Born in Leasburg, North Carolina in 1810, Jacob Thompson graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1831. Admitted to the bar in 1834, he practiced law in Pontotoc and Oxford, Mississippi. In Oxford, Thompson met and married Catherine Jones, the daughter of a wealthy planter. Married in 1838, the couple had one child, Macon Caswell Thompson, born the next year. In addition to a success in his law practice and as a cotton planter, Jacob Thompson was involved in state politics and was elected to Congress in 1839, where he served six terms in the House of Representatives as chairman of the Committee on Public Lands and later as chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs. In 1857, President James Buchanan appointed him Secretary of the Interior.
Thompson did well as Secretary of the Interior, reorganizing the department and emphasizing efficiency. In Washington, he and Kate, as she was known, were frequent guests at the White House and the Thompson residence became a part of the social scene. Jacob Thompson remained in the cabinet until his resignation in January, 1861, when Mississippi seceded from the Union. When he resigned, the New York Daily Tribune, owned by Horace Greeley, labelled him a traitor. The image seen here was taken while Thompson was Secretary of the Interior.
During the Civil War, Thompson offered his services and his personal fortune to the Confederate cause, and served as an aide in several campaigns, mostly in Mississippi. In late 1863, he came back to Oxford and was sent to the Mississippi Legislature. The next spring, President Jefferson Davis asked Thompson to go to Canada as a secret agent and Confederate representative to the Canadian government, and he accepted.
Meanwhile, back home, Kate suffered from the Federal occupations of Oxford in 1862 and 1864. In December, 1862, U.S. Grant's forces entered the town during the Mississippi Central RR Campaign. Among the troops occupying Oxford were men from the 47th Illinois (left), seen in this photo taken in Oxford. While in Oxford, Grant personally searched Thompson's abandoned home at the urging of Edwin M. Stanton, who considered Thompson to be one of the leading secessionists (or, in his view, traitors) in the South. What Grant found and then sent to Stanton were Thompson's pre-war letters, some of which were later published in Northern newspapers as a sort of expose'. In the 1864 occupation, during A.J. "Whiskey" Smith's expedition, the house was singled out and burned, even though Catherine and her daughter-in-law were still at the house. Sally Thompson, the wife of Macon, who was now in the Confederate army, had just given birth and still confined to the bed. Ejected from the house and put out into the yard, Catherine and Sally watched helplessly as the house went up in flames. Luckily, someone remembered that the baby was still in the house and made a dramatic rescue before the house was completely consumed. The Thompson home was by no means the only house or building burned in Oxford that hot August, but is perhaps the only one destroyed with such vigor by Federal officers.
By 1869, both Thompsons were finally able to return to Oxford. Finding the home in ruins, Jacob decided to move to Memphis to began a new life. His son Macon remained in Oxford, however, where he lived in a house built for him by his father in 1869 on the site of the original family home (the house still stands). Luckily for Thompson, he still retained a great deal of wealth, having invested in European stocks. Despite a few more run-ins with the Federal government (including charges of embezzlement from his time as Secretary of the Interior), Thompson lived out the remainder of his life in Memphis and served on the boards at Sewanee and the University of Mississippi, both of which benefitted from his generous financial support.
PHOTO AND IMAGE SOURCES:
(1) Thompson #1: http://www.ncmarkers.com
(2) Thompson #2: http://www.fulkerson.org/thompson.html
(3) 47th Illinois: http://www.vahistorical.org/lg/cw_regiment.htm
(4) St. Albans Raid: http://www.vermontcivilwar150.com/HistoricMarkersNorthernVermont.html
(5)(6) Monument and death notice: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com
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