News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 5, 2014

Historical treasure: The remarkable Col. Richard W. Thompson

Cory Burger
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — “Colonel Thompson is a man of National as well as State fame.”  

These words, written by Usher F. Linder and Joseph Gillespie in their book, “Reminiscences of the Early Bench and Bar of Illinois,” capture the essence of such a remarkable man.

Born in Culpepper County, Va., on June 9, 1809, his father’s marriage into George Washington’s family allowed Col. Richard W. Thompson to see Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and the Marquis de Lafayette. But more important, it exposed Thompson to the importance and virtues of politics, both on a state and national level. Moving to Louisville, Ky., and then to Lawrence County, Ind., in 1831, Thompson taught school while studying law in the evenings and was admitted to the bar in 1834 where he began practicing in Bedford, Ind.

Thompson was a lifelong Whig, except for a brief period when he joined the Know Nothing party.

Serving both state and federal legislatures, Thompson began his political career as a State House of Representative between 1834-1836 and served in the State Senate in 1836-1838.

It was during this time that he briefly served as president pro tempore. After being elected to the 27th Congress, Thompson moved to Terre Haute in 1843. It was in our city where he would spend the rest of his life and make a name for himself.

Though he was not a native, Col. Richard W. Thompson would serve his adopted community in a number of capacities both at a local and national level. Nationally, Thompson would serve as an elected Congressman between 1847-1849. He was appointed collector of internal revenue by President Lincoln between 1861-1865, a judge of the fifth Indiana circuit court, and, among other positions, appointed Secretary of the Navy in the Cabinet of President Hayes.

Locally, Thompson was the city attorney in 1846, and being a strong advocate for education, he would campaign for tax-supported public schools as he served as president of the board of Terre Haute Female College in 1859, and would later serve as a trustee for Indiana State Normal. Col.

Thompson became a beloved figure in the local community as evidenced by the Terre Haute Gazette on Feb. 12 which relayed that all the schools in the Terre Haute district were dismissed for the entire day to view his funeral procession.

A bust of Col. Richard W. Thompson may be seen on the mantle in the Military Room at the Vigo County Historical Museum at 1411 S. Sixth St.

Historical Treasure

• The Vigo County Historical Society’s museum is at 1411 S. Sixth St. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.