John B. Thompson
(unknown - ca. 1815)
Private, U.S. Army
From Artillerist to Cook
hompson, who seems to have been from Massachusetts (he gave only "Northampton" as place of residence when enlisting), had been in the army for four years when he joined the expedition. He seems to have transferred from Capt. Amos Stoddard's artillery company Fort Kaskaskia in "the Illinois."1
When cooks were assigned to each mess in July 1805, Thompson became the cook for Sgt. Charles Floyd's (later Patrick Gass's), but was replaced by Peter Weiser on August 12.2
On the Clearwater River in future Idaho, October 8, 1805, the canoe that Sgt. Patrick Gass was steering split open and took on water. Its passengers, including Thompson, clung to the boat before it sank. Clark wrote, "one man Tompson a little hurt, every thing wet perticularly the greater part of our Small Stock of merchindize." The Corps encamped for two days to dry out the goods, allowing Thompson to heal a bit.
At Fort Clatsop, Thompson went out with several elk-hunting parties, specifically on March 1, 1806, to jerk meat in the field — nearly essential in that damp climate. He was in Clark's small party that explored up the Willamette River on April 2, 1806.
On the night of April 11, 1806, when three Watlala Chinook men took Lewis's dog Seaman from camp, "they also stole an ax from us, but scarcely had it in their possession before Thompson detected them and wrest it from them." The ax-taker was foiled in camp; Seaman's rescuers went unnamed.
In 1807, Thompson was a signer of a petition to Congress in which eight former expedition members asked that they be allowed to choose their 320-acre land allotments in Indiana and Missouri. That places him in St. Louis in the early spring of 1807, and not on a fur-trading expedition to the far northwest as has been speculated.3 He may have been married to wife Peggy by then. The next record of John B. Thompson is the July 1815 notice from Peggy as administrator of his estate. Clark listed him as having been "killed" by 1825-1828.4
--Barbara Fifer; 02/06
1. Larry E. Morris, The Fate of the Corps: What Became of the Lewis and Clark Explorers After the Expedition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 199.
2. For the cooks' duties and privileges, see William Werner. No reason for Thompson's replacement was recorded. Moulton, ed., Journals, 2:472.
3. Morris, 151; 218 note 14. Jackson, Letters, 2:278-80.
4. Jackson, 638.
Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge Cost Share Program.