Caswell County Genealogy

Thompson, Jacob

Thompson, Jacob

Male 1810 - 1885  (74 years)

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  • Name Thompson, Jacob  [1, 2
    Born 15 May 1810  Leasburg, Caswell County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    Gender Male 
    Reference Number 3921 
    Died 24 Mar 1885  Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    Buried Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID I3871  Caswell County
    Last Modified 28 Jul 2022 

    Father Thompson, Nicholas,   b. 21 Mar 1781,   d. 28 Jul 1857  (Age 76 years) 
    Relationship natural 
    Mother Van Hook, Lucretia,   b. 22 Feb 1788,   d. 19 Mar 1858  (Age 70 years) 
    Relationship natural 
    Married 5 May 1804  Leasburg, Caswell County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Reference Number 29486 
    • The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 530-531 (Article No. 721, "The Thompson Family")
    Family ID F1272  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Jones, Catherine Ann,   b. 1822,   bur. Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Married 18 Dec 1838  [2
    Reference Number 32980 
    +1. Thompson, Caswell Macon,   b. 11 Nov 1839,   d. 1873  (Age 33 years)  [natural]
    Last Modified 28 Jul 2022 
    Family ID F2073  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 15 May 1810 - Leasburg, Caswell County, North Carolina Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - 24 Mar 1885 - Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsBuried - - Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 
    Pin Legend  : Address       : Location       : City/Town       : County/Shire       : State/Province       : Country       : Not Set

  • Photos

  • Notes 
    • Jacob Thompson (1810-1885)

      Jacob Thompson (1810-1885)

      Jacob Thompson (1810-1885)

      Jacob Thompson Grave Monument

      Jacob Thompson Grave Monument #2


      Jacob Thompson 24 MAR 1885 Washington Post

      Jacob Thompson's Home Place

      (for larger image, click on photograph)

      Text of the Above Mississippi Historical Marker

      Jacob Thompson "Home Place" Historical Marker, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 2003.

      The mansion ca. 1853 located on this site was burned by Union troops in 1864. Two original outbuildings are included in the present house, built in 1869. Jacob Thompson (1810-1885), a native of North Carolina, moved to Pontotoc, Mississippi, in 1835. A lawyer and Democrat, he was active in politics and helped organize circuit courts in a number of northern Mississippi counties. He married Catharine Ann Jones in 1838. In addition to his law practice in Pontotoc, Panola and Oxford, Thompson was a cotton grower, U.S. Congressman (1839-1857), University of Mississippi trustee (1844-1857) and U.S. Secretary of the Interior (1857-1861). He resigned his post the day before Mississippi seceded and served in the C.S. Army and in the state legislature. Thompson headed the controversial Confederate Commission to Canada 1864-1865. As such, he was falsely charged with a number of crimes, including a role in Lincoln's assassination. Living in exile abroad until 1869, he was granted amnesty and briefly returned to Oxford before moving to Memphis, where he was a businessman. He and his wife are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

      Jacob Thompson, cabinet officer, was born in Leasburg, Caswell County, North Carolina, 15 May 1810. He was graduated from the University of North Carolina (A.B., 1831); was a tutor at the University, 1831-33; was admitted to the bar, 1834, and began practice in Chickasaw County, Mississippi. He was a Democratic representative from Mississippi in the 26th-31st US Congresses, 1839-51, declining reelection. While in congress he served several times as chairman of the committee on Indian affairs; was influential in securing the repudiation of the state bonds, 1842; voted against the compromise of 1850, and in 1845 declined an appointment by Governor Albert G. Brown of Mississippi to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate caused by the resignation of Robert J. Walker. He was Secretary of the Interior in President Buchanan's cabinet from 5 March 1857 to 8 January 1861, when he resigned; was appointed a commissioner to promote the secession of North Carolina in December, 1860; served as Inspector-General of the Confederate Army, and was Governor of Mississippi, 1862-64, subsequently acting as aide-de-camp to General Beauregard. He was confidential agent [spy] of the Confederacy to Canada, 1864-65, where he unsuccessfully endeavored to carry out a scheme for releasing the prisoners at Camp Douglas, Chicago, and burning the city. He died in Memphis, Tennessee, 24 March 1885. Source: Biographies of Notable Americans, 1904 [database online]. Orem, UT:, Inc., 1997

      Thus, Jacob Thompson lived in North Carolina for the first twenty-five years of his life. Note that he named his only son Caswell.

