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Home North Carolina Onslow County City of Richlands Historical Markers Cyrus Thompson 1855-1930

Cyrus Thompson 1855-1930

NC-24 at Gregory Fork Road, Richlands, NC, USA
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Physician and orator. Secretary of State of N.C., 1897-1901. Farmers' Alliance and Populist leader. Grave 4 mi. W."
      Of Cyrus Thompson (1885-1930) as a Populist speaker, News and Observer editor Josephus Daniels wrote in 1941: “I always thought he was better than (Marion) Butler. Butler had no eloquence, Butler had much of insinuation and invective, but Thompson had eloquence and vehemence . . . an originality and a quaintness that were attractive . . . . My, how he could enthuse the Populists.”

      The Populist political wheelhorse was a man of many talents. Educated at Richlands Academy, Thompson graduated from Randolph Macon in 1876 and received his medical training at Virginia and Tulane. A “country doctor” of the old school, he rose to the top of his profession, in time heading the Medical Society of North Carolina. It was his practice among the farmers of Onslow County that provoked his interest in politics. He served terms in the state House in 1883 and Senate in 1885 as a Democrat. With the organization of the Farmers’ Alliance in the state in 1887, Thompson soon identified with their cause. He lectured widely across North Carolina on the group’s behalf and when Marion Butler became president of the National Farmers’ Alliance Thompson took over the state organization.

      When the Populist Party fielded candidates in 1896, Thompson launched a campaign for governor but, as the Fusion movement coalesced, switched his candidacy to Secretary of State. He was elected and served alongside his fellow Onslow native Gov. Daniel L. Russell. In 1898, with Red Shirts on the march and black disfranchisement at stake, Thompson met Democrat Charles B. Aycock in debates at Concord and at Hoop Swamp in Wayne County. Though he appeared frail, the widely-read Thompson was tough and adept, clever and witty on the hustings. Despite the heated debates, “Cy” and “Charlie” remained personal friends. In fact, in 1929 Gov. O. Max Gardner made him a member of the Aycock Statue Commission. Thompson was defeated in several runs for the United States House and Senate. On his death in 1930, his accomplishments were widely hailed. The Wilson newspaper described him as “one of the most brilliant and picturesque figures in North Carolina since the war of the sixties.”

Joseph Parsons Brown, The Commonwealth of Onslow: A History (1960)
Oliver H. Orr Jr., Charles Brantley Aycock (1961)
R. D. W. Connor and Clarence Poe, eds., The Life and Speeches of Charles B. Aycock (1912)
Josephus Daniels, Editor in Politics (1941)
Dorothy Long, ed., History of Medicine in North Carolina (1977)
The Heritage of Onslow County (1983)
Greensboro Daily News, January 8, 1928 (profile by Gertrude Carraway)
Cyrus Thompson Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, finding aid online at: