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.