      Portrait of Jacob Thompson.

      See Also: Pirate of the Great Lakes.

      Served twelve years as a US Congressman from Mississippi and was Secretary of the Interior in President James Buchanan's cabinet.

      Headquarters Post Camp Douglas
      Chicago, Ill., November 26, 1864.

      Brig. Gen. H. W. Wessells,
      Inspector and Commissary General of Prisoners, Washington, D.C.:

      General: Herewith I have the honor to transmit my report of the origin, process, and result thus far of the two rebel raids organized by Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi, in Canada, for the purpose of releasing the prisoners of war at Camp Douglas and co-operating with the Sons of Liberty to inaugurate revolution in the States of Illinois and Indiana.

      It can be proved by the prisoner John Mongham, mentioned in the report, and another witness equally intelligent, both of whom have been connected with him in these affairs, that Jacob Thompson organized these expeditions and furnished money to pay expenses. Mr. Thompson still remains in Canada plotting against the peace and safety of our Northern cities and communities and planning injurious enterprises against us of a character, and conducted in a manner unknown to the laws of war. The proof against him is positive and accessible. In view of these facts I respectfully suggest whether the Government of the United States has not a right to demand the person of Mr. Jacob Thompson from the Canadian authorities.

      I have the honor to be, general, your obedient servant.

      B. J. Sweet,
      Colonel Eighth Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps, Comdg. Post.

      Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies 1861-1865, Series I: Formal Reports. National Archives and Records Administration.


      The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 530-531 (Article No. 721, "The Thompson Family").

      The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 533 (Article No. 725, "Jacob Thompson").

      Mississippi, As a Province, Territory, and State: With Biographical Notices of Eminent Citizens, Volume I, J. F. H. Claiborne (1880).

      Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans: Biographies and Records of Many of the Families Who Have Attained Prominence in Tennessee, Honoroable William S. Speer, Compiler and Editor (1888; reprinted with new material 1978).

      Thompson, Jacob, a Representative from Mississippi; born in Leasburg, Caswell County, N.C., May 15, 1810; attended the public schools and Bingham Academy in Orange County; was graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1831; member of the faculty of the University of North Carolina in 1831 and 1832; studied law; was admitted to the bar in 1834 and commenced practice in Pontotoc, Miss., in 1835; elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-sixth and to the five succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1839-March 3, 1851); unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1850 to the Thirty-second Congress; declined an appointment to the United States Senate tendered by Governor Brown in 1845; appointed Secretary of the Interior in the Cabinet of President Buchanan and served from March 6, 1857, to January 8, 1861, when he resigned; served as inspector general in the Confederate Army during the Civil War; confidential agent of the Confederacy to Canada in 1864 and 1865; traveled throughout Europe in 1866 and 1867; settled in Memphis, Tenn., in 1868 and managed the affairs of his extensive holdings; died in Memphis, Tenn., March 24, 1885; interment in Elmwood Cemetery.

      Source: U.S. Congress, Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1949 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1950), p.1913.

      Line of Descent:
      Guillaume Vigne and Adrienne Cuvellier
      Rachel Vigne and Cornelius Van Tienhoven
      Lucas Van Tienhoven and Tryntje Bording
      Sara Van Tienhoven and Jacob Balck
      Katherine Balck and Aaron Van Hook (a Fulkerson forebear)
      David Van Hook and Lucy Bumpass
      Jacob Van Hook, Sr. and Nancy Jones
      Lucretia Van Hook and Nicholas Thompson
      Jacob Thompson
      Source: Jacob Thompson Ancestry

      My great grandfather, Lt. James Robb Griffin, 1st Reg. Louisiana Cavalry CSA, Avoyelles Parrish, Lousiana, fought from 1861 until taken prisoner in Kentucky, 1 August 1863. He was held in Johnston Island prison until June 1, 1865. Years later he wrote five articles for a Houston newspaper. I have three of the articles, which were used in his wife's CSA pension application. One was about Jacob Thompson, and the wild furor stirred up by the rumor that Jacob Thompson had organized a force, with ships, to invade the island and release the Confederate officers. Quite a few military and civilian US forces were pinned down because of their fear of Thompson. After the assination of President Lincoln, they arrested and imprisoned men without any connection to the murder, other that they were prominant. The father of James Robb Griffin, William Franklyn Griffin, Lt.Gov/Gen. CSA's, Lousiana, was connected to the Mississippi Griffins, and the line of James K. Lea of Caswell County and his second wife, Margaret Delphy Sargent, who was sister of Agnes Ware Sargent, through his daughter's (Daisy Mable Griffin), marriage to the son of Josiah Asbury Stanfield, John Lawson Stanfield of Leasburg. Source: Caswell County History and Genealogy Yahoo Group (Message #149, 19 March 2008: Jacob Thompson (1810-1885) by Betty Fitzgerald []).

