Circa 1825–?

Circa 1825, Essex County, Massachusetts.

Little is known of Thompson other than his works, mainly ballads used in blackface minstrel shows; 48 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).

The music for which Thompson is probably best remembered is his 1857 ballad Annie Lisle. Cornell University students arranged it in 1870 for the Cornell alma mater, Far Above Cayuga’s Waters. Numerous other institutions have since adopted the tune for their own school songs.

An altered version of the lyrics from his song Lilly Dale appears in James Joyce’s 1916 novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

His Down by the River Lived a Maiden is generally believed to be the basis for Percy Montrose’s 1884 Oh My Darling, Clementine.

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