Theophilus Thompson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Profile of Thompson found in his Chess Problems book

Theophilus Augustus Thompson (April 21, 1855 - after 1875) is the earliest documented African-American chess expert recognized in the United States.[1] In addition to competing in tournaments, he wrote a book Chess Problems: Either to Play and Mate published in 1873.

Early life[edit]

Thompson was born into slavery in Frederick, Maryland[2][3][4] as were his parents.[3] After emancipation, in 1868, he worked as a house servant in Carroll County, Maryland,[3] but returned to Frederick in 1870.[5]


In April 1872, Thompson witnessed the game for the first time, in a match between John K. Hanshew and another man.[5] Hanshew, who was the publisher of The Maryland Chess Review, gave Thompson a chessboard and some chess problems to solve. Thompson showed an immediate ability to learn the game and master its rules.[4][1] Thompson's fame grew and he competed in a number of tournaments.[6]

He gained lasting fame for his book of endgame positions: Chess Problems: Either to Play and Mate (1873).[4] It was published by Orestes Brownson Jr., the editor of the Dubuque Chess Journal for whom Thompson also worked as a servant.[3]

Thompson faded into obscurity soon after gaining prominence with his book[2] and there is some uncertainty about the remainder of his life. The Dubuque Chess Journal closed in 1875 and Brownson Jr. died soon after, leaving Thompson without a job. There were rumors that he may have been the victim of a racial lynching,[4] but the 1880 U.S. Census shows him back in his home state of Maryland working as an oysterman. Later on the 1920 census[dubious ] has him still alive, married with two children at 64 years of age.[3] The date of his death is unknown.

The U.S. Chess Center in Washington D.C. hosts the Theophilus Thompson Chess Club in his honor on Saturday afternoons.[2][7]


  1. ^ a b Thomas-Lester, Avis (2007-03-11). "Kings of a Different Game". Washington Post. p. C01. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  2. ^ a b c Barnes, Denise (1996-01-25). "Not-so-famous halls of fame honor men and women who were the best in diverse fields". Washington Times. p. M4. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Brennen, Neil R. (2006). "The Caged Bird: The Story of T.A. Thompson". The Chess Drum. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Theophilus Thompson: Master Emeritus". The Chess Drum. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  5. ^ a b Thompson, Theophilus (1873). Chess Problems. J.J. Brownson. p. 3. 
  6. ^ Shabazz, Daaim. "The Rising of the Black Star". United States Chess Federation. Archived from the original on 14 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  7. ^ White, Alexander S. (1995-07-28). "Making the Move From Pawn to King". Washington Post. p. N51. 

External links[edit]