A chill October wind mixed salt air with ash from the smokestacks of Edinburgh and carried it up to the farmlands south of the city as the Thompson family gathered to wait for a seventh child to join the clan. Robert Thompson, born June 1771 in Edgehead, and Janet Russell Thompson, born April 1791 in Borthwick, married for sixteen years, named the boy Alexander upon his birth on October 22, 1805.
Alexander was born in Sauchenside Farm, Cranston, Midlothian, Scotland, and was baptized two weeks later on November third. The older siblings, Christina, Robert, William, Mary, George, and John, ages twelve to one year, quickly took to the new arrival. His sisters were expected to help their mother with the younger children. Two younger brothers, John and James, would follow, filling out the family with seven brothers and two sisters.
Edinburgh was growing rapidly in the early nineteenth century, becoming a hub for lawyers and other professionals, and gobbling up nearby land to accommodate its growth. Scottish culture was having its heyday, generating a wealth of philosophy and literature, such as Sir Walter Scott’s works of historical fiction. At this time Scotland’s capital was known as the “Modern Athens,” a place where people of modest birth were afforded the opportunity of rising to wealth and prominence. But the prosperity was not universal, and many poorer Scots sought their fortunes overseas, especially in the growing republic on the far side of the Atlantic.
Alexander Thompson was one of those Scots who found his prospects bleak in his homeland. Despite a quickly growing economy, the population was growing even faster, and competition for work was fierce in 1820s Scotland. As the fifth son in a large family, Alexander could only count on his family to do so much. So, he did what many young Scots in his position were doing at the time—he got on a boat headed for America.
As was and remains typical of immigrants the world over, Alexander did not take this great journey alone. On the boat with him were his older brother George, George’s wife Catherine Penman Thompson, and her younger siblings James, Isabelle, and Robert Penman, aged fifteen, eleven, and two years, respectively. The Nimrod landed in New York on July 9, 1827. Having come of age at twenty-one years old, Alexander was excited to get a chance in the “land of opportunity.”… … (see ‘The Chronies’ for entire narrative)
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