Memorial Papers . .
of the Society . . .
of Colonial Wars in
District of Columbia
No. 5, 1910 ....
Geographer, U. S. Geological Survey; born in Blackstone, Mass.,
March 21, 1839 ; elected member of the Society of Colonial Wars,
June 5, 1893; elected Historian, December 19, 1900; died in
Washington, D. C., June 8, 1909.
WE have gathered tonight to do homage to
the memory of one who was a loyal
member of the Society of Colonial Wars
in the District of Columbia. With respect and
affection let us briefly recall the career of him who
ever testified by his life to a firm belief that " rev
erence for the church, devotion to country, and
pride of ancestry " should be the guiding principles
of every true and honorable American.
Gilbert Thompson was born in Blackstone, Mas
sachusetts, on March 21, 1839. On his father s
side, he was of English ancestry, but as the rec
ords of our Society fail to mention any of his
paternal ancestors beyond his own father, we may
safely assume that their ways were "ways of
peace." Later research, however, has shown his
connection with David Thompson who was Secre
tary to Sir Ferdinando Gorges of the Plymouth
Colony and afterward first "Lord-Proprietary of
Maine." During the absence of Gorges in Eng
land, David Thompson acted in his place.
4 GILBERT THOMPSON.
His mother s family, from which his given name
was derived, came to New England in 1632 and
settled in Massachusetts. It has always been
claimed that this branch of the Gilbert family
included among its sons, Sir Humphrey Gilbert,
half-brother to Sir Walter Raleigh and famous for
his association with the Virginia colony. It was
through this family that Major Thompson based
his descent from John Alden and his wife Priscilla,
William Bradford, William Mullins, and Myles
Standish, who came over in the Mayflower in 1620
to find " freedom to worship God."
His colonial ancestors proved their faith by
duty rendered to the State, for in addition to these
Pilgrim ancestors, he placed on record in the
archives of our Society his descent from Samuel
Nash, also of the Plymouth Colony, and from
Josiah Keith of Easton, Massachusetts, both of
whom did valiant service in the early French and
Not to mention his ancestors who served in the
War of the Revolution would be a cruel injustice
to our late member. His great-grandfather, Na
thaniel Gilbert, marched with the minute men of
Easton, Massachusetts, on the alarm of Lexington
and later served with the colonial militia in Rhode
Island. Of special interest, however, is his great-
grandmother, Deborah Sampson, who served as a
GILBERT THOMPSON. 5
private under the name of Robert Shurtleff. It is
said that " she was at the capture of Cornwallis,
was wounded at Tarry town, and now receives a
pension from the United States." Her interesting
career is fully described in The Female Review,
under the title of "Memoir of an American Young
Lady," "whose life and character are peculiarly
distinguished, being a continental soldier, for nearly
three years, in the late American war, during
which time she performed the duties of every
department, into which she was called with punc
tual exactness, fidelity, and honor, and preserved
her chastity inviolate by the most artful conceal
ment of her sex."
The military records of his ancestors would not
be complete if I did not add that his grandfather,
Judson Gilbert, served in the artillery with the
contingent from Massachusetts during the War of
1812, and his father, William Venner Thompson,
participated in the suppression of the Dorr Rebel
lion in Rhode Island in 1 842. It was Major Thomp
son s proud boast that representatives from every
generation of his family had been under arms
for the defense of either colony, state, or country
from the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620 to the
War with Spain in 1898.
Passing to his own career, it may be said that
his earlier years were spent in the family home in
6 GILBERT THOMPSON.
Blackstone, but as he grew to boyhood, he accom
panied his parents to one of those interesting New
England communities, established under the leader
ship of Adin Ballou, at Hopedale, Massachusetts,
where he remained until manhood, and where he
received the usual academic training. A fondness
for books led him to determine to become an
editor, and, as was the custom in those days, he
learned the printer s art, setting type at the case
for a time in the office of the publications of the
The sentiment of the Hopedale community was
strongly abolitionist and notwithstanding the fact
that one of the leading tenents advocated by its
founder was that of non-resistance, it was but nat
ural when the call for soldiers came in those dark
days at the beginning of the Civil War that young
Thompson promptly offered his services for the
preservation of the Union.
The splendid fighting blood of his ancestors
still coursed strongly in his veins and he was true
to the old motto of the Somersetshire branch of the
Gilbert family, "I would rather die than change."
He was given duty with the Battalion of Engi
neers and for three years served his country faith
fully at the front with that branch of the army.
