July 4: Charles Thompson [1729-1824]

The Forgotten Founding Father – Even to Presbyterians
by Rev. David T Myers

Who hasn’t heard about our country founding fathers, like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Charles Thompson . . . wait a minute, who? Charles Thompson, who was he?

Answer? He was the forgotten founding father of America, even to Presbyterians. And yet he shouldn’t be, for after all, he was a Christian Presbyterian, a ruling elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia.

Born in County Londonderry to John Thompson and his wife, Charles lost his mother in 1739 at age ten, as did all his four brothers and one sister. The father decided to take his family to the American colonies, despite the perilous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. And indeed, in sight of land, the father died after sickness. Before his breadth expired, his last words were “God take them up,” referring to his children. The captain of the ship coldly slid his body overboard, and took possession of all his money. The children were split up, with Charles being sent to a blacksmith in Delaware.

There are several silences at this point, but the one this author read and found convincing was that he left the blacksmith and was picked up by a woman who took him to her house and home. She in time reared him up and placed him in a school held at New London Presbyterian Church, Pennsylvania, pastored by the Rev. Francis Allison.

This church school was designed chiefly to prepare ministers for Presbyterian churches in the colonies. Its courses were Greek, Latin, English literature, Science, and Math. They hoped that many needed Presbyterian Pastors would graduate from the school, but few did. It did produce five future doctors of medicine, four members of the Continental Congress, four Signers of the Declaration of Independence, five members of the House of Representatives, four governors, and oh yes, one Secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thompson.

Charles Thompson, upon graduating, stayed on to teach at the New London School, which eventually became in later years the University of Delaware. After his teaching experience, he went into business, but national affairs brought him to his position as the Corresponding Secretary of the Continental Congress, where he was to stay from 1774 – 1789, During those pivotal years, 342 delegates dealt with national business, while their words were faithfully transcribed by one secretary, Charles Thompson.

On July 4th, 1776, the first copy of the Declaration of Independence was signed by John Hancock and recorded by Charles Thompson, Secretary. The rest of the signatures were affixed a week later. In addition, he was the designer of the Great Seal of America. And like all the signers, he was to suffer persecution by the British for being connected with that historic document of our nation. His house was burned.

After his political service in the thrilling days of independence, he retired to his house outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to translate the Septuagint into English, a loving labor which took him years to complete. Another biblical work was an arrangement of the four gospels into one continuing biblical story. Both books are still in print today.

Charles Thompson went to be with his Lord and Savior on August 16, 1824. At least to subscribers and readers of This Day in Presbyterian History, forgotten no more.

Words to Live By:
Charles Thompson deserves to be remembered by all Americans, especially American Presbyterians. Parents, share his life story with your family. Home school parents, make him part of your home training. Christian and public school instructors, include him in the history lessons of your pupils. Pastors and Sunday School teachers, let him be illustrations of the providence of God in serving the Lord in government. Let not the title of this post be the norm any longer!

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