Richard Wigginton Thompson

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Richard Wigginton Thompson (9 June, 1809 – 9 February, 1900) served as the twenty-seventh Secretary of the Navy from 1877 through 1880.

Life & Career

This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships

Thompson was born on 9 June 1809 in Culpepper County, Virginia. He left Virginia in 1831 and lived briefly in Louisville, Kentucky. Later in 1831 he settled in Lawrence County, Indiana where he taught school, kept a store, and studied law at night. Admitted to the Bar in 1834, he practiced law in Bedford, Indiana, and served for four terms in the Indiana Legislature from 1834 to 1838. He served as President Pro Tempore of the Indiana Senate for a short time and briefly held the office of Acting Lieutenant Governor. In the Presidential Election of 1840, he zealously advocated the election of William Henry Harrison. Thompson then represented Indiana in the United States Congress, serving in the House of Representatives from 1841 to 1843 and again from 1847 to 1849 as a member of the Whigs.

During the Civil War Thompson showed no loyalty to his state of birth. He served the Union as Commander of Camp Thompson, Indiana and as a provost marshal throughout the war. Thompson was appointed by President Lincoln as collector of internal revenue for the seventh district of Indiana, serving one term in that capacity.

Following the Civil War, Thompson served as judge of the 18th Circuit Court of the state of Indiana from 1867 to 1869, and during the elections of 1868 and 1876, Thompson was a delegate to the Republican National Convention. In 1877, Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him Secretary of the Navy, and he held that office until resigning on 21 December, 1880.

After his resignation, Thompson became Chairman of the American Committee of the Panama Canal Co. in 1881 and director of the Panama Railroad Co. the same year. Retiring in 1888, Thompson lived out the remainder of his days in his adopted state of Indiana. He died on 9 February, 1900 at Terre Haute, Indiana.

In 1918 the U.S. Navy named Destroyer No. 305 in his honor.

See Also


  • Neely, Mark E. (June 1976). "Richard W. Thompson: The Persistent Know Nothing." Indiana Magazine of History 72: pp. 95-122.
  • Roll, Charles (1948). Colonel Dick Thompson: The Persistent Whig. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau.
  • Thompson, Richard Wigginton (1881). The Interoceanic Canal at Panama. Its Political Aspects. The "Monroe doctrine." Argument before the Committee of Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.: T. McCill & Co.
  • Weninger, Franz X. (1887). Reply to Hon. R.W. Thompson, Secretary of the Navy, addressed to the American people. New York City: P. O'Shea.


Naval Appointments
Preceded by
George M. Robeson
Secretary of the Navy
13 Mar, 1877 – 20 Dec, 1880
Succeeded by
Nathan Goff, Jr.