Monday, December 8, 2008

William S. Tompkins, Drum Maker

Who was Wm. S. Tompkins? The 1870 Yonkers census contains a record (p. 611a) of Wm. S. Tompkins, "Drum Maker" listing him as having been born in New York, 58 years old (so b. 1812). About ten years earlier, in the early 1860s, when some of the drums discussed in the above-cited blog posting were made, he would have been 48 years old.

We know he was a craftsman, fond of elaborate inlaid circular patterns of five-pointed stars and diamonds, centered about a bone grommet vent hole. Some patterns were more elaborate than others, but his style is unmistakable.

See "Tompkins 1860-1863 Masterpiece Drums -- Where Are They Now?" for more information about Wm. S. Tompkins and his drums.

Preceding the American Civil War, the United States was a war with Mexico. The Mexican War between the United States and Mexico began with a Mexican attack on American troops along the southern border of Texas on Apr. 25, 1846. Fighting ended when U.S. Gen. Winfield Scott occupied Mexico City on Sept. 14, 1847. Source: "The Mexican War".

So, in 1846-47, Wm. S. Tompkins would have been 34-35 years of age. In my non-expert opinion, the portrait looks age-appropriate.


Here's the answer in an email from one of our readers, Mark Groesbeck:

Dear Ellis,

Thank you for writing. Isn't the internet wonderful? I am delighted to send a picture of William Shute Tompkins, however I cannot send it without a story!

When my wife and I were relocating from Rochester, NY to Atlanta, GA, we were both a little nervous about having William Shute Tompkins' portrait hanging in our dining room. After all, we knew he had made drums for the civil war, we knew he was a relative and we knew he was from Yonkers, NY. Therefore, he must be a Union soldier, right? Well, the fact that he is my great, great grandfather (not three greats, but two --- I must have mis typed my earlier message) won out, and we decided to hang the portrait.

Imagine our delight when during our first gathering at the house, someone walked up to the picture and asked, "who is this person who fought in the Mexican War?" I asked how he know it was the Mexican War, and was told the high collar with red was the indication of a Mexican War uniform. You can imagine our relief!

As for any bibliographical information, I will have to go back through some of my family papers to see what I can find. On my Bowman's Ancestral Chart, here is what I have. My maternal grandfather, Merwin L. Smith (1883-1954) was a geneaologist and also a member of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower descendants. It was his wife, my maternal grandmother, Marian Tremper (1882-1971) whose lineage traces back to Tompkins. Marian Tremper was the daughter of John H. Tremper (1837-1930) and Frances Hatfield Tompkins (1827-1926). Frances Hatfield Tompkins was the daughter of Wiliam Shute Tompkins and Martha Augusta Hatfield.

When you have a minute, please write back and tell me a little about yourself. Where do you live, and how did you come to be interested in Tompkins drums?

Best regards,

Mark Groesbeck


  1. William shute Tompkins was my g-g-grandfather also. I descend from his son William Edgar.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Please email the to discuss identifying yourself.

    Do you have any Wm. S. Tompkins memorabilia or information?



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