Swanzey New Hampshire Actor and Playwright, Henry Denman Thompson (1833-1911)

Henry Denman Thompson, eldest son of Rufus and Anne (Baxter) Thompson, was born near Girard, Erie Co PA 15 Oct 1833.

Denman Thompson sitting on front porch Swanzey NH

Denman Thompson sitting on his front porch prior to 1911, Swanzey NH, from an old postcard owned by J.W. Brown

For three generations his ancestors had been born and lived in Swanzey New Hampshire. In 1847 when he was fourteen years old, he returned with his family to Swanzey NH,  the town which became the inspiration for writing his famous play, “The Old Homestead.”

While living there in Swanzey, Denman attended the Mount Caesar Seminary (now the Mount Caesar Union Library). His first appearance on the stage was at the Howard Athenaeum, Boston (1850) where he acted as a “supe” for Charlotte Cushman in “Lady Macbeth.” His first “speaking part” came two years later in “The French Spy,” in which he appeared in the character of the Oarsman.

Mr. Thompson spent a considerable number of early seasons as a stock-actor, playing melodrama in Canada and the States.In 1875, while playing in Martin’s Variety Theater at Pittsburgh, Penn., the then well known actor suffered a severe attack of rheumatism, and while helpless in bed conceived the plot of a short sketch which he called “Joshua Whitcomb.” This sketch was elaborated a few years later growing into “The Old Homestead”–the characters being taken from life and the scenes laid in Swanzey, New Hampshire that was dear to the hearts of the Thompson family for many generations. The play was the “epitome of sentimental rural Americana.”

Photograph from  Genealogical and family history of the state of New Hampshire, by Ezra S. Stearns, et al; 1908, p 1451.

Photograph from
Genealogical and family history of the state of New Hampshire, by Ezra S. Stearns, et al; 1908, p 1451.

“The Old Homestead” had its first appearance at the Boston Theatre in April 1886, and for over twenty years this clean-cut, wholesome and entertaining portrayal of country life gained a steady popularity and incidentally accumulated for the actor-author a substantial amount of money.

It is estimated that over twenty million people laughed and cried over “The Old Homestead” throughout the length and breadth of the United States and Canada. It is a play which then appealed to all, young and old, despite varying tastes and changing fashions.  “The plot of The Old Homestead” was built upon facts. The accusing of an innocent boy of theft; his shame, and the departure from home only to fall into the temptations of the city, and his rescue by his brave, old father, are all actual occurrences, brought together in a thrilling yet natural manner.

The poet, Eugene Field, wrote:
To Denman Thompson
There’s somethin’ in your homely ways,
Your simple speech, and honest face
That takes us back to other days
And to a distant, cherished place.
We seem to see the dear old hills,
The clover-patch, the pickerel pond,
And we can hear the mountain rills
A-singin’ in the haze beyond.

There is the lane wherein we played,
An’ there the hillside, rough an’ gray,
O’er which we little Yankees strayed
A-checkerberryin’ ev’ry day;
The big red barn, the old stone wall,
The pippin-tree, the fav’rite beach–
We seem to recognize ’em all
In thy quaint face an’ honest speech!

An’ somehow when we see ’em rise
Like spectres of those distant years,
We kinder weaken, and our eyes
See dimly through a