During 1864 he was assigned as assistant engineer
to service at headquarters of the Army of the
GILBERT THOMPSON. 7
Potomac and then, after the surrender of General
Lee, he was mustered out. A commission in the
regular army was offered to him but he wisely
declined preferment in the military service and de
termined to devote his talents to the more con
genial occupations of peace.
Of his experiences in the army he has left
abundant record which as a history of the Engi
neer Troops is soon to be issued in the series of
" Occasional Papers of the Engineer School U. S.
Army." And from his diaries it is probable that a
further contribution may be made to the literature
of the Civil War which will give new and interest
ing details in regard to the special line of work in
which he was engaged and at the same time add
valuable information concerning the high motives
that actuated many of the young men of that time
to offer their services to their country.
At the close of the Civil War Thompson settled
in Washington where his knowledge of topography
combined with the experience gained in military
service was promptly taken advantage of by the
War Department and he was employed to make
surveys and maps of the battlefields of Virginia
and Maryland. On the completion of this work
his superior training in topography, in engineering,
and in geography, at once led to his connection
with the national geological and exploring expedi-
8 GILBERT THOMPSON.
tions then active in studying the natural resources
of the western territories. His knowledge of men
and his ability to control them soon marked his
fitness as a leader, and he was given charge of
parties in the field.
Attention has recently been called by a popular
magazine* to the fact that so long ago as 1882
Major Thompson having under him a number of
men "whose character appeared dubious, and being
at a distance from camp, conceived the idea of
issuing his pay orders with his own finger print on
them as a check upon possible dishonesty. His
method was identical with the method that would
be used in a bank to-day." The practice that he
followed was to write the amount of the order
over the finger print. Thus he anticipated a
method that is now recognized as the only possible
means of positively identifying an individual.
He continued until his death in the service of
the national surveys, attaining the rank of Geog
rapher in the United States Geological Survey.
As the years came and went his time was occupied
in field work during the summers and in the office
in Washington during the winters, working up the
information gained. Although as he grew older,
the western trips were gradually relinquished to
younger men. It was during this period of explo-
*Century Magazine, October, 1909, page 920.
GILBERT THOMPSON. 9
ration that he climbed Mount Shasta, being the first
white man to take pack animals to its summit, a
feat before believed to be impossible. As a maker
of maps his skill was superior, and in that duty he
was active to the end. His drawing was the admi
ration and despair of younger men; it was said
that he drew so that you could see the country
portrayed. His name printed on a map is a cer
tificate of its correctness and is so recognized
wherever the maps of the U. S. Geological Survey
In 1889, when the National Guard of the Dis
trict of Columbia was reorganized under General
Albert A. Ordway, a corps of engineers was pro
vided for and Thompson was selected to organize
the corps, the command of which was given to him.
Although past the age of life when men ordinarily
display an interest in volunteer military service, he
brought to his work of organization the energy
and enthusiasm which was characteristic of him,
and in a short time completed its formation, draw
ing his men from the technical bureaus of the
Government. He was so successful in attracting
men of scientific training to the corps that in a short
time it was recruited to more than three times
its authorized strength and it was finally mustered
into the service as a four-company battalion, of
which he was commissioned Major. At the out-
io GILBERT THOMPSON.
break of the War with Spain, the engineer corps
of the District was transferred to the Second In
fantry, and at that time, he was discharged from
the service. Anxious to serve his country, how
ever, he made application for a commission as an
engineer officer, and took and passed the exami
nation for it.
When the Society of the Colonial Wars was
organized in the District of Columbia, Major
Thompson early became a member and was num
ber fifteen on the list of membership. Our Society
appealed strongly to his " pride of ancestry " for
his interest in his forbears had already led him
into the fascinating study of genealogy and he had
collected manuscript data on the Gilbert and the
Sampson lines, and to this, later, he added similar
information in regard to the Thompson family.
For many years he was connected with the Com
mittee on Historical Documents of which he was
for a time chairman. His success in that connec
tion led to his election in 1900 to the office of His
torian, a place which he then filled continuously
until his death, holding the office longer than any
of his predecessors. The first of the series of
"Historical Papers" issued by the Society, entitled
"The Colonial Boundaries of Virginia and Mary
land" was written by him. This paper, accom
panied by a map drawn by his own hand, set the
GILBERT THOMPSON. n
pace for the high standard of similar papers that
have since been published by us, and I may add
that it received well-merited recognition, not only
from our sister organizations, but also from his
torical societies throughout the country; and the
small edition was soon exhausted. He further en
riched this same series of Historical Papers by a
communication on " Historical Military Powder
Horns," the fruit of many years of patient study
of the subject. It was illustrated with eleven full-
page plates of powder horns, the pen work of
which was also his. Likewise he is entitled to
credit for the fourth paper of the series entitled
" Historical Address at the Dedication of the Brad-
dock Boulder," for it was compiled and carried
through the press by him.
