Alexander Hill Thompson was born into a religious family of slaves June 28, 1828. His parents were Margaret (Mollie) and the Rev. Alexander A. Thompson. Following the lead of his preacher father, Alexander would grow up to be a preacher, educator, community organizer and also the progenitor of 27 children by two wives.
Alexander Hill Thompson is especially remembered for building Hilly Branch Baptist Church in 1870 and for the instrumental role he played in the establishment of a boarding school for blacks in 1881, named Thompson Institute in his honor.
The Thompsons were slaves of J. Thompson, who operated a plantation in the Back Swamp community slightly west of Lumberton, N.C. All of the Thompson slaves were baptized in the Lumber River by the pastor of Back Swamp Baptist Church. Alexander A. and Margaret Thompson were baptized in 1855, according to church records.
When Alexander Hill was 23, he married Venice (Venus) Barnes who was 15, on March 24, 1851, according to the Robeson County cohabitation list. The records became official in August 1866 after the Civil War.
Alexander and Venice (Venus) had 20 children, with 19 surviving. Eleven children were born in slavery and nine after slavery. Venus died in November 1885 while giving birth to her 20th child.
The 19 surviving children were Margaret Thompson McNeill, Alfred Duckery (Dockery) Thompson, Alvenus Thompson, Harriet Thompson McCallum, Emery (Emory) Thompson, Mahalia Thompson McArthur, Charles Thompson, Isaac Thompson, Sarah E. Thompson Stephens, William W. Thompson, Alexander A. Thompson, Mittie Thompson Hooper, Mary A. Thompson McDuffie, Carrie Thompson Floyd, Junie (Lejunius) Thompson Floyd, Emma French Thompson Hall, Elwell Thompson, Appie Thompson and J.P. Thompson. William W. and Alexander A. became educators, teaching for 49 and 32 years, respectively. Elwell became a preacher.
Reading and writing
The Thompson children could read and write. The handed-down story is that Alexander Hill was taught to read and write by the plantation owner’s wife. When the plantation owner heard that he could read and write, he threatened to sell some of the children into slavery. Alex convinced the plantation owner that he could not read and write. So whenever he signed his name, he would do it with an X.
Alexander H. organized and built Hilly Branch Baptist Church in 1870 on land given by the Price family, on condition that it be used only for a Baptist church and that the land would be returned to the family if not used for that purpose. The agreement between the church and the Price family was legally documented in 1875. The Hilly Branch name came from its location on a low hillside full of trees with branches and vines.
In 1877, the Rev. Alexander Thompson was one of the two founders of the Lumber River Baptist Association, which grew out of the Grey’s Creek Association. The Lumber River Missionary Baptist Association was organized in Fair Bluff, N.C. The minutes of the Grey’s Association show that E.M. Thompson and A.H. Thompson led the way. The association was started to teach the Bible to ministers, who recognized the importance of education for the black population.
In 1881 they acquired land and started a school, naming it Thompson Institute in honor of Alexander H. Thompson for his leadership. The Lake Waccamaw Association donated most of the money, about $l,000. There were three buildings, and Rev.Thompson was the leader while it was a religious school.
In 1900, when the institute became specifically an educational institution, the Rev. J. Avery became the first principal, serving two years. Several short-term principals followed until, in 1912, the Rev. W.H. Knuckles became principal and served until 1942.
Thompson Institute was a boarding school, and students attended from across the state and neighboring areas. The financial agent, the Rev. J.D. Harrell, helped gather funds, securing money from the Home Mission Society in New York City for several years. Harrell was the first
moderator of the Lumber River Baptist Association. When the school became part of the county system, it was called South Lumberton School. Today it is named for W.H. Knuckles, in honor of his 30 years of service.
At age 62, Thompson married Lucy Moore, daughter of Isaac and Winnie Moore, May 1, 1890. She was 27. Seven children were born to this marriage: Homer, Melvin, Theota, Ambrose, Winnie, Marcus and Curtis.
Thompson died Oct. 3, 1911, at age 83. Lucy died July 17, 1913. Alexander H. Thompson was considered wealthy by the standards of his
time. He owned 100 acres in the Hilly Branch area. According to his will, dated April 18, 1910, he left 40 acres to Lucy, his second wife, to be
divided between the children she had for him. He willed 30 acres to son Elwell and the remaining 30 acres he left to the children of his first wife, Venice (Venus).
The Thompson family has a Bible with a provision for family records. It was started in 1879 by the Rev. Alexander H. Thompson and was passed to the Rev. Elwell Thompson Sr. and Augusta Ruston. The Bible ended up in the hands of Isadora McMillian. She passed the Bible to her granddaughter, Yonnica Abraham. The Bible contains some unidentified pictures, birthdays of all 27 children, death dates of some family members and ìa little bit of everything.î
Note from the author: I am the great great great granddaughter of Rev. Alexander Hill Thompson and the great great granddaughter of Harriet Thompson McCallum, the fourth child of Rev. Thompson and his wife Venus.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Angela Thompson for a photo and Carletta Thompson for information.