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The William and Marjorie Lewis Collection



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Summary Information

University of Mississippi Libraries
William and Marjorie Lewis Collection
1.0 Linear feet, 3 boxes
Collection contains correspondence, genealogical research, news clippings, photographs, and legal documents related to the life and career of Jacob Thompson and the effect he had on Oxford and the State of Mississippi. Items were created 1828-1908.

Preferred Citation

William and Marjorie Lewis Collection (MUM00266). The Department of Archives and Special Collections, J.D. Williams Library, The University of Mississippi.

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Historical Note

Jacob Thompson was born in Leasburg, North Carolina on May 15, 1810, but it was in Mississippi that he built his fortune and came to national political prominence. Typical of the times, Thompson moved from North Carolina to northern Mississippi in the mid- 1830's where he became a wealthy attorney, landowner and slaveholder. He served as a Mississippi congressman for twelve years, served as Buchanan's Secretary of the Interior, resigned in January 1861 to serve in the Confederate military, and was appointed by Jefferson Davis to supervise covert activities based out of Canada.

His parents, Nicholas Thompson and Lucretia Van Hook Thompson, were wealthy as a result of their successful farming and tanning business. Though not well-educated nor overtly devout, Nicholas Thompson was generous in educating all of his sons at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and had hopes that his son Jacob would become a Presbyterian minister. The younger Thompson graduated with honors, worked briefly as a tutor at the university, dissuaded his father of any plans for the ministry, and read for the law in Judge Dick's office in Greensboro. After being admitted to the bar in North Carolina, Jacob set out for the Natchez area of Mississippi to seek his fortune. Family lore has it that he literally ran into his brother James Young Thompson, a physician, on the road while en route near Pontotoc, Mississippi. His brother urged him to go no further than Pontotoc, as the town was the focal point of land claims emerging from the Chickasaw Cession, and the resulting Indian removal and white settlement was certain to prove lucrative for any able attorney. Jacob indeed proved more than able, amassed considerable fortunes, eventually moved to Oxford, and married Catherine Jones, the eldest daughter of Lafayette County's wealthiest planter, Peyton Jones.

As a public minded individual, Thompson contributed a great deal to Oxford and to the establishment of the new university there. To the Episcopal church of St. Peter's, Thompson donated the land for the cemetery, thereby giving the young church an income from the sale of individual lots (Oldham, "Life of Jacob Thompson", 63). Thompson's influence was also felt at the fledging University of Mississippi. He served on the original board of trustees, and spoke at the opening of the University in 1848 (Sansing, The University of Mississippi: a Sesquicentennial History, 31, 53). Thompson also campaigned for the inclusion of a school of law at the University (Sansing, 69). He donated money and part of his own book collection to establish a library at the University (Sansing, 92). His service in public office and the success of his law practice and business also contributed a great deal to the area's growth and prosperity.

Jacob Thompson built his plantation estate in the early 1840's in Oxford. The main home reportedly had twenty rooms and was constructed on a grand scale (The Heritage of Lafayette County, Mississippi, 42). Federal troops burned the main home on August 22, 1864 (Sobotka, A History of Lafayette County, Mississippi, 40). Jacob later rebuilt the home on a smaller scale and it is now occupied by Dr. and Mrs. M.B. Howorth, Jr. (The Heritage of Lafayette County, Mississippi, 42).

The gatekeeper's lodge, originally inhabited by Jacob Thompson's Scottish lodge keeper McDonald, was a part of the original Thompson estate completed around 1843 (Oldham, 54). The lodge was not destroyed during the burning of the main home. Dorothy Oldham reported that upon his return to the ruins, Jacob Thompson could not bring himself to evict Mr. McDonald from the lodge and chose instead to live in one of the outbuildings (Oldham, 112). The lodge has been restored by the Lamar Family and remains near the original site of the Thompson plantation.

Thompson first emerged in the public arena as a fierce detractor of banking bonds, meant to insure Mississippi's fledgling banking system. Thompson was ardent in his belief that the banks would go bankrupt, but the public was in love with the prospect of easily available cash. Thompson was remembered for his eloquent speeches and for proving to be right. Thompson was elected to Congress in 1839 as a Democrat, and served continuously until 1851. During his Congressional career, he chaired the committee on public lands, as well as Indian affairs.

