Colonel R. W. Thompson Papers
Dates:  1842-1880
Accession Number:  800630B
Donor:  Unknown      
Description:  Four file folders in a document case


Richard W. "Dick" Thompson was born in Culpeper County Virginia circa 1811.  When he was 20 years old, Thompson traveled west, settling in Terre Haute where he first worked for a mercantile business and then as a teacher.  Eventually, Thompson studied the law and was admitted to the Indiana bar in 1834.  In that same year he was elected to a one-year term in the Indiana Legislature, the beginning of his political career.  He was reelected to the Indiana legislature in 1835 and appointed by his colleagues to a term in the Indiana Senate where he was elected president pro tem.  By 1840, he had become a member of the Whig Party and was active in the 1840 presidential campaign during which William Henry Harrison was elected President. 

Colonel Thompson was very active in the affairs of the city throughout his time in Terre Haute.  In the 1840s, he was one of the cosponsors of the Vigo County Seminary, the first, albeit aborted, attempt to establish public education in the County.  Thompson also was a cosponsor, along with Chauncey Rose, of an intrastate railroad from Richmond, Indiana to Terre Haute.  This railroad failed because of lack of interest in Richmond.           

At the outset of the Civil War, Thompson was appointed commandant of Camp Dick Thompson which was named in his honor.  He was very active in raising volunteer companies and drilling these companies for action in the Civil War.  Thompson also was a private in the Silver Grays, a group of older men who took on responsibility for defending Terre Haute and the surrounding area in case of Confederate attack.  Thompson was eventually appointed Provost Marshal for the Terre Haute district.  One of Thompson's last honors in the Civil War was appointment  to the honor guard that accompanied the body of President Lincoln while it traveled through Indiana. 

Following the Civil War, Colonel Thompson resumed his law practice.  From 1877 to 1881, Thompson served as Secretary of the Navy in the Hayes administration.  In 1880, Thompson was named chairman of the Panama Canal Company's American Department. 

R.W. Thompson died on February 9, 1900 at his home on 1200 S. 6th Street.                   

Content and Scope of Collection 

A published pamphlet, the handwritten working papers on an essay about the Panama Canal, and four letters make up the entire collection. 

Document Case





Folder 1

The Political Aspects of the Slavery Question, an original copy of a speech given in Terre Haute, Indiana August 11,  1855





Folders 2-3

Handwritten, rough draft of a paper on the Panama Canal





Folder 4

Letter from House of Representatives, a recommendation on behalf of Mr. John C. Bronaugh

March 31, 1842





Letter from Bloomington, IN to Comd. of Philomathea Society at State University, Bloomington, regarding publication of an address

Aug. 4, 1857





Letter from Navy Department, Washington, D.C. to Charles Devers,  Attorney General concerning case of Gibbons vs. the United States.    (Thompson then Secretary of the Navy.)

Dec. 19, 1878





Letter from Navy Department, regarding an inquiry from the Bayard family and giving the information that Midshipman Charles C. Bayard died at Naples, Italy in 1847 from the effects of a blow from a rock thrown from Vesuvius

Feb. 12, l880





Letter from Terre Haute, Indiana, in which the Honorable William Mack, former Speaker in the U. S. House of Representatives, is presented to the Honorable R. C. Schenck, U. S. Minister, London

July 7, 1874