Of his devotion to the interests of our Society
we have a conspicuous illustration in the loving
care with which he inaugurated the legislation and
secured the making of the two beautiful flags of
which we are so justly proud. The one which is
the special flag of our District of Columbia Society
was only obtained after months of careful study as
to the best materials with which it could be made
and few of us who were present on the occasion
when it first greeted us can ever forget his enthu
siasm as he displayed it, explaining with the utmost
care every element of its manufacture. Later the
12 GILBERT THOMPSON.
flag of our Country the stars and stripes became
ours in consequence of his persistent efforts. His
devotion to our flags manifested itself whenever
they were used. At the church services he was
our standard bearer and proudly preceded the
procession, holding aloft the precious emblem.
Another conspicuous evidence of his devotion
to the interests of our Society that is worthy of
record may be mentioned: I refer to the painstak
ing efforts he ever manifested to save any frag
ment of information that he could acquire concern
ing the route followed by General Braddock in
1755 on his way toward Frederick, after leaving
Georgetown. As the fragments came to him they
were woven into permanent knowledge and pre
served for all time by insertion in the proper Atlas
sheets of the U. S. Geological Survey. Had Ma
jor Thompson been spared longer to us, the entire
route would have been presented to the Society in
one of those perfect papers which it was his great
pleasure to prepare for us. As it is, I have been
fortunate, through the courtesy of Mr. H. S. Lewis,
one of his colleagues, to secure a map that shows
such portions of the route as he had been able to
locate. In recent years the route followed from
Frederick to Fort Duquesne has been critically
examined by Mr. John K. Laycock who piloted a
a number of college students over the entire dis-
i 4 GILBERT THOMPSON.
tance on foot It has resulted in marking the chief
points on the historic road followed by Braddock,
and it was Major Thompson s ambition that our
Society should continue the work by taking up
that portion of the route that extends from the
District toward Frederick, the beginning of which
this Society so appropriately marked a few years
ago by the boulder which was placed in the Cathe
In addition to his membership in the Society of
Colonial Wars in the District of Columbia, he was
a charter member of the Society of the Sons of
the American Revolution in the District of Colum
bia and of the Society of the War of 1812, serving
the last-named with zeal and fidelity as its Regis
trar up to the time of his death. By virtue of his
own services he was a member of the Grand Army
of the Republic and of the Society of the Army of
the Potomac. He was one of the incorporators of
the National Geographic Society, and was a mem
ber of the Society of the Oldest Inhabitants in the
District of Columbia.
It is not easy to write either in detail or at length
of Major Thompson s personal character; but a
sympathy and freshness of enthusiasm and a re
markable interest in everything that pertained to
his work were striking characteristics. He found
recreation in music and was a sympathetic per-
GILBERT THOMPSON. 15
former on the violin, but with that remarkable
persistence of his, he studied that wonderful instru
ment in many ways. The construction of the
violin itself, the relation of the f-holes to the
volume of sound, the effect of different varnishes
upon the quality of tone, were all subjects to which
he gave much time and thought. Nor was it alone
this phase of art which interested him ; for his skill
with his pen, which has already been alluded to,
led to facility in handling the brush, as many water-
colors now preserved by his family, testify. Also
he was particularly clever in that branch of art
called pyrography. With a hot instrument he
burnt into wood strong and picturesque sketches
which were much sought after by those who appre
ciated that kind of work.
Religion was his consolation, and he was a reg
ular attendant at the services of the Protestant
Episcopal Church, being for many years a com
municant of St. Andrew s, but more recently of
St. Michael and All Angels , where his religious
activities found recognition by an election to the
vestry, a place which he held at the time of his
His last illness was very brief, and his sufferings
slight; for the end came quickly. Happy in his
family, rich with appreciation from his colleagues,
and with his life s work well done, he passed into
16 GILBERT THOMPSON.
the hereafter, and now he is at rest at Arlington,
surrounded by the many comrades, who, like him
self, were ever ready to yield their lives to pre
serve their country s honor.
