Circa 1825–?

Circa 1825, Es­sex County, Mas­sa­chu­setts.

Little is known of Thomp­son other than his works, mainly ballads used in black­face minstrel shows. Forty-eight works were published under the name H. S. Thomp­son between 1849 and 1885.

Thompson was prob­ab­ly born in 1824 or 1825 in northern Es­sex County, Mas­sa­chu­setts. By 1851 he had moved to New­bur­y­port, Mas­sa­chu­setts, where he was a teacher, performer, and impresario. Later he was connected with several minstrel companies, including Mor­ris Brothers, Pell, Hunt­ley’s, and Trow­bridge’s Min­strels in Bos­ton, and Mor­ris and Wil­son’s Op­era Troupe in St. Lou­is (1865–66).

Thompson had a wide, but not well known, influence on American popular music. His work which is probably best remembered is his 1857 An­nie Lisle, a ballad about a heroine dying of tuberculosis. In 1870, Ar­chi­bald Cros­well Weeks and Wil­mot Mos­es Smith, students at Cor­nell University, New York, wrote lyrics for the music, and it became the Cornell alma mater, Far Above Ca­yu­ga’s Waters.

Many other colleges, high schools and camps adapted An­nie Lisle as well. By the mid-20th Century, Boy Scouts at the Ir­on­dale Re­ser­va­tion in Bis­marck, Mis­sou­ri (one of the first permanent scout camps in Amer­i­ca) were singing Thomp­son’s music to the words of their camp song, Where the Crest of Oz­ark Moun­tain. Still pop­u­lar years later, the tune surfaced in the 1987 film Dir­ty Danc­ing as Kel­ler­man’s An­them.

Other songs by Thompson also made their way into American culture. His Down by the River Lived a Maiden is generally believed to be the basis for Per­cy Mont­rose’s 1884 Oh My Dar­ling, Cle­men­tine. An altered version of the lyrics from Thompson’s Lil­ly Dale appears in James Joyce’s 1916 novel A Por­trait of the Artist as a Young Man.

  1. Lilly Dale, 1852
  2. Annie Lisle, 1857
  3. Down by the River Lived a Maiden, 1863