CLARISSA M. THOMPSON. In the Boston Advocate during a part of the years 1885 and 1886, there ran a serial story of forty chapters called "Treading the Winepress," the opening paragraph of which was as follows: One of the prettiest towns in "Dixie" is the capital of a State which has played no insignificant part in our national history. Capitola, as I shall call this town, possesses



little artificial beauty. Though the public edifices, most of the business houses and some of the private residences are of brick or stone, wood is the favorite material used in building. Many of the wooden dwellings, however, are beautiful in design and finish, and almost everyone, no matter how small or clustered, has a flower-garden attached. Roses and violets, jonquils and hyacinths, pansies and jessamines, lilacs and geraniums and hosts of other plants bloom here luxuriantly. She is called the "City of Flowers," and no town, tropical or semi-tropical, has a better right to the title. But 'tis not her flowers alone that make Capitola lovely. A double, often triple row of trees, of which the elm, the sugarberry and the oak are the most conspicuous, line the broad, regular streets and, when spring decks them in their robes of living green, the town looks like a piece of fairy land. As one traveler wrote of her some time previous to the date of our story: "It is hard to conceive a city more beautifully situated or more gorgeously embellished with splendidly-shaded walks and drives, with flowers, shrubberies and plantations. Birds of splendid plumage sang and sported in the gardens under the delicious influence of its sunny skies. A spell of ease and voluptuous luxury seemed to pervade the place. Flowers, pictures, statuary, select libraries, all that the arts and sciences could contribute, adorned its halls and private residences. . . . It is no wonder that Eve was discontented in paradise when a people with so much to gratify the most epicurean tastes rebelled."

        The city here described was Columbia, S. C., the place where the authoress of the story, Clarissa Minnie Thompson, first saw the light. As is well known to those familiar with the condition of affairs in the South, there has been a large intermixture of other blood in the veins of the colored people of that section of our country. If the statement be true that the mixed races are the strongest physically and intellectually, the Afro-American should achieve a high destiny, for this amalgamation begun exceedingly near the year of our Lord 1620, continued until the slaves became free men and women, with a right to exercise control over their own minds and bodies. Miss Thompson, like so many others of her people, has the blood of several races mingling in her veins. On her father's side, three generations back, her family trace their ancestry to a son of la belle France, who was one of the South Carolina Huguenots, while her father's father was of Indian extraction, with a large percentage of Negro blood. On her mother's side she is of English and Negro descent. As we have already said, such a commingling of blood is by no means rare in the South, and it may be conducive of important consequences; for who can read the future?

        Samuel B. Thompson, the father of the subject of this sketch, though quite a young man when the war closed, became at once one of the recognized leaders of his emancipated brethren. He was sent as a delegate to the South Carolina Constitutional Convention, of 1868; immediately afterward he was elected a member of the State Legislature, in which capacity he served six years. For eight years he was a justice of the peace in his native city, and he held also the positions of alderman, coroner and colonel of the staff of the Governor of South Carolina. He was a "man whom his people delighted to honor," and years after a paper (of different political persuasion) published in Summerville, S. C., said of him, "He is a colored gentleman in every essential." T. McCants Stewart wrote, September 5, 1891, these words: "I shall never forget your honored father, Judge Thompson, who contributed intelligence, humanity and justice, to the problem of law which he helped to solve in our native State, dear old Carolina." Mr. Thompson's wife was a woman well fitted for the position of mother, noted in her girlhood for her modesty, amiability and good sense as well as for beauty of face and form, the years, as they rolled on, only developed these attractions and added new charms. Seldom, if ever, has there been a happier marriage than that of Samuel Benjamin Thompson and Eliza Henrietta Montgomery.

        Clarissa is the eldest of nine children--the others being John McPherson, successful physician, of Charleston, S. C.; Celia, Carriola and Lottie, all doing satisfactory work in the school room; Sammie and Willie, twins, and Eugene and Eugenia, twins, none of which have yet reached manhood's or womanhood's estate. With such parents any child must have developed all the good within him, for home training has almost everything to do with the character of the future man or woman; and it is not surprising, therefore, that thus far Judge and Mrs. Thompson regard themselves as being indeed blessed in their children. The Armstrongs, well-known teachers and society leaders, of St. Louis, Mo., and Dr. Alonzo C. McClennan, a skillful physician, of Washington, D. C., are cousins of this family; while an aunt, Mrs. Caroline Alston, has proved herself an excellent business woman, having carried on for years in Columbia, with fine success, a dry goods store, her patrons being of both races.

