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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

THOMPSON, Theophilus Augustus

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THOMPSON, Theophilus Augustus. (Frederick, MD, Apr. 21, 1855 - after 1875). Thompson is the earliest documented African-American chess expert recognized in the United States. In addition to competing in tournaments, he wrote a book Chess Problems: Either to Play and Mate published in 1873. (1) At this time, Thompson worked for Orestes A. BROWNSON.

In April 1872, Thompson witnessed the game for the first time, in a match between John K. Hanshew and another man. Hanshew, publisher of The Maryland Chess Review, loaned Thompson a chessboard and some chess problems to solve. Not only did he solve those ones assigned, but began composing his own which he later contributed to the DUBUQUE CHESS JOURNAL. (2) Thompson's fame grew and he competed in a number of tournaments. In a June 1986 article in U.S. Chess Life, Larry Parr reported that Mr. Thompson played correspondence chess and scored 7-2 in one tournament. "His over-the-board style has the same touch as his problems: his moves were hard, fast, and aggressive. In the argot of a later era, he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee."(3)

Thompson faded into obscurity soon after gaining prominence with his book and there is some uncertainty about the remainder of his life. The Dubuque Chess Journal was sold in 1876 and Brownson Jr. died soon after, leaving Thompson without a job. The 1880 U.S. Census shows him back in his home state of Maryland working as an oysterman. Later on the 1920 census has him still alive, married with two children at 64 years of age. The date of his death is unknown. (4)

The US Chess Center in Washington D.C. hosts the Theophilus Thompson Chess Club in his honor on Saturday afternoons.



1. "Theophilus Thompson," Online: http://www.thechessdrum.net/drummajors/T_Thompson.html

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. "Theophilus Augustus Thompson," Wikipedia. Online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theophilus_Thompson