Gilbert Thompson was a true and honorable
American gentleman, and of a type which we may
all do well to emulate.
After lifes fitful fever, he sleeps well
"He wears a truer crown
Than any wreath that man can weave him."
Do not the words from Kipling s Recessional
seem to apply with special fitness to him?
The tumult and the shouting dies
The captains and the kings depart
Still stands Thine ancient Sacrifice,
"An humble and a contrite heart"
LIST OF PUBLICATIONS OF THE
SOCIETY OF COLONIAL WARS IN THE DISTRICT OF
COLUMBIA, ORGANIZED MAY 20, 1893.
Register of the Society. 1897. With portrait of Richard Worsam
Meade, Rear-Admiral, U.S.N. pp. 124.
Register of the Society. 1904. With frontispiece of badge of
the Society of Colonial Wars, portrait of Francis Asbury Roe, Rear-
Admiral, U.S.N., First Governor of the Society, and other officers.
Twenty-two portraits, pp. 214.
No. i. George Brown Goode. By A. Howard Clark. With
portrait, pp. 8. 1896.
No. 2. Charles Frederick Tiffany Beale. By Marcus Benjamin.
With portrait, pp. 13. 1902.
No. 3. William Herman Wilhelm, Captain, U.S.A. By Ethan
Allen Weaver. With portrait, pp. 9. 1902.
No. 4. Francis Asbury Roe, Rear-Admiral, U.S.N. By Marcus
Benjamin. With portrait and eight other illustrations, pp. 35. 1903.
No. 5. Gilbert Thompson. By Marcus Benjamin. With portrait,
pp. 18. 1910.
No. i. The Colonial Boundaries of Virginia and Maryland. By
Gilbert Thompson. W T ith map. pp. 8. 1899.
No. 2. An American Sea Captain of Colonial Times. By Francis
Asbury Roe, Rear-Admiral, U.S.N. pp. u. 1900.
No. 3. Historical Military Powder-horns. By Gilbert Thompson.
With eleven illustrations, pp. 16. 1901.
No. 4. Historical Address at Dedication of the Braddock Boulder,
Nov. 10, 1907. By Marcus Benjamin. With four illustrations, pp.
1 6. 1908.
No. 5. Colonel Joseph Belt. By Caleb Clarke Magruder, Jr.
With Patent and illustration of "Chevy Chase " manor-house, pp.
Address of Welcome, by his Excellency, Governor Francis A.
Roe, U.S.N., at first dinner of the Society, December 19, 1893. pp. 8.
Preliminary draft of a Constitution, printed upon half-sheets and
sent to members for suggestions, pp. 18. November 1894.
The preceding was adopted and printed in February, 1895. A
circular of four pages, with preamble and qualifications for member
ship, was printed, 1895 ; also, a similar circular, giving list of mem
bers, was printed January, 1896.
A list of membership is published annually as a circular, pp. 4.
The Year Book and Register of the Society, 1897, contains the
Constitution and By-Laws as amended to that aate.
Preliminary draft of Constitution, printed and sent to members
for suggestions. With cover, pp. 17. April, 1902.
The preceding was adopted without change, May 13, 1902, and
printed, with embossed seal of the Society on the cover, pp. 16.
First Service, Sunday, February 12, 1905. St. John s Church,
Georgetown, D. C. (With embossed seal.) pp. 12.
Second Annual Service, Sunday, February 18, 1906. St. John s
Church, Washington. (With embossed seal.) pp. 12.
Third Annual Service, Sunday, February 17, 1907. Epiphany
Church, Washington. (Without seal.) pp. 12.
Dedication service, Sunday, November 10, 1907. Cathedral
Grounds, D. C. One illustration, of the Braddock tablet and
boulder, pp. 12.
Fourth Annual Church Service, Sunday, April 26, 1908. Christ
Church, Georgetown, D. C. (Without seal.) pp. 8.
Fifth Annual Church Service, Sunday, May 2, 1909. St. John s
Church, Washington. (Without seal.) pp. 9.
Sixth Annual Church Service, Sunday, May 8, 1910. St. John s
Church, Washington. (Without seal.) pp. 9.
Dedication Service, Sunday, October 30, 1910. Colonel Ninian
Beall memorial. St. John s Church, Georgetown, D. C. W T ith
illustration of tablet and boulder, pp. 10.
CALEB CLARKE MAGRUDER, Jr.,
December 15, 1910.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LIBRARY