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Charles Thomson, Secretary of the The United States 1781-1789,Secretary of the Continental Congress - 1774 to 1781

Charles Thomson
Secretary of the The United States
in Congress Assembled 1781-1789
Secretary of the Continental Congress - 1774 to 1781

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CHARLES THOMSON was active in colonial resistance against Britain for decades. Although Pennsylvania conservatives kept him from being elected a delegate to the Continental Congress, Thomson was chosen as its secretary in 1774, continuing until the federal government came to power in 1789. Thomson faithfully recorded the decisions that shaped the government.


He was Secretary of the entire pre-constitutional Continental Congresses from 1774 to 1789.   On July 4, 1776 the original declaration of Independence was signed by only two people, Charles Thomson as Secretary and John Hancock as President of the Continental Congress.  The original signed Declaration of Independence was then taken to John Dunlap, a Philadelphia printer.  John Dunlap printed 500 Hancock/Thomson "typed signed" Broadsides which were distributed to the members of Congress and the King of England.  The original Declaration of Independence that was actually signed by Thomson and Hancock, however,  was lost in the fever of Freedom.  On August 2, 1776 the delegates returned to Philadelphia to sign a newly prepared Declaration of Independence and for some known reason Thomson was not invited to sign.

 

For fifteen years, from time of Revolution to the ratification of the New Constitution,  Congress would meet in Philadelphia and enact laws and issue orders.   The sessions ended with the delegates returning to their respective States.  Upon their departure one man was responsible for carrying on with the Government of the United States and his name was Charles Thomson.

 

Among Thomson's many accomplishments he is credited with creating the final design of the symbol of America, the Great Seal of the United States. The seal  was adopted by the Continental Congress in July 20, 1782.  Thomson's Great Seal of the United States, with only minor modifications,  remains in use today 218 years later. In the center of the seal is an American eagle which holds in its beak a scroll inscribed “E pluribus Unum”; in one talon is an olive branch; in the other, a bundle of thirteen arrows. A shield with thirteen alternate red and white stripes covers the eagle’s breast, and over its head a cloud surrounds a blue field containing thirteen stars.


In 1808, after 19 years of work, he provided the first American translation from Greek of the oldest version of the Old Testament of the Bible. Few now remain of the original one thousand published editions of Thomson's four-volume 1808 translation. That same year, Thomson also published his translation of the New Testament.

 

Appleton's Biography

THOMSON, Charles, patriot, born in Maghera, County Derry, Ireland, 29 November, 1729; died in Lower Merion, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, 16 August, 1824. He was brought to this country with three other brothers by his father in 1740. The father died just in sight of land, and the young Thomsons were thrown on their own resources when they landed at New Castle, Delaware An elder brother, who had emigrated before them, gave them such aid as he could, and persuaded a countryman, Dr. Francis Allison, to take Charles into his seminary in New London, Pennsylvania Here he made rapid progress, and while yet little more than a boy he was chosen to conduct a Friends' academy at New Castle.

He often visited Philadelphia, met Benjamin Franklin there, and was brought to the notice of many other eminent men. His reputation for veracity was spread even among the Indian tribes, and when the Delawares adopted him into their nation in 1756 they , called him in their tongue "man of truth." Reverend Ashbel Green, in his autobiography, says that it was common to say that a statement was "as true as if Charles Thomson's name was to it."

He was one of the first to take his stand with the colonists, and he exercised immense influence, owing to the confidence of the people in his ability and integrity. He travel led through the country ascertaining the wishes of the farmers, and trying to learn whether they would be equal to the approaching crisis. "He was the Sam Adams of Philadelphia," said John Adams, "the life of the cause of liberty." He had just come to Philadelphia in September, 1774, with his bride, a sister of Benjamin Harrison, the signer, when he learned that he had been unanimously chosen secretary of the 1st Continental congress. "He was the soul of that political body," says Abbe Robin, the chaplain of Rochambeau. He would receive no pay for his first year's services, and congress presented his wife with a silver urn, which is still preserved in the family. He remained in this post under every congress up to 1789, not only keeping the records but taking copious notes of its proceedings and of the progress of the Revolution. When he retired into private life he made these notes the basis of a history of the Revolution but he destroyed the manuscript some time before his death, as he feared that a description of the unpatriotic conduct of some of the colonists at that period would give pain to their descendants.

Mr. Thomson wrote "An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawaneese Indians, etc., with Notes by the Editor on Indian Customs" (London, 1759), and "The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Covenant, commonly called the Old and New Testament; translated from the Greek [the Old Covenant from the Septuagint]" (4 vols., Philadelphia, 1808). This work is now very rare. It contained the first English version of the Septuagint that had been published at the time, and was considered by biblical scholars in Great Britain to have reflected high honor on American scholarship His own copy of this translation, with his last manuscript corrections, is in the Philadelphia library.

He also published "A Synopsis of the Four Evangelists, or a Regular History of the Conception, Birth, Doctrine, Miracles, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ, in the Words of the Evangelists" (Philadelphia, 1815), and left in manuscript "Critical Annotations on Gilbert Wakefield's Works," which were presented in 1832 by John F. Watson to the Massachusetts historical society.

-His relative, William Thomson, soldier, born in Pennsylvania in 1727; died in Sweet Springs, Virginia, 22 November, 1796, is said in some Irish biographies to be the brother of Charles, to have been born in Maghera, Ireland, about 1726, and about fourteen years old when he arrived in this country. He was taken to South Carolina by some friends of his family, was brought up as a frontiersman, and became famous in the district for his skill with the rifle. He fought against the Regulators in 1771, at the head of a regiment under Governor William Tryon. He was sheriff of Orange-burg in 1772, and was elected a member of the first provincial legislature, and the first state convention. He was appointed colonel in 1775 of the 3d South Carolina regiment, which was known as the Rangers. His soldiers were all skilful marksmen, and he dispersed the guerillas of General Robert Cunningham, the Tory leader.

He fought at its head at Charleston in 1776, driving the English back from the eastern side of Sullivan's island, and was formally thanked for this service by Governor John Rutledge and congress. He also served with General Robert Howe in Georgia, was engaged with his command in the attack on Savannah under Count d'Estaing and General Benjamin Lincoln, and was taken prisoner after the capture of Charleston. He served afterward under the command of General Nathanael Greene. He displayed the greatest bravery during the war, and at the end of it was broken both in health and fortunes. He was elected sheriff of Orangeburg a second time, and was a member of the State constitutional convention. Thomson was engaged in the occupation of an indigo-planter until 1786, when, seeking to benefit his declining health, he visited the mineral springs in Virginia, where he died.

 

 

 


 


 

Printed broadside document signed "Cha Thompson Secy", on a full sheet with the Brittania watermark and countermark Crown G R, is a Congressional resolution to raise a corps of 700 troops from the states of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for the defense of the frontiers against Indian hostilities. Dated October 3, 1787.

 

For a High-resolution version of the Stone Engraving  

For a High-resolution version of the Original Declaration of Independence

We invite you to read a transcription of the complete text of the Declaration as presented by the National Archives.

&

 

The article "The Declaration of Independence: A History," which provides a detailed account of the Declaration, from its drafting through its preservation today at the National Archives.  

 

   

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