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  • sarahharrison234

A Little Brown Jug of Mystery: Who was Thomas Thompson?

As the local history expert here at the library, people ask me many interesting questions related to the history of East Gwillimbury. Most of the time, people want to know where their relatives used to live, or about the history of a specific farm where a family member formerly resided. So, when a patron asks me about a specific object unrelated to his family, you can bet that I was curious about it!

Some time ago, a patron came into the library asking me if I knew anything about a gentleman named Thomas Thompson. He then showed me a picture of a brown earthenware jug; on the bottom were the words “From Thomas Thompson, Holland Landing”. He had purchased this item at an antique shop; as a result, he wanted to know more about the person who had presumably created this object, since they had taken the time to stamp the name and location onto the jug.

Figure 1: Earthenware jug, probably from the 1860's. Text near the bottom of the jug reads "From Thomas Thompson, Holland Landing".

My first step was to look at the Index to the 1871 Census for York County, which is in the local history section of the Holland Landing branch. There is only one record for Thomas Thompson in York County. He is listed as being 35 years of age, born in Scotland and whose religion is Canada Presbyterian. His profession is also listed as “Storekeeper”. Ah-ha, I thought to myself, now we were getting somewhere!

Armed with this information, I went to Ancestry: Library Edition and entered in the relevant data to see if I could find any more useful tidbits about him. I learn that he was born in about 1835 in Markham townships. He is listed on the 1851 census as the 4th child out of nine children to John and Hannah Thompson. His age is 14 at the time, so it seems to be the correct person for whom I am searching.

Given the fact that he was a storekeeper, it is likely that he would have had to advertise for his services. Thus, I searched through the digitized Newmarket Era newspaper to see if he took out an ad in the pages of that newspaper. And sure enough, he did! In an ad printed on August 30th, 1867, Thompson notes that he is commencing renovations on his store, and that for the next three weeks, “he will give a discount of TEN PERCENT OFF. The cash paid on all amounts of $1 and upwards on Groceries, Stone Ware, Bottled, other Fine Liquors.”[1] A later advertisement published in 1869 states that he has on hand a “choice selection of TEAS, SUGARS, FRUITs, and a general assortment of GROCERIES etc., which he is selling at extremely low prices for Cash or Farm Produce.”[2]

Finally, in the 1881 census, he still seems to be living in the Markham area. His profession is listed as “merchant,” which is a fancier term for storekeeper. At 45 years of age, he is married to 43-year-old Sarah Thompson, who is of Irish descent. Together they have four children: William J. Thompson (16), John Thompson (14), Ada Thompson (5), and Annie Thompson (2).

When I gave this information to this patron, he was very pleased to receive this information, as he was primarily interested in this gentleman for his own interest and curiosity.

Does anyone know anything else about Thomas Thompson? Please let me know in the comments if you have some additional facts to share on this fascinating person!

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