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Thomas THOMPSON, Pioneer California Preacher Part 2
Source:  Jerry Rushford.  1980.  "A Pioneer Preacher in California (2)."  Firm Foundation  September 9: 4, 11.  (Reproduced here with permission.)
A Pioneer Preacher in California (2)
JERRY RUSHFORD
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(See introductory article in last week's Firm Foundation.)

In the spring of 1849, 30,000 gold seekers started across the overland route to California.  The covered wagon, or "prairie schooner," symbolized this vast migration.  Caravans averaged twenty-six wagons, each drawn by five yoke of oxen or a span of ten mules.

Included among those famed "Argonauts of '49" was a gospel preacher named Thomas Thompson.  After giving a quarter century of his life to the cause of Christ in Missouri, Thompson was now eager to plant the cause in a new land.  He was joined on this difficult mission by his courageous wife and their children.

The overland route did not require much cash outlay, but it took a great deal of courage.  The arduous journey of some two thousand miles across plains, mountains, and desert took about five months, and the trail was beset with every kind of danger.

The wagons traveled about fifteen miles a day over a thin trail.  They were subjected to incessant storms, scorching heat, and stampedes from wandering buffalo herds.  An even greater danger was the constant threat of a murderous attack by the fierce Sioux or other warlike Indian tribes.  The twin specters of starvtion and disease were never far removed from the minds of the fortyniners.  From the Missouri River to the Rockies the ravages of cholera were frightful.  Hundreds (some accounts say thousands) of people died along the route.

Thomas Thompson did not wait until California to begin sowing the seed of the kingdom.  During the five month trek across the overland route, he preached the gospel to his fellow travelers as "opportunity afforded."

In September, 1849, the Thompsons arrived in California and settled temporarily at Gold Run in Placer County.  In the midst of that hectic mining camp, where the inhabitants were obsessed with the search for gold, Thompson preached his first sermons in California.

A few months later, the Thompsons moved to Coloma where gold was first discovered.  There they took charge of a miner's boarding house which proved to be a profitable enterprise.  This arrangement freed Thompson to preach frequently in mining camps from Oroville to Stockton.  His faithful preaching was soon rewarded.  He baptized his first converts in the spring of 1850.  Marcus Wills and J.N.B. Wyatt were immersed into Christ in a mining pit near Coloma.

Thompson moved his family away from the mining country in the spring of 1851.  The farm he purchased in the beautiful Santa Clara Valley became his home for the last twenty-one years of his life.  It was from this place that he began the truly great work of rallying together the scattered Christians.

At the end of that summer, Thompson helped to organize the first congregation in California.  On August 21, 1851, a church patterned after the New Testament model was called together in Stockton.  On that historic occasion, Thompson preached to the twenty-one charter members who were assembled in the upper room of a hall located on the corner of San Joaquin Street and Weber Avenue.  One of the charter members was W.W. Stevenson, only recently arrived from Little Rock, Arkansas.  Stevenson became the regular preacher for the group.  The first elders were W.B. Smith and A.N. Green.

A short time later, Thompson was instrumental in organizing the second congregation in the state.  This was near his home in the Santa Clara Valley.  The church met in a little vacant building on the road between his farm and the old Santa Clara Mission.

The first protracted meeting in California was conducted with the Santa Clara church.  W.W. Stevenson was the evangelist in the twelve-day meeting.  It resulted in twenty-seven additions to the church, including five members of Thomas Thompson's family.  In a letter to Alexander Campbell, Stevenson said of Thompson:

He did the immersing with a solemnity I never witnessed before.  He is the great, great grandson of the Smithfield martyr, John Rogers.  He is the representative of the name, and a worthy son of so good a man.  His relationship, his piety, his venerable gray hairs and Godly family caused me to venerate him beyond any man I have met.  He was overwhelmed with the success of the meeting, and when we parted, he gave me the ancient fraternal embrace.
In that same year of 1852, the Restoration Movement in California was strengthened with the arrival of J.P. McCorkle from Missouri.  McCorkle settled in Napa County, thinking he was the only preacher in the state.  When he heard about Thompson he was overjoyed.  He immediately wrote to him and urged that they meet soon.  Thompson's excited reply gave the details of when he would be in Napa.  In later years, McCorkle remembered the moment:
Long, long will I remember that meeting.  I can see him today, in my mind, as I saw him then as he came walking up to my humble home.  We were glad to see each other, you may be sure.  We talked, sang and prayed together.  I heard him preach I thought the best sermon I ever heard.  It did me good.  It gave me strenth.  I felt like I could lean upon him, I walked by his side; he felt like a father to me in this strange land.  We felt that we were not alone.  We talked together about the great work that was to be done in California.
Thompson was 55 years old at the time, and McCorkle was 27.  They were to be co-laborers in "the great work" in California for the next twenty years (1852-1872).  During his thirty-five years of ministry in California (1851-1887), J.P. McCorkle would immerse more people into Christ than any other preacher in the history of the state.
(Continued on page 11)
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(Continued from page 4)

Thompson and McCorkle were successful in organizing a church in Napa County in 1853.  Along with Stockton and Santa Clara, this made three congregations in California, and all of them established by Thompson.   On December 25, 1853, Thompson corresponded with Alexander Campbell.  This letter, published in the Millennial Harbinger, gave the following statistical information.  Stockton and Santa Clara each had "about 60 members," and Napa had "about 20 or 30 members."  Campbell ended the report by saying:  "If other congregations there be in the State, our brother knows them not."

In the next article we will highlight the leadership of Thompson in the exciting years of 1854-1860.

Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA 90265

On to Part 3

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