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THOMPSON, WILLIAM, militia officer, farmer, justice of the peace, miller, and politician; b. 17 June 1786 in New Brunswick, son of Cornelius Thompson and Rebecca —; m. by 1813 Jane Garden, and they had six sons and three daughters; d. 18 Jan. 1860 in Toronto Township, Upper Canada.

William Thompson was the son of Cornelius Thompson, lieutenant and adjutant of the 2nd battalion of New Jersey Volunteers, who settled near St Anne’s Point (Fredericton) in 1783. In 1808 Cornelius visited Upper Canada with Stephen Jarvis, whose cousin William* was the provincial secretary. Personally recommended for 1,200 acres of land by Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore, Cornelius returned with his family the following year, proceeding from York (Toronto) to Grantham Township on the Niagara peninsula.

All four of Cornelius Thompson’s sons served in the militia during the War of 1812. William, the eldest, was appointed captain of the 2nd York Militia on 16 April 1812 and fought that October in the battle of Queenston Heights. On 22 July 1814, while a member of a party of scouts under the command of Captain James FitzGibbon*, he was involved in a skirmish with American troops led by Colonel Joseph Willcocks* and was taken prisoner. William Hamilton Merritt*, a Grantham neighbour held in captivity with Thompson in Cheshire, Mass., described him as “a man of most exemplary morals, a mild, good temper, and possessed of more fortitude than generally falls to the lot of mankind.” That fortitude would be needed when Thompson was released after the end of the war and returned home. His father had died in August 1814, and the family had “sustained . . . very severe losses.” William received no compensation, however, and was forced to begin settlement a second time on “wild lands” in Toronto Township located by his father in 1812. In 1825 he himself was granted an additional 400 acres.

Despite the set-back in his fortunes as a result of the war and the responsibilities of a family, Thompson rapidly achieved a position of local prominence. In 1816 he became a justice of the peace and between then and 1838 received repeated commissions for the Gore and Home districts. In 1817 he and his brother Frederick erected a sawmill in nearby Trafalgar Township. William also served for many years as an officer of the West York militia. During the rebellion of 1837–38 he was on active service as colonel in command of his regiment in York County and at Chippawa. On 10 Nov. 1846, after the province-wide reorganization of the militia, he became lieutenant colonel of the 1st Battalion of York militia.

William Thompson also acted on occasion in a political role. In 1824 the inhabitants of the western part of the Home District unanimously nominated him to represent them in the assembly. He and Ely Playter were elected for the riding of York and Simcoe that July, replacing the incumbents William Warren Baldwin* and Peter Robinson*. Staunchly conservative, Thompson was a prominent member of the Church of England and a confidant of John Strachan* and other members of the “family compact.” He frequently took part in the business of the house, particularly in matters affecting rural Upper Canada. Thompson’s support of the government élite, especially on the contentious alien question [see Sir Peregrine Maitland], was to lose him the sympathy of many of his American-born rural constituents. Rumours circulated, only to be denied in Robert Stanton*’s U.E. Loyalist, that Thompson had “been attacked on his way home, in consequence of his vote on the Naturalization bill” in February 1827. The following year William Lyon Mackenzie*, who was running in Thompson’s riding, gave a prominent position to his opponent’s voting record in the Colonial Advocate’s first “Black List.” Thompson withdrew shortly before the opening of the polls in the general election of 1828 which brought Mackenzie into the assembly for the first time. Thereafter Thompson attempted to regain his seat several times, without success. He was recommended by Chief Justice John Beverley Robinson* for a place on an enlarged Legislative Council but was not appointed, and his political activity in later life was confined to local affairs. In 1844 he became a member of Toronto Township’s first council, on which he served regularly in the 1840s and 1850s, becoming township reeve in 1851.

Members of the Thompson family continued to take a strong interest in political affairs. His sons Alfred Andrew and Henry Horace were mayors of Penetanguishene, and a grandson Alfred Burke Thompson served in the provincial legislature and the federal parliament.

J. K. Johnson

PAC, RG 1, L3, 499: T14/86; 510: T leases, 1801–36/28–29; RG 8, I (C ser.), 1855: 55, 68; RG 9, I, B5, 1, 3–4, 6; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. PRO, WO 13/3716: 339. Stephen Jarvis, “Reminiscences of a loyalist,” ed. Stinson Jarvis, Canadian Magazine, 26 (November 1905–April 1906): 373, 450–57. U.C., House of Assembly, Journal, 1825–28. Colonial Advocate, May–July 1828. U.ELoyalist (York [Toronto]), 3 March 1827. Upper Canada Gazette, 12 Feb. 1824. Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology. The Canadian album: men of Canada; or success by example . . . , ed. William Cochrane and J. C. Hopkins (5v., Brantford, Ont., 1891–96), 5: 343–44. The Canadian directory of parliament, 1867–1967, ed. J. K. Johnson (Ottawa, 1968), 567. Centennial edition of a history of the electoral districts, legislatures and ministries of the province of Ontario, 1867–1968, comp. Roderick Lewis (Toronto, [1969]). Ernest Green, “A little study in loyalist genealogy: ‘Tomsons of Perthshire,’” OH, 31 (1936): 114–34. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). W. H. Smith, Canada: past, present and future, 1: 81 (2nd group). W. P. Bull, From Strachan to Owen: how the Church of England was planted and tended in British North America (Toronto, 1937). A. C. Osborne, “Old Penetanguishene: sketches of its pioneer, naval and military days,” Simcoe County pioneer papers (6 nos., Barrie, Ont., 1908–17; repr., 6 nos. in 1v., Belleville, Ont., 1974), no.6: 102–5.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

J. K. Johnson, “THOMPSON, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 24, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/thompson_william_8E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/thompson_william_8E.html
Author of Article: J. K. Johnson
Title of Article: THOMPSON, WILLIAM
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1985
Year of revision: 1985
Access Date: September 24, 2014