Keeper Thomas Mann Thompson Sr.

Bible Record of the Thompson Family from Surry County, VA

Keeper Thomas Mann Thompson, Sr.

By: Annamaria Haden


Thomas Mann Thompson Sr. was born in Surry County, Virginia on September 10th of 1792. His father was Sym Thompson and his mother, Sarough Thompson.[1] When he was twenty years old, Thompson married his first wife Nancy Jones on November 21, 1812.[2] Thomas and Nancy Thompson had three children, two of whom were named after Thomas Mann’s parents. Their first son John Thompson was born in 1813 on July 1st. Then, Sym Thompson was born May 11, 1815, and Sarough Elizabeth Thompson, born May 4th of 1819.[3] In 1820, Thompson continued to reside with Nancy and their three children in Surry, Virginia.[4]


On July 1, 1823, Thompson traveled to Smithville, now Southport, North Carolina, to enlist in the U.S. Military under the 3rd Artillery at Fort Johnston.[5] Fort Johnston, located in downtown Southport, was used during the Revolutionary and Civil War.[6] It is unknown what happened to Nancy Thompson during this time. However, there is evidence that their children stayed behind in Virginia. Notably, their son John was in Virginia up until the 1880s.[7] The enlistment record of the 30-year-old Thompson noted physical characteristics such as his unique grey eyes, a feature of Thompson mentioned numerous times throughout primary sources. Thompson was discharged on February 1, 1828.[8] Shortly after, Thompson married his second wife, Rebecca Piver, on April 15, 1828, in Brunswick County.[9] Rebecca and Thomas had a daughter in 1829 named Annie.[10] Soon after, in 1831, they had a son and named him after his father, Thomas Mann Thompson Jr.[11] Thompson Jr. would grow up to be a significant river pilot of the Cape Fear River.[12] Thompson Sr. additionally had three other children, Joseph T. Thompson, Rebecca R. Thompson, and a step son, Elijah Jefferson Piver.[13] As census records suggest, the Thompsons stayed in Brunswick County.[14]


On July 28, 1859 and into 1860, Thompson Sr. was the lighthouse keeper for Old Baldy on Smith Island.[15] Once the Civil War began, Thompson’s precise whereabouts get a bit uncertain, so exactly when Thompson left bald head for the Civil War remains undiscovered. Despite his age of seventy, Thompson joined the war effort on March 31, 1863 at Fort Caswell. Thompson was a private in the 36th North Carolina Infantry, 2nd Artillery.[16] By December of that same year, Thompson was transferred to Moseley’s Company, Sampson Artillery. However, in January, 1864, Thompson was detached to serve on Bald Head Island.[17] This aspect of Thompson’s life was extremely relevant to the role of Old Baldy during the Civil War.


At the beginning of the Civil War, all navigational aids in the Cape Fear region were ordered to be extinguished to eliminate potential navigational guidance for the Union. Even Old Baldy’s third order Fresnel lens was removed.[18] However, by 1864, some lighthouses, such as Old Baldy, were re-established in order to aid blockade runners. An entry from the log of the U.S.S. Mount Vernon discovered on March 6th of 1864, that “the rebels had established a fixed light in the Bald Head light-house.”[19] In addition, Civil War letters from Captain Charles Bahnson stationed at Fort Holmes mention on November 1, 1864 that a Fresnel lens was in Old Baldy.[20] This suggests that Thompson was detached to serve on Bald Head Island in order to help, through his skill’s adapted by previous experience as light keeper, with the re-establishment of Old Baldy. Additionally, the Thompsons also maintained land on Smith Island, which is evident from labels on Civil War maps.[21]


On September 25, 1864, Thompson was discharged due to a medical examination that stated he was deaf and had been so ever since he enlisted.[22] While there is a death record of his second wife, Rebecca, who passed away in 1879 from tuberculosis.[23] After his discharge, the Old Baldy Foundation has yet to discover the death record of Thompson Sr. Perhaps Thompson Sr. passed away sometime during the conclusion of the Civil War, which would suggest why there was no record of his death.



[1]Bible Records of Thompson, Wills, and Wilson Families. Surrey County, Virginia, Historical Society and Museums, Inc. 

[2] Dodd, Jordan R., et al.. Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850. Bountiful, UT, USA: Precision Indexing Publishers.

[3] Bible Records Surrey County, Virginia, Historical Society and Museums, Inc. 

[4] Fourth Census of the United States, 1820. (NARA microfilm publication M33, 142 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

[5] Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, 81 rolls); Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

[6] Wilson Angley, “History of FJ on the Lower Cape Fear,” Southport Historical Society, Subject Files.

[7] According to a Correspondence with Fred D. Taylor.

[8] Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914

[9] North Carolina County Registers of Deeds. Microfilm. Record Group 048. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC.

[10] 1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.

[11]Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com: accessed 19 June 2020), memorial page for Thomas Mann Thompson (Sep 1831–22 Mar 1907), Find a Grave Memorial no. 33726865, citing Old Smithville Cemetery, Southport, Brunswick County, North Carolina, USA ; Maintained by John Evans (contributor 47071981).

[12] Duffus, The Story of Cape Fear and Bald Head Island, 123.

[13] According to a Correspondence with Fred D. Taylor.

[14] Sixth Census of the United States, 1840. (NARA microfilm publication M704, 580 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

[15] Treasury Department Official Register USA, Light-Houses-Maryland-North Carolina-South Carolina, 1859; Lighthouse Keepers and Assistant Keepers. NARA microfilm publication M1373, Registers of Lighthouse Keepers, 1845-1912 (6 rolls).  

[16] Thomas Thompson, Second Artillery (36th State Troops), Civil War Confederate Army, United States of America, fold3, 1893.

[17] Thomas M. Thompson, Capt. Moseley’s Company, (Sampson Artillery) North Carolina (Confederate), fold3, 1863.

[18] Kevin P. Duffus, The Story of Cape Fear and Bald Head Island (North Carolina: Looking Glass Productions, Inc., 2017), 96.

[19] Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington: Government Printing Office 1899).

[20] Captain Charles Frederic Bahnson, Bright and Gloomy Days, ed. Sarah Bahnson Chapman (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2003), 149.

[21] Duffus, The Story of Cape Fear and Bald Head Island, 113.

[22] Thomas Thompson, Second Artillery (36th State Troops), Civil War Confederate Army, United States of America, fold3, 1893.

[23] National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Non-population Census Schedules for North Carolina, 1850-1880: Mortality and Manufacturing; Archive Collection: M1805; Archive Roll Number: 4; Census Year: 1879; Census Place: Smithville, Brunswick, North Carolina.