      The following is based upon local Caswell County knowledge and the session minutes and baptismal records of the Milton Presbyterian Church (Caswell County, North Carolina):

      The father of Jacob Thompson (1810-1885), Nicholas Thompson (1781-1857), wanted Jacob to be a Presbyterian minister. Accordingly, Jacob joined the Milton Presbyterian Church July 10, 1831, and "Dr. Caldwell baptized his pupil." Presumably, this was Dr. David Caldwell, President of the University of North Carolina. Later, when Jacob Thompson moved to Mississippi, the following appears in the Milton Presbyterian Church session minutes:

      "6/8/1835 Letter from Mr. J. Thomson [Jacob Thompson] requesting letter of dismission to where he might settle in Alabama."

      The birth date and the names of the parents in the Milton Presbyterian Church baptismal records provide evidence that this is the Jacob Thompson of Leasburg, Caswell County, North Carolina, who became Secretary of the Interior in President Buchanan’s cabinet. Jacob Thompson Bradsher (1893-1983), a member and elder of the Milton Presbyterian Church, was named for a nephew of Jacob Thompson. The nephew, Dr. Jacob A. Thompson, M.D., had his practice in Leasburg, Caswell County, North Carolina. The grandmother of Jacob Thompson Bradsher, Katherine Jones Thompson, was the sister of Dr. Jacob A. Thompson, M.D.

      Jacob Thompson (American National Biography)
      Modern Scholarship

      Thompson began the most controversial part of his Confederate career in the spring of 1864. He and Clement Claiborne Clay, a former U.S. Senator from Alabama, were sent by Davis as special Confederate agents to Canada. The purpose of the mission, as explained by Confederate secretary of state Judah P. Benjamin, was to provoke a "disruption between the Eastern and Western States in the approaching election at the North." Supplied with a war chest of $300,000, Thompson was to do all in his power to demoralize the Union home front. The most grandiose of his efforts aimed at liberating Confederate soldiers from Union prison camps around the Great Lakes and instigating an uprising of disaffected Democrats in the Midwest that would culminate in the creation of a separate northwestern Confederacy. Little came of these…. Much of his money, as he detailed in a report of 3 December 1864, was used to hire arsonists to destroy property in northern cities. He explained that his goal was "to burn whenever it is practicable, and thus make the men of property feel their insecurity and tire them out with the war." The most spectacular example of this strategy occurred on 25 November 1864, when hired Confederate agents set fires at several hotels and buildings in New York City. The fires were extinguished with relatively little damage, but Thompson by now was a target of northern vengeance. He was blamed, wrongfully according to his account, for ordering the Confederate raid on St. Albans, Vermont…

      William L. Barney, "Thompson, Jacob," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

      Novelist William Faulkner used Jacob Thompson as the basis of a character, Jason Compson, in The Sound and the Fury (1929).

      The late Jacob Thompson, out of respect to whose memory the interior department was closed yesterday, was not of Kentucky, as reported by the Associated Press, but of Mississippi. He was best known to the country as secretary of the interior under President Buchanan. Born in Caswell County, North Carolina, May 15, 1810, he was admitted to the bar in 1834, and settled in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, in 1835. He became a member of Congress in 1839, and remained such till 1851. As chairman of the committee on Indian affairs he showed great industry and application, and, with other representatives of his State, opposed the compromise measures of 1851. His secretaryship of the interior he resigned January 7, 1861,in consequence of the order to reinforce Fort Sumter. He was governor of Mississippi 1862-1864, and subsequently aide-de-camp to General Beauregard, inspector-general for the department of Mississippi and went abroad on a sort of financial and diplomatic mission for the Confederate government.

      Source: The Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas), 27 March 1885.

