CHARLES THOMSONCharles Thomson portrait at Harriton House, painted in the 1780's by Philadelphian Matthew Pratt
Lower Merion is proud of the patriot founder who lived here, The Hon. Charles Thomson, LL.D., Secretary of the Continental Congress. Few men attain to such all-around excellence and fewer still have been as useful in the life of our nation. An immigrant orphan, Charles Thomson became a great scholar, a capable professor, a successful business man, a friend trusted by the Indians, a writer of books, Secretary of the American Philosophical Society, a leader in the Revolution, during the fourteen troublous years of America's founding the careful keeper of the records, confidant of the leaders, head of the secret service, acting Secretary of State, first American to translate the Bible from Greek into English. This great American aided our cause much in the early days. It was to his Meeting House that Pastors Fleeson and Jones, came to hold services. Dr. Thomson invited Pastor Jones to Harriton, every Sunday, and in after years when unable himself to attend divine service on account of his advanced years, he sent his servant to the Church with "the compliments of Mr. Thomson and hopes Mr. Jones will dine with him." On the invitation of the Secretary, Pastor Jones was wont to use Harriton for accommodation in changing garments when there was baptism in the Creek.
Why Charles Thomson favored the Baptist cause rather than the Presbyterian, to which he belonged in the city, is not stated. It may have been largely personal to the minister or because the Baptist was less rigid in government and creed. Charles Thomson's own views were of the more liberal type. It is interesting to note that his translation of the Bible, which was published the year of our Church's founding, differs from the King James Version in translating in the Gospels, "baptize in water," rather than "baptize with water." The American Standard Version agrees with Charles Thomson, "Baptize in water." Be the reason what it may, the ground for the Meeting House was given to our Church by Charles Thomson, he laid the cornerstone of the Meeting House, and therein he worshipped.
In the Minute Book of the Trustees of the Church we read the following most interesting item: "Nov. 27, 1815. Special Meeting of the Trustees. The President (John Curwen, Esq.) presented a certificate of ten shares of Schuylkill Permanent Bridge stock which he had received from Charles Thomson, Esq., as a donation to the Baptist Church of Lower Merion. It was unanimously resolved that the President be directed to convey to Charles Thomson, Esq., their sincere thanks for his liberal donation, in addition to the many acts of kindness the Church has on former occasions received at his hands, and to express to him their sincere wishes for a long continuation of his health and valuable labors for the cause of Christianity." Mr. Thomson is recorded as being one of those present, on April 6, 1818, at the election of a Trustee to represent the congregation.
In the 95th year of his age the venerable Secretary passed away, and his funeral service was held in our Meeting House. In "Poulson's Advertizer" of August 27, 1824, we read: "Mr. Poulson: On Wednesday, the 18th inst., while passing down the Gulph Road, 11 miles from the city, I perceived a great crowd of people approaching the Meeting House at Harriton, preceded by two clergymen and a hearse. Supposing that some person of note was to be interred, I joined the multitude, and on inquiring, I found that it was the funeral of the well-known Charles Thomson. I asked who was to deliver the eulogium, and was answered that the Pastor of the Church was to officiate. Vexed that a country clergyman should attempt a task so important, in a sour mood I took my seat behind the door of the elegant and spacious Church. The remains of the patriot were placed on a table fronting the pulpit. As many as could be seated crowded the pews, and hundreds surrounded the House. The Rev. H. G. Jones arose and read the 90th Psalm. After a minute's pause he commenced his eulogium. His manner was impressive and his language classical. He seemed to speak the language of every American with a peculiar and affecting pathos. Before the exordium was finished my prejudices vanished, my pencil and paper were in hand and I endeavored to note the most material facts in Thomson's life. I shall never forget my feelings when the speaker said, 'O, 'tis he--your Thomson--the great--the good--the noble. There lies his body, bowed down with a weight of patriarchial years and covered with honors, about to amalgamate with its kindred dust.' The eulogium being finished, a clergyman whom I ascertained was Mr. Harris, made an appropriate address, and concluded with a very fervent prayer. Mr. Jones pronounced the benediction. The progression then advanced a few hundred yards into the woods, where is a family burying place. The body was deposited in the Episcopal style, after which the orator of the day bade Thomson a long adieu till that day when the Son of Man shall appear in all the glory of the Father."Charles Thomson portrait at Harriton House, painted in the 1780's by Philadelphian Matthew Pratt
In 1838 the remains of Charles Thomson were removed to Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia. According to a letter written by Mr. George F. Curwen immediately prior to this, the people of our community were opposed to the removal of Charles Thomson's body to the city, and, if there had to be a removal from the Harriton Cemetery, there could be no place so proper for the final depository of the relics as some spot in the possession of the Baptist Church. Mr. Curwen desired to make a contribution "to promote the erection of some lasting monument near the spot whence his spirit departed to the memory of Charles Thomson, the Christian patriot, scholar, gentleman and sage." The monument desired in 1838 was erected in 1931 by the State of Pennsylvania and the D. A. R. in the corner of our Cemetery.
When the Meeting House was remodeled in 1887, that eminent citizen, George W. Childs, of the "Philadelphia Public Ledger," donated the handsome memorial window to Charles Thomson, with picture of the Secretary in the centre, which adorns the sacred edifice. A copy of the Charles Thomson translation of the Bible was given as a gift by Mrs. William L. Austin in 1932 in memory of her husband.
FROM THE CHARLES THOMSON BIBLE TRANSLATION
"Happy the man who hath not walked by the counsel of the wicked; nor stood in the way of sinners; nor sat on the seat of the scornful.
His delight will be in the law of the Lord only. And on his law he will meditate day and night.
And he will be like the tree planted by the streams of water, which will yield its fruit in due season, and its leaf shall not fall untimely. In all that he doth he shall be prospered.
Not so the wicked; not so. They are like the chaff, which the wind driveth from the face of the earth.
Therefore the wicked shall not stand in judgement, nor sinners in the counsel of the righteous.
For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, and the way of the ungodly shall perish."
"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall want nothing.
In a verdant pasture he hath fixed my abode. He hath led me by gently flowing water and restored my soul. He hath led me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
For though I walk amidst the shades of death, I will fear no ills, because thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff have been my comfort.
Thou has spread a table before me; in the presence of them who afflict me. With oil thou has anointed my head; and thy exhilarating cup is the very best.
Thy mercy will surely follow me all the days of my life, and my dwelling shall be in the house of the Lord to length of days."