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Jacob Thompson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-12082).

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Thompson, Jacob (15 May 1810–24 March 1885), congressman, secretary of the interior, and Confederate agent, was born in Caswell County, North Carolina, the son of Nicholas Thompson, a tanner, and Lucretia Van Hook. Thompson was raised in a family of some wealth as the result of his father’s marriage. He attended Bingham Academy in Orange County and graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1831. He tutored at the university for eighteen months and then, in opposition to his father’s wishes that he become an Episcopal minister, he studied law in Greensboro and joined the bar in 1835. Like many other ambitious young lawyers, he left the East and headed for the booming frontier in the Old Southwest. In 1837 he set up his law practice in Pontotoc, Mississippi, the site of a land office inundated by whites seeking to get their share of the lands recently opened up by the Chickasaw cession. Thompson quickly staked a claim to political leadership in northern Mississippi through his role in organizing the courts and championing the demands of the new counties for immediate representation in the state legislature. In 1838, after he had moved to Oxford, he married Catherine Ann Jones; the couple had one child....