After firmly supporting Buchanan in the 1856 election, Buchanan appointed Thompson to the post of Secretary of the Interior. Thompson is regarded as having greatly raised the visibility and efficiency of the department. Buchanan was a lifelong bachelor, and made a surrogate family of his favorite cabinet members, of whom Thompson and Howell Cobb of Georgia were pre-eminent. Kate Thompson was considered a great beauty who throve on the Washington social life, and was likewise a particular favorite of Buchanan. Buchanan knew that Thompson was a staunch proponent of the right to own slaves, and that should war erupt, Thompson would feel his first loyalty was to his adopted home state of Mississippi. Both men felt that until the war became inevitable, there was no conflict of interest in Thompson continuing with his Cabinet duties. This extended so far as for Buchanan to sanction a trip Thompson made to North Carolina as part of a Mississippi-Alabama commission sent, if not to shore up overtly secessionist fervor, certainly to fuel a Southern alliance in support of slaveholding. This was the first of three scandals in Thompson's Cabinet career. The most widely reported is the allegation that he embezzled $870,000 from Indian Affairs coffers. He was officially cleared by a Congressional panel not known for Democratic sympathies, but the allegation was to tarnish his reputation in the North for the rest of his life. The allegation was re-introduced after the war, with the amount in question having been raised to $2,000,000, as part of a quid pro quo for proposed charges being brought against former Secretary of War Belknap. Charges were never officially brought against either man, but it again brought the embezzlement issue to the public's attention. The last controversy during his tenure with Buchanan involved plans to refortify Fort Sumter. Differing versions of what transpired exist, but Thompson's correspondence with Buchanan have him resigning over Buchanan and Cabinet rival Joseph Holt deliberately keeping him in the dark about the Star of the West being sent to Sumter, after Thompson gave his word to Southern friends that no supplies or troops had been sent. Buchanan's letters in response state that Thompson was present at meetings where this was discussed, and should have known what was happening. Despite the resignation, Buchanan and -Thompson maintained a warm personal friendship all their lives. The other version of events is that Thompson did indeed know that the Star of the West was being sent and tipped off his Southern friends that fortifications were coming. Regardless of the reason or the chronology of prior events, Thompson resigned his post on January 6, 1861.

The Thompsons returned to Oxford, and Thompson served in both military and legislative capacities for the Confederacy, including a stint as Beauregard's aide-de-camp at Shiloh. In 1864, Davis tapped Thompson to lead covert activities mission to Canada, with the hopes of organizing Northern opponents to the war, as well as freeing Confederate prisoners of war. The mission's activities were largely unsuccessful, and in 1865 Thompson was relieved of his post due to his identity having become known. Thompson and his wife fled to Europe amid accusations of involvement in Lincoln's assassination, with his old nemesis Holt, now a member of the Lincoln administration, adding his name to the indictment. Once again, nothing could be proven against Thompson, and after a three year self-imposed exile in Europe, the Thompsons returned again to Oxford. Thompson continued to maintain his properties in Mississippi, but spent much of the remainder of his life in Memphis and traveling.

Jacob Thompson died in 1885. When the current Secretary of Interior and Thompson protégé L.Q.C. Lamar lowered the departmental flag to half-staff in memorial, all of the old allegations against Thompson again flared in the Northern press, with Lamar being pilloried for celebrating the life of a traitor, thief, and possible assassination conspirator. Southern newspapers and histories of the time lauded him as an honorable and accomplished statesman, but Thompson remains a largely neglected figure of the 19th century.

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Scope and Contents Note

Collection contains correspondence, genealogical research, news clippings, photographs, and legal documents related to the life and career of Jacob Thompson and the effect he had on Oxford and the State of Mississippi. Items were created 1828-1908.

Portions of the collection has been digitized, available at

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

University of Mississippi Libraries 2005

Revision Description

 Created 2005. Edited February 2014.  2/7/2014

Access Restrictions


Use Restriction

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use", that user may be liable for copyright infringement.


No further additions are expected to this collection.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Mr. William Lewis of Oxford, MS. and his sister Mrs. Olivia Nabors donated a collection of family papers to the Department of Special Collections, University of Mississippi.

Processing Information

Processed by University of Mississippi Department Special Collections Staff. EAD encoded finding aid begun September 2005 by Chatham Ewing. EAD encoded finding aid edited February 2014 by Susan Ivey.

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Related Materials

Separated Materials

Photographs have been seperated to Collection Photographs Boxes, Annex Cold Room. "CP_" on container listing refers to box/folder within cold room.

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Controlled Access Headings

Geographic Name(s)

  • Oxford (Miss.)

Personal Name(s)

  • Thompson, Jacob, 1810-1885 -- Archives

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Collection Inventory

Box 1 

Folder 1: Thompson Family genealogical research collected by family members, includes handwritten notes, typed research, and a few xeroxed documents concerning Thompson and extended family. 

Folder 2: Variety of news clipping gathered by family, mid-1900s, mostly retrospective feature articles discussing Thompson's career, homes, and extended family . 

Folder 3: Miscellaneous 20th century family correspondence dealing with genealogical issues. 