        Clarissa received her first instruction in Howard School of her native city, which boasted a fine corps of thirteen teachers. She had just completed her ninth year when she entered the highest room in the building, presided over by that most thorough and painstaking of teachers, Miss Carrie H. Loomis, of Hartford, Connecticut, for whom she cherishes the greatest affection and admiration. After a few years in Howard School she entered the South Carolina State Normal School, then under the principalship of Professor Mortimer A. Warren, "one of the best educators on the continent, an enthusiastic believer in the inductive system of teaching, he based his methods on those advocated by Froebel, Pestalozzi and Horace Mann." The Normal School was on the same campus as the South Carolina University, the alma mater of such illustrious South Carolinians of ante bellum days as William M. McDuffie and Robert T. Hayne; and though under a different regime at the period we have reference to, the standard had not been perceptibly lowered. Some of the best educators of the North had been secured as professors. The scholarly Richard Theodore Greener, fresh from the classic walls of Harvard, was the colored member of the faculty. Many of the students of the University at that time have achieved distinction: T. McCants Stewart, the distinguished colored lawyer of New York City; Joseph H. Stuart, of the Colorado Legislature; Robert L. Smith, who has made such a name as a member of the Texas House of Representatives, in looking after the interests not only of his own people, but of all citizens of the commonwealth, regardless of race, color, or previous condition; Joseph W. Morris, President of Allen University; and many others who have become prominent in their respective localities. Principal Warren was fortunate to secure the services of the professors in the University, and thus during the entire course the scholars of the Normal School received lectures from the faculty of this venerable institution, as well as from the preceptors of the Normal School.

        After graduation, Clarissa was appointed to the position of First Assistant in Howard School. Poplar Grove School, in Abbeville, a town in the northwest corner of the State, noted as being the home of John C. Calhoun, and the birthplace of Bishop H. M. Turner, soon called her to assume charge, and she remained at its head for fifteen months. Bishop William F. Dickerson, one of the brainiest and most cultured men ever raised to the Episcopal Bench of the African Methodist Church, was making herculean efforts at this time for the upbuilding of Allen University, located in Columbia, and, at his request, Miss Thompson became a teacher in that institution. For fifteen months she had charge of classes in Latin, Algebra, Physical Geography, and Ancient and Modern History. When she decided to leave Allen and accept a position in the public schools of Texas, there was a general expression of sorrow, students and teachers alike joining in this manifestation. She began teaching in Jefferson. Texas, in September, 1886. After three years' work there, she was elected to the position of First Assistant in the Fort Worth City School--one of the best schools in the Lone Star State--which position she holds at this writing.

        Miss Thompson's tastes have always been literary. From early childhood she has been an omnivorous reader and a ready writer. Some of her essays found their way to the Christian Recorder. Her first ambitious production was the novel to which we referred at the beginning of this sketch, which received very favorable mention. She herself regards it as simply a girlish protest against some tendencies which she thonght her race were beginning to develop. A temperance poem called "A Glass of Wine," which was published in the Texas Blade, and a novelette called "Only a Flirtation," published in the Dallas Enterprise, both from her pen, were highly commended. She has written many essays, some of which have been published and some have not. One of these entitled, "What Will the Harvest Be?" which was read before the Texas State Teachers' Convention, assembled at Dallas, was the subject of an unusual compliment. On its conclusion, Mr. R. J. Holloway, a Congregational minister and teacher, arose and said: "I would rather be the author of that paper than Superintendent of Education of the State of Texas." Miss Thompsom has not written much lately, her duties in the profession she regards as her life work demanding so much of her time and attention that she has very little to give to composition. Two of her latest efforts, one a poem on the lamented Douglass, composed for the memorial meeting held in Fort Worth the week after that illustrious stateman's death, and the other, a poem on Lynching, written at the request of the publishers of this book, together with a part of an essay, "Humane Education," read before the Teachers' Convention, assembled in Fort Worth, in 1892. The essay is given, not because of its being regarded as a fair specimen of Miss Thompson's style as an essayist, but because of its treating upon a subject in which all should be interested. 

Haley, James T.
Afro-American Encyclopaedia; 
Nashville, Tenn.: Haley & Florida, 1895. xiv, 639 p.

Courtesy of The University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill."


Clarissa Thompson research notes:

Clarissa Thompson's family 1880 Census:

1st Ward, Columbia, Richland, South Carolina
 Name  Relation Marital Status Gender Race Age Birthplace Occupation Father's Birthplace Mother's Birthplace
 Benjamin Thompson  Self   M   Male   MU   41   South Carolina   Carpenter   South Carolina   South Carolina 
 Eliza Thompson  Wife   M   Female   MU   38   South Carolina   Keeping House   South Carolina   South Carolina 
 Clarissa Thompson  Daughter    S   Female   MU   20   South Carolina   School Teacher   South Carolina   South Carolina 
 John Thompson  Son   S   Male   MU   16   South Carolina   Servant   South Carolina   South Carolina 
 Celia Thompson  Daughter    S   Female   MU   14   South Carolina   School   South Carolina   South Carolina 
 Caroline Thompson  Daughter    S   Female   MU   10   South Carolina   School   South Carolina   South Carolina 
 Lottie Thompson  Daughter    S   Female   MU   8   South Carolina      South Carolina   South Carolina 
 William Thompson  Son   S   Male   MU   5   South Carolina      South Carolina   South Carolina 
 Samuel Thompson  Son   S   Male   MU   5   South Carolina      South Carolina   South Carolina 
 Eugene Thompson  Son   S   Male   MU   3   South Carolina      South Carolina   South Carolina 
 Eugenia Thompson  Daughter    S   Female   MU   3   South Carolina      South Carolina   South Carolina