Thompson, William
c. 1733-1799; e.m. 1757

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WM itinerant, born at Newtownbutler, Co. Fermanagh, Ireland. He first heard Methodist preaching while on a visit to Dublin, where he was converted. Despite suffering for many years from stomach pains attributed to sleeping in a damp bed, he was stationed for over 40 years throughout the British Isles. An articulate and inspiring evangelist and preacher, during the last decade of John Wesley's life he became a trusted member of his entourage and was one of the preachers appointd to the Legal Hundred in 1784. In 1791 he moved quickly, calling a meeting of nine senior preachers to discuss the future governance of Methodism. Their Halifax Circular was adopted by the ensuing Conference, which also elected Thompson as President, preferring a relatively unknown and unordained moderate to more prominent connexional figures such as Thomas Coke or Alexander Mather. In 1796 he had a major hand in preparing the Plan of Pacification.

Charles Atmore described him as 'a man of remarkably strong sense, a fertile genius, a clear understanding, a quick discernment, a retentive memory, and a sound judgment - one of the closest reasoners and most able speakers that ever sat in the Methodist Conference'. This self-styled 'man of peace' was criticized by radicals like Alexander Kilham as a 'Church bigot' and a Pittite. He found himself increasingly isolated as the itinerants closed ranks on the centre ground in the face of the common threat posed by the Kilhamites. He died on 1 May 1799.


'A deliberate speaker. Select in the choice of his words.Was one of those men who… "would be persuaded by reason, but would not be convinced by authority"… Skilful as a pilot of the vesel of the church during a storm. Good acquired, as well as natural abilities. Of his prudence, wisdom, logic, philosophy, and theology, much might be said. One of the Methodist preceptors of Jabez Bunting.'

Wesleyan Takings (1840) pp. 319-20

  • Charles Atmore, Methodist Memorial (1801) pp.416-23
  • WHS Proceedings, 6 pp.4-8
  • History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol. 4, 'Documents and Source Material' (1988) pp.245-50, 259-60
  • Oxford DNB