Samuel Thompson

1718-1813. He was born on 13 August 1718, and was the father of Vice-Admiral Norborne Thompson.

Having seen early service in the employment of the East India Company, Thompson joined the navy in 1739 aboard the Cumberland 80, Captain James Stewart, and was commissioned lieutenant on 25 July 1744. Serving on the Strafford 60, Captain James Rentone, he was present at the capture of Port Louis, Hispaniola, on 8 March 1748, in which operation his captain was killed. Remaining with that vessel under Captain David Brodie, Thompson fought in Rear-Admiral Charles Knowles’ action with a Spanish squadron off Havana on 1 October. The Strafford was paid off in July of the following year.

During 1755 Thompson served in home waters aboard the Elizabeth 70, Captain John Montagu. He subsequently went out to Halifax aboard the Grafton 70, Captain Thomas Cornewall, flying the broad pennant of Commodore Charles Holmes, and he was promoted commander of the sloop Jamaica 10 on 14 February 1757, which vessel he paid off after arriving home at the end of the year.

Following a period as the regulating captain at Southampton from 1758-60, Thompson was posted captain of the Flamborough 20 on 4 November 1760, serving in the Channel before undergoing a refit at Portsmouth from the end of January 1761. During March 1762 she sailed for Tenerife with a number of other ships to collect wine for a fleet destined for the East Indies, prior to returning to Portsmouth in early August. His command was later present in Commodore Hon. Augustus Keppel’s expedition to Belleisle in the same year, and Thompson retained her until paid off in January 1763.

After the ending of hostilities he recommissioned the Lark 32 in April 1763, and in the following month departed Portsmouth with transports for America. Thereafter his frigate patrolled the Newfoundland Fishery, and Thompson continued serving with her until February 1766 when she was ordered out to the West Indies with Vice-Admiral Thomas Pye’s flag. In August he secured an appointment to the newly commissioned Triumph 74 at Chatham, which vessel, it was reported, would fly the flag of Admiral Sir Edward Hawke and sail to the Netherlands in August to embark the Prince of Orange for a royal visit to Britain.

In December 1766 he joined the Rippon 60, which received orders to be fitted out with all dispatch at Plymouth in February 1767, and which having been based at Portsmouth through the summer of that year was released from guardship duties at that port in order to sail for North America at the end of August 1768 with the new governor of Virginia, Lord Botetourt. Arriving in the Hampton Roads on 25 October, the Rippon underwent repairs under the supervision of several shipwrights who she had brought out from England, whilst Thompson spent a great deal of time socialising ashore and even got married. Departing Virginia in April 1769, the Rippon sailed for Boston where she occasionally flew the flag of Commodore Samuel Hood, and she eventually arrived at Portsmouth via Halifax on 3 September. She thereafter resumed her duties as a guardship at Portsmouth and Thompson left her in January 1770.

From October 1771 he commanded the Levant 28, sailing from Portsmouth in January 1772 with the Hon. Robert Walpole who had been appointed envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Lisbon, and thereafter joining Rear-Admiral Sir Peter Dennis in the Mediterranean. After returning home, Thompson left the Levant in May 1775 to go on half-pay.

In February 1776 he was appointed to the Nore guardship Conquestador 60, and such was the need for seamen to man the fleet as the American rebellion escalated that she took on board a hundred men from Greenwich Hospital in March. In continuing to do duty as a receiving ship for pressed men and volunteers, the Conquestador was the subject of newspaper reports in November which claimed that upwards of fifteen hundred men were crammed aboard her, and that she was ridden with fever and presenting every appearance of a gaol. In February 1777 it was further reported that the Oxford 70 had been ordered to be fitted out as a hospital ship at Sheerness to receive the many sick amongst the pressed men aboard the Conquestador. All of these reports were refuted by the captain’s clerk who wrote at the end of March 1777 to the effect that only one man had died amongst the seven thousand who had passed through the Conquestador, that at no stage had she ever had more than eleven hundred men aboard her, that she had always been kept clean and ventilated, and that it had never been necessary to remove any sick men to the Oxford. Still the adverse newspaper reports appeared, it being stated in August that she was so sickly as to be unable to send enough men aloft to raise her topsails.

The Battle of the Saintes – 1782

In May 1779 Thompson left the Conquestador upon being appointed to the America 64, which vessel he commanded in the Channel Fleet retreat of August before joining Admiral Sir George Rodney’s fleet when it sailed to relieve Gibraltar at the end of the year. His command was despatched home with those prizes taken from the St Sebastian convoy on 8 January and thus he did not see action at the Moonlight Battle off Cape St. Vincent a week later.

In the summer of 1780 the America went out to North America with Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves’ reinforcements, and on this station she captured the privateers Ranger on 11 October, Mercury on 27 October, and Adventure on 7 November. She was present at the Battle of Cape Henry on 16 March 1781, but being stationed at the rear of the line she saw little action, suffering only three men wounded. Similarly at the Battle of Chesapeake Bay on 5 September the America’s position in the line did not afford Thompson the opportunity to distinguish himself.

He next sailed for the Leeward Islands with Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood and fought at the Battle of St. Kitts on 25 January 1782, where the America sustained casualties of one man killed and seventeen wounded. At the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April the America shared broadsides with the French line before Thompson wore ship without orders to re-engage. He then wore again and assumed his original position when no signal of affirmation was received from the commander-in-chief. His ship sustained a great deal of damage during the action, and although his casualties were listed as one lieutenant killed and another lieutenant wounded it is probable that the actual figure was far higher.

The America sailed to North America once Admiral Hugh Pigot had assumed the command of the fleet later in the year, and she remained under Hood’s orders watching the French at Boston before returning to the West Indies. She eventually returned to England in June 1783 to be paid off at Portsmouth.

Thompson became a superannuated rear-admiral in 1788, and was one of the two officers particularly mentioned in a Parliamentary debate following Lord Howe’s decision to superannuate a large number of captains due for promotion in favour of more worthy officers further down the list. The dispute forced Howe’s resignation from his position as first lord of the Admiralty on 16 July 1788.

Thompson died on 13 August 1813 at Titchfield, Hampshire, on his 95th birthday.

He was married twice. His first wife, Susannah Woodman, who he married at Porchester on 8 May 1753 died in 1766 and was buried at Titchfield on 3 February. Unfortunately, all their five children did not survive to adulthood. On 16 March 1769 he married Elizabeth Blair, the youngest daughter of Hon. John Blair, President of the Governor’s Council for Virginia and on various occasions the acting governor. The couple had two sons and four daughters, but also lost another two children in infancy.

Thompson was described as brave and an excellent seaman, although he was one of several officers named by Lord Robert Manners as lacking character and ability as a sea officer. In the early 1760’s he enjoyed the patronage of the Duke of York, whilst in turn he was the patron of his nephew, Captain James Sanders.

My thanks to American Professor of Colonial American History, John Phillips Esq for his assistance with this biography.

Also, my thanks to Bryan Dunleavy for providing a wealth of information on Thompson’s family.