Needle in the Needle Stack, Pioneer Style

Butler county Pennsylvania has presented a conundrum. I can’t find any references to Levi Thompson. There actually seem to be very few Levis at all. I did find a Levi Campbell who would be much younger than Levi Thompson, living with a Thompson family, but that’s about as close as I’ve gotten.

The other side of the coin is that Butler county is thick with Thompsons. Thompsons are early settlers in the county and by the 1870s there are so many it’s hard to keep track. The unfortunate issue I have is that Levi was born around 1834-9. So the first census he would appear in would be the 1840. Assuming that he knew he was from Butler PA because he had some waking memory of living there, he’s probably listed with his family then. The issue is that the 1840 census doesn’t list everyone in a household. Just the heads of households and number of people in the household between certain ages.

So I will probably end up making a survey of the Thompsons there in 1840 who have children between the age of 1 and 10. The thing is that there are so many and there are enough origin stories to make your head swim.

Several sources say all the Thompsons of Butler are related to a single John Thompson born around 1755 near Juniata who is the son of John Thompson a Scot.

Others say there are two different Thompson families in Butler that are unrelated one straight out of Ireland with three brothers, James, Anthony and Moses and another from Lancaster county with it’s own three brothers, John, James and Matthew. Still further in the same history of Butler it relates that one of the first Thompsons in the area was from Cumberland and of Scotch Irish heritage named William Thompson. All of this is taking place around 1796, but a quick glance at the 1803 tax list for Butler will tell you there are more Thompsons than these.

Connoquenessing Township:

THOMPSON, Andrew        ---
THOMPSON, James         400     (single man) 
THOMPSON, John          400     (B.G.) 
THOMPSON, John          400     (Muddy Cr.) 
THOMPSON, Matthew        50     (single man)
THOMPSON, William 400

Middlesex Twp., Butler Co., Pa.

THOMPSON, Anthony       400
THOMPSON, Hugh ---
THOMPSON, John 400
THOMPSON, John 400 (blacksmith)
THOMPSON, John 400 (Con. Creek)
THOMPSON, John 400 (weaver)
THOMPSON, Martin 400
THOMPSON, Moses 400 (single man)
THOMPSON, William 100
THOMPSON, William 400 (single man)

These are not the lists from all the townships, but you can see that you have several John Thompsons to try to keep track of and little more identifying information. Some could be sons of those first settlers, or totally unrelated.

That is the thing I keep running into. Most of the histories of a place assume they are written for the current residents not for someone in a different state a hundred plus years in the future. They assume you can tell John Thompson from Lancaster from John Thompson from Slippery Rock or Dr. John Thompson who owns the furnace and mills. You would know which one you belonged to because it’s 1895 and you’re looking back fondly on the awesomeness of your family over that last hundred years.

These guys didn’t have DNA testing and excellent paper trails. They were hunting wolves and fighting natives on the frontier and for their grandchildren, myth and legend was just as reasonable as a tax list.

So I’m working at gut feelings. I think Levi was likely there in 1840 but probably gone by 1850 because in 1855 he’s married and having his first child. Where he is in 1850 is hard to say. He could be in the next county over still in Pennsylvania, he could be in Kentucky or Ohio he could already be in Indiana..he could be farther west.

What the histories do give me is an idea of what was happening at the time and how people felt about themselves. These were largely Irish, Scots Irish and German frontier people and they owned that. They fought and died, spied and killed, farmed and paid taxes. They also intermarried, a lot and had a lot of children. One of the Thompsons had 11 kids. Imagine if every one did that. No wonder the place is awful with Thompsons.

There in lies the hope of the genetic testing my family has done. So far, even through genetic testing it’s hard to tease out the Thompsons (everyone is related to a Thompson), but I may be able to pull out members of these other families that married in and through them and the histories I can find, be able to match my Thompsons with their “John Thompson from X”.

Several families mentioned in the history of Butler also move on to Indiana and may, in the end, be the key to a migration route from Butler PA to Alexandria IN.

Leave a Reply