for a land bounty

The Reverend Alexander R. Thompson subseries (102 items) contains Thompson's letters and 25 of his children's letters. Of note are the items documenting his Civil War service as chaplain of the 17th Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers and at the Roosevelt Hospital. These include many letters from solders and former parishioners serving throughout the country. Also present are letters discussing Thompson and his family's travels around New York and New England, and to the Canary Islands, Quebec, and San Francisco. The post-1872 letters largely concern Thompson's children.

The subseries includes:

  • November 28, 1861: Albion Brooks to Thompson describing the soldier's Thanksgiving dinner at Burnside Camp, Annapolis, Maryland
  • January 16, 1862: Leonard Woolsey Bacon to Thompson concerning chaplains' aids
  • July 2, 1863: A small diagram of the Union fleet on the Mississippi River in front of Vicksburg
  • June 4, 1864: Moses Smith of the 8th Connecticut Regiment to Thompson describing the battle at Cold Harbor
  • September 25, 1865: E.A. Russell to Thompson describing hearing Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" on board a steam ship: "I feel like after hearing it sung like one inspired for the work. I do think it is very near Gods work."
  • September 27, 1865: Five verses of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" copied on board the Steamship United States
  • September 23, 1871: Gin Bon, secretary of the Chinese Young Men's Christian Society of San Francisco, to Thompson concerning his support of the group and enclosing four photographs of members

The Diary series (1 item, 372 pages) is the personal journal of Reverend Alexander Ramsey Thompson for 1861. The diary is deeply personal and includes Thompson's thoughts on personal, spiritual, and political matters, as well as his thoughts on the outbreak of the Civil War and his decision to join the army as a chaplain. In the back of the diary are 5 newspaper clippings concerning New York University commencements.

Notable entries include:

  • April 13 and 16, 1861: Thoughts on the siege and bombardment at Fort Sumter
  • July 22 and 24, 1861: Thoughts on First Bull Run
  • August 31, 1861: Discussion of seeing a hippopotamus at Barnum's Museum

The Photographs series (25 items) contains undated family pictures, images of houses and landscapes, and commercial photographs of buildings in Europe.

Four additional photographs are located with the letter of September 23, 1871. These are portraits of Chinese Americans, one taken by Chinese photographer Lai Yong of San Francisco, and one of letter writer Gin Bon, secretary of the Chinese Young Men's Christian Society. Gin Bon's portrait contains watercolored highlights. The hymn book for the Roosevelt Hospital in the Printed Materials series contains family photographs, including a group picture in which many of the sitters are holding tennis rackets.

The Religious Writings series is composed of two subseries: Sermons and Ecclesiastical History Notes, and Hymns. Though largely undated and unattributed, these writings were all likely created by Reverend Thompson. The Sermons and Ecclesiastical History notes subseries (61 items) contains 58 sermon notes that Thompson wrote in the 1890s, much of which was written on Roosevelt Hospital stationery. Some of these are outlines while others are fully formed sermons. He also wrote notes on ecclesiastical history in two notebooks dated 1881 (232 pages), and on the Hebrew language in an undated notebook (58 pages). The Hymns subseries (42 items) contains 9 manuscript hymns, 16 printed hymns, and 17 volumes of manuscript hymns. They consist of transcribed and translated hymns, Bible quotations, and ballad lyrics. Two of the printed hymns, both Christmas carols, include music for four voices.

The Printed Material series (30 items) is comprised of 18 newspaper clippings and 12 miscellaneous printed items. The newspaper clippings are an essay by Reverend Thompson entitled "The Burial of Moses," and an address from Thompson delivered at the unveiling of a Gettysburg monument for the 17th Connecticut Volunteers. The Miscellaneous Printed Items subseries contains 12 items, including ephemera related to New York University commencements; an engraving of author, nurse, and charity organizer Isabella Graham; an annual report for the Brooklyn Nursery (1888); and a Roosevelt Hospital hymnal in which someone has inserted photograph clippings of Reverend Thompson, his wife, and others.

Subject Terms

    • Cold Harbor, Battle of, Va., 1864.
    • Fort Detroit (Detroit, Mich.)
    • Fort Jay (N.Y.)
    • Fort Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.)
    • Governors Island (New York County, N.Y.)
    • Presbyterians.
    • Roosevelt Hospital (New York, N.Y.)
    • Sackets Harbor (N.Y.)
    • United States. Army. Connecticut Infantry Regiment, 17th (1862-1865)
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Chaplains.
    • Vicksburg (Miss.)--History--Siege, 1863.
    • West Point (N.Y.)
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • Chinese Americans--California--San Francisco Bay Area.
    • Geneva (Switzerland)
    • Graham, Isabella, 1742-1814.
    • Landscapes.
    • Old Fort Niagara (N.Y.)
    • Photography of automobiles.
    • Photography of children.
    • Photography of families.
    • Photography of infants.
    • Schloss Ehrenburg (Coburg, Germany)
    • Thompson, Alexander Ramsay, 1822-1895.
    • Bacon, Leonard Woolsey, 1830-1907.
    • Dearborn, Henry, 1751-1829.
    • Pickering, Timothy, 1745-1829.
    • Thompson, Alexander, 1759-1809.
    • Thompson, Alexander Ramsay, 1793-1837.
    • Thompson, Alexander Ramsay, 1822-1895.
    • Thompson, Mary Carpenter.
    • Tousard, Anne-Louis de, 1749-1817.
    Genre Terms:
    • Clippings (information artifacts)
    • Diaries.
    • Hymns.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Military records.
    • Photographically illustrated books.
    • Photographs.
    • Receipts.
    • Sermons.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence and Documents [series]
    Captain Alexander Thompson [subseries]
    Box   1 Folders   1-35
     March 1, 1793-May 9, 1809, and  undated    [Note: Additional muster rolls are located in Oversize Manuscripts]
    Colonel Alexander R. Thompson [subseries]
    Box   1 Folders   36-47
     1814-April 10, 1844
    Box   2 Folders   1-6
     April 15, 1844-December 18, 1849, and  undated
    Reverend Alexander R. Thompson [subseries]
    Box   2 Folders   7-18
     September 11, 1850-January 6, 1932, and  undated
    Diary [series]
    Box   3  
    Photographs [series]
    Box   2 Folders   19-22
    Religious Writings [series]
    Sermons and Ecclesiastical History Notes [subseries]
    Box   2 Folders   23-28
    Box   3  
    Ecclesiastical History volumes
    Hymns [subseries]
    Box   2 Folder   29
    Manuscript hymns
    Box   3  
    Manuscript hymns (bound)
    Box   2 Folder   30
    Printed Material [series]
    Box   3 Folder   1
    Newspaper Clippings    [Note: eight additional clippings [1860-1895] are located in Oversize Manuscripts]
    Box   3 Folders   2-3
    Miscellaneous Printed Material
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    The following items are located in the Clements Library Graphics Division:

    • An engraved knife and a pearl knife handle (blade engraved L.P. to J.N.T.)
    • Two watercolor drawings:
      • "From the Grand Battery--Château Cape Diamond"
      • Fort Mackinac Hospital [1828]

    The following item is located in the Clements Library Map Division:

    Swett, S. Sketch of Bunker Hill Battle. 1827.

    The following items are located in the Clements Library Book Division:

    Related Materials

    The Duane Norman Diedrich collection contains a letter of Alexander Thompson's wife Mary Nexsen Thompson to Cassandra Smith (July 7, 1822)


    The following volume contains transcriptions and historical background on many of the items in this collection:

    Zimmermann, Linda, and Richard F Ricca. Forging a Nation. New York: Eagle Press, 1996.