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Thomas THOMPSON, Pioneer California Preacher Part 1
Source:  Jerry Rushford.  1980.  "A Pioneer Preacher in California (1)."  Firm Foundation  September 2: 4.  (Reproduced here with permission.)
A Pioneer Preacher in California (1)
The California Gold Rush!  With the exception of the Civil War, no other event in nineteenth-century America caused such an upheaval.  James Marshall's discovery of gold on January 28, 1848, opened the floodgates to the American West and resulted in statehood for California in 1850.

The news accounts of the gold discoveries at Sutter's Mill on the American River were generally greeted with skepticism, until the stories were confirmed by President James Polk.  In his State of the Union message to Congress on December 5, 1848, the President declared:  "The accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief, were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service."

This was the announcement that triggered the mad rush for gold.  The assurance that gold in great quantities existed in Califonria produced electrifying results.  Almost overnight, some 100,000 restless people began making plans to go to the new El Dorado.

About 40,000 people came to California by sea in 1849-50, and an even larger number came overland.  California's non-indian population swelled from about 5,000 in 1845 to over 100,000 by 1850.  This number had risen to 224,435 by the close of 1852.  San Francisco was a village of 812 people in 1848, but by 1850 it had become a boom town with a population of more than 25,000.

While it is true that people came from all over the world to mine for gold in California, in the first five years the majority of immigrants came from the midwestern states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri and Iowa.  Coincidentally, these were the very states that formed the heartland of the Campbell-Stone movement to restore New Testament Christianity.

In was inevitable, therefore, that some of the members of this movement would be included in the migration to the gold fields.  The preacher who would pioneer the work of the Restoration Movement in California was in the first wave of "49ers" who started across the overland route that spring.  To Thomas Thompson belongs the honor of being the first preacher in the Church of Christ to engage in evangelistic work in California.  He preached the first sermons, baptized the first converts, and helped to organize the first congregations.

Thomas Thompson was born in Christian County, Kentucky, on July 7, 1797.  He was the great, great grandson1 of the Smithfield martyr, John Rogers (see Fox's Book of Martyrs, pp. 209-210).  When he was a young boy, his parents moved to Missouri Territory and settled in a section known as the "Platt Purchase."  The Thompsons were Baptists, and Thomas joined the Baptist Church around 1822.  He became acquainted with the principles of the Restoration Movement through the ministry of Thomas McBride.  McBride had been associated with Barton Stone in Kentucky prior to relocating in Missouri in 1813.

McBride introduced Thompson to Alexander Campbell's monthly periodical entitled the Christian Baptist.  Thompson later recalled:

About the year 1824, I commenced reading the Christian Baptist, which resulted in the conviction that the Baptist Church was not -- so far as I had been taught -- the true Church of Christ.  By the Christian Baptist, my attention was turned to the New Testament as the only true and sufficient rule of faith and practice.  I now began to read, believe and practice for myself; finding no authority in the New Testament for a Baptist Church, or its Confession of Faith.  As I learned, I taught; laying aside all the human traditions I could discover.  This resulted in my separation from the Baptists.
At that point in his life, Thompson was a man without a church.  But he soon "organized a church in my own neighborhood, taking the New Testament as our only Creed and Discipline."

As early as 1825, Thomas Thompson was in communication with both Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, and he was instrumental in encouraging the merger of the Campbell and Stone movements in Missouri in the early 1830's.  Thompson preached all across the northern half of the state in the years 1830-1849, and he was successful in organizing numerous congregations.  These were exciting years for the Restoration Movement in Missouri.  From 500 members in 1830, the movement grew to encompass more than 15,000 baptized believers by 1849.

The list of Thompson's co-workers during these years included Thomas McBride, Joel Haden, Duke Young, Henry Thomas, Allen Wright, Thomas M. Allen, Jacob Creath, Jr., John S. Allen and D. Pat Henderosn.  In recalling the impact of Thompson's preaching in Missouri, Thomas P. Haley wrote:

His voice was strong and clear, his style conversational.  He was remarkable for his great familiarity with the holy Scriptures.  It was said that he had committed to memory every line of the New Testament and was thoroughly versed in the Old.  He never opened the book when he recited his text, which was always an entire chapter, but repeated it from memory.  He sermons were commentaries on the text, and exceedingly instructive.  He was not, I think, regarded as a successful evangelist, and yet he baptized a great many persons and his converts were always well instructed, not simply in regard to the plan of salvation, but in the practical duties of Christian life.
Another preacher said of Thompson:  "He was an able man in the gospel, was truly a man of faith, and forcibly reminded me of the lamented brother Benjamin Franklin."

In 1844, Thomas Thompson and John S. Allen were chosen by the churches in the Grand River country to travel as evangelists in the surrounding counties.  As Allen remembered it:

The country being so sparsely settled, our rides were often long and wearisome, but we took great pleasure in our meetings, in seeing many of our fellow citizens bow to the authority of the gospel.  At Linneus, Chillicothe, Gallatin and Trenton we held many successful meetings and planted the cause of primitive Christianity in the Grand River country.  Our salaries were never computed.  The bretheren would sometimes give us fifty cents or a dollar, or a present of some sort.  It was not the almighty dollar that caused us in those days to make the sacrifice and do the work we did, but we were prompted by our love for the cause and a great desire to establish it in this new country.
It was Thomas Thompson's "love for the cause" that led him to leave his home in Paris, Missouri, and join the throngs who were heading for California by wagon train in the spring of 1849.  In next week's article we will focus on Thompson's pioneering work in the Golden State.

Pepperdine Univ., Malibu, Calif. 90265

On to Part 2

1John ROGERS, the martyr, was born in 1500, so some ten generations, not five, would have to separate him from Thomas THOMPSON.  The link to John ROGERS is an oft-repeated tradition, both in Disciples history and among Thomas THOMPSON's descendants, but the fact remains that Thomas THOMPSON's ancestry is unknown beyond his father, Peter THOMPSON, who was said, by a contemporary, to be a Dane.
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