Folder 4: Handwritten genealogical notes written by Katherine Thompson Andrews (Mrs. Landon C. Andrews). 1970-11 

Folder 5: Xeroxed excerpt from Christmas Menus of Long Ago listing "Mrs. Thompson's Christmas Dinner, Oak Hill Plantation, Woodson Ridge, near Oxford, Miss."  

Folder 6: Media Research Bureau report on "The Name and Family of Thompson." 1939 

Folder 7: Bound paperback book entitled The Thompson Family, published by the American Genealogical Research Institute, Arlington, Virginia. 1972 

Folder 8: Speeches by James Gordon 1) at Vanderbilt 2) candidate for Miss. Legislature. 

Folder 9: November 25, 1856. Deed of gift between William Jones to his daughter Martha A. Thompson. 

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements note


Folder 10: Deed between Thomas B. Allen to William Thompson, land lots in Oxford.  1859-01-05 

Folder 11: Land deed agreement between William Thompson and John & Sarah Martin. 1850-11-28 

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements note


Folder 12: Land agreement between children and heirs of William Thompson, Sr. 1902-1908 

Folder 13: Bill of sale for purchase of a slave girl named Pharisee by William Thompson, document partially torn.  185u-05-09 

Folder 14: Transcriptions of Thompson family letters by family members. 

Folder 15: Letter from Jacob Thompson to brother William Thompson, regarding Woodson's Ridge, mules, and supplies for renter farmers. 1878-02-03 

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements note

Contents are extremely fragile; please only review the xerox copy of document in file folder. 

Folder 16: Letter from Jacob Thompson to brother William Thompson, regarding land sales.  1879-04-03 

Folder 17: Memphis. Letter from Jacob Thompson to brother William Thompson, regarding family accounts, cotton prices, yellow fever.  1879-11-13 

Folder 18: St. Louis, MO. Letter from Jacob Thompson to brother William Thompson, regarding hotel accounts, farm accounts, travel plans.  1879-08-27 

Folder 19: Leasburg, NC. Letter from eldest brother Joseph Thompson to Jacob Thompson, regarding family reminiscences.  1884-04-09 

Folder 20: Leasburg, NC. Letter from eldest brother Joseph Thompson to Jacob Thompson regarding family affairs.  1884-04-21 

Folder 21: William Thompson's Mexican War survivor's pension.  1887-05-31 

Folder 22: September 5 or 8. Letter from Jacob Thompson to brother William Thompson, regarding current yellow fever epidemic and land sales on Woodson's Ridge.  1878 

Folder 23: Letter from Jacob Thompson to brother William Thompson, regarding family accounts, taxes, and education of Jake Thompson.  1878-12-07 

Folder 24: Letter from Jacob Thompson to brother William Thompson, regarding hotel taxes and Lewis Thompson's and Johnny Jones' possible enlistment as sailors.  1879-07-07 

Folder 25: Reprint of article from the Journal of Mississippi History 1988 50(3): 173-198, transcriptions of letters from Kate Thompson to Mary Ann Cobb (1858-1861).  

Folder 26: Letter from Catherine Thompson to her brother-n-law William Thompson, written from Paris.  1882-12-15 

Folder 27: Letter from Catherine Thompson to niece Kate Thompson.  1890-11-01 

Folder 28: Letter from Catherine Thompson to her niece Kate Thompson.  1890-10-12 

Folder 29: Letter from Catherine Thompson to her niece Kate Thompson.  1890-12-21 

Folder 30: Letter from Catherine Thompson to her niece Kate Thompson.  18u-04-15 

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Box 2 

Folder 1: Land deed between Martha A. Thompson and Lewis P. Jones.  1866-08-30 

Folder 2: Letter from Nicholas Thompson to Jacob Thompson, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, regarding family finances for Jacob's further education. 1832-11-20 

Folder 3: Letter from Nicholas Thompson to Jacob Thompson. 1932-09-09 

Folder 4: Letter from Nicholas Thompson to Jacob Thompson. 1828-05-04 

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Box 3 

 CP_24.25-26 Folder 1: Photo album for carte de visites. 

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Collection Photographs 

 CP_24.25  Carte de visites of Katherine Thompson, Jacob Thompson, William Hunt Thompson, Nicholas Thompson, Lulie Thompson Chandler, Laurence Thompson, Catherine Ann Jones Thompson, John Thompson, Nicholas Thompson, Lucy Shugog, Mary Thompson?, Horace Walton, Georgia Dulbridge, Annie Lewis, John Thompson, and an unidentified infant. 

 CP_24.26  Carte de visites of Sara Thompson, Mammie Lewis Slate. Cabinet card of Jacob Thompson. 

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