Wednesday, June 17, 2020

William Lamartine Thompson of East Liverpool, Ohio – America's First Million Dollar songwriter and hymnwriter

I have posted few clippings here about the life of William Lamartine Thompson (1847–1909; Wikipedia here) whose ancestry was in the Ballymena area somewhere, and a few of whose songs I and millions around the world grew up with. I've posted two Johnny Cash recordings at the very bottom. The website has piles more about Thompson - he was a very famous and successful writer of his generation in the pre-radio and pre-recorded music era.

The History of Columbiana County, Ohio (1905) says that William's namesake and grandfather "...William Thompson, was a son of Matthew Thompson, who was born in the town of Ballymena, Ireland, in the year 1763, but was of Scotch parentage...".

• From the Ballymena area to Western Pennsylvania
According to a detailed family history that was published in The Evening Review of East Liverpool Ohio on 6 October 1934, the family emigrated from Ballymena in 1790, and in 1792 settled in western Pennsylvania, the region where the tax protests which would become the Whiskey Rebellion were already underway.

The Rebellion was led by Tyrone-born Revolutionary War Veteran Major James McFarlane. [McFarlane was shot and killed during the Rebellion; his gravestone says that he  had fought with undaunted courage "against the lawless and despotic encroachments of Great Britain; he fell at last by the hands of an unprincipled villain in support of what he supposed to be the rights of his country"].

• East Liverpool, Ohio
In 1811 Josiah Thompson was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, to William Thompson and Eleanor McDowell Thompson. In 1818 the Thompsons moved across the Ohio River to Fawcettstown / East Liverpool in Ohio. They pretty much built the town and attended First Presbyterian Church (which in the 1950s was renamed Trinity Presbyterian, and a new building erected). Such was William L's wealth, both from his own musical instrument mail-order business, and sheet music publishing sales, added to also his family's massive industrial pottery business, that he gave 100 acres land to his home town community of East Liverpool in Ohio which became Thompson Park (website here).

• Illness in Ireland
William fell ill during a trip through Europe, in Queenstown (now Cobh) in September 1909 and died a short time later on his return to the United States. One of his most famous gospel songs, 'Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling' was sung at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968.

The Evening Review, East Liverpool, Ohio, 19 Sep 1959:

• Family history
In the early 20th century, a relative called 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 Ohio 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..."

The Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Sun, Jan 31, 1954