      Jacob Thompson
      ID: G-71
      Location: US 158 at Leasburg
      County: Caswell
      Original Date Cast: 1959-P
      Text: JACOB THOMPSON Secretary of Interior, 1857-1861, Confederate secret agent in Canada, U.S. Representative from Mississippi. Birthplace stands 100 yds. southeast.


      Jacob Thompson played a little remembered role in the Civil War. Appointed a Confederate ambassador to Canada, he operated a spy network and helped orchestrate several failed schemes to attack the United States from across the Great Lakes.

      The son of Nicholas and Lucretia Van Hook Thompson, he was born on May 15, 1810, in Leasburg. In 1831 he graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina and subsequently read law with Judge John M. Dick of Greensboro. Admitted to the bar in 1835, Thompson decided to settle with his brother, Dr. James Young Thompson, in Pontotoc, Mississippi. He later moved to Oxford, Mississippi, and married Catherine Jones.

      In 1837, Thompson failed in a bid for attorney general of Mississippi, but was elected to the United States Congress, where he served as chairman of the Public Lands and Indian Affairs committees from March 4, 1839, until March 3, 1851. In 1857 President James Buchanan appointed Thompson the Secretary of the Interior, a post he held until 1861 when he resigned upon learning that the Star of the West was sent to Fort Sumter.

      Thompson entered the Confederate army, and although never formally a member of any regiment, he accepted a commission as a lieutenant colonel and operated as an aide-de-camp, first to Gen. Pierre Beauregard at the Battle of Shiloh and then as inspector general for Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton during the Vicksburg Campaign. He also became the inspiration for one Confederate unit, Company K, 19th Mississippi Infantry, known as the "Jake Thompson Guards."

      Elected to the Mississippi legislature in 1863, he was sent the following year to Canada by the Confederate government as a secret agent. He cooperated with the "Sons of Liberty," a organization of Copperheads in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois sympathetic to the South in an effort to release Confederate prisoners held near the Great Lakes. Thompson also encouraged a plan to burn several northern cities including New York. He was charged with complicity in Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865, and after the war lived in Canada and Europe.

      Thompson returned to the south in 1868, settling near Memphis, Tennessee. In 1876 he was sued for sums stolen from the Indian funds in the Department of the Interior during his administration but a Congressional committee found him innocent. He died at his home in Tennessee in 1885. Novelist William Faulkner used Thompson for the basis of a character, Jason Compson, in The Sound and the Fury.


      J. F. H. Claiborne, Mississippi as a Province, Territory, and State, I (1880)

      P. G. Auchampaugh, James Buchanan and His Cabinet (1926)

      J. F. Bivins, "Life and Character of Jacob Thompson," Publications of the Historical Society of Trinity College, 2nd series (1898)

      William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)

      (Roxboro, N.C.) Courier-Times, November 19, 1964

      William A. Tidwell, April 1965: Confederate Covert Action in the American Civil War (1995)

      1860 United States Federal Census
      Name: Jacob Thompson
      Age in 1860: 50
      Birth Year: abt 1810
      Birthplace: North Carolina
      Home in 1860: Lafayette, Mississippi
      Gender: Male
      Post Office: Paris
      Household Members: Name Age
      Jacob Thompson 50
      Catherine Thompson 40
      Susan Kozs 17
      Lucy Jones 12
      William Jones 9

      1880 United States Federal Census
      Name: Jacob Thompson
      Home in 1880: Memphis, Shelby, Tennessee
      Age: 69
      Estimated Birth Year: abt 1811
      Birthplace: North Carolina
      Relation to Head of Household: Self (Head)
      Spouse's Name: Mrs. Jacob Thompson
      Father's birthplace: North Carolina
      Mother's birthplace: North Carolina
      Occupation: Retired Lawyer
      Marital Status: Married
      Race: White
      Gender: Male
      Household Members: Name Age
      Jacob Thompson 69
      Mrs. Jacob Thompson 57
      Laura Poindexter 25
      Lou Poindexter 6

      U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925
      Name: Jacob Thompson
      Birth Date: 10 May 1810
      Birth Place: North Carolina
      Age: 71
      Passport Issue Date: 6 Jun 1881
      Passport Includes a Photo:

  • Sources 
    1. Details: The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 541-542 (Article #738 "The Van Hook Family" by Bernard C. Calvert).

    2. Details: Jacob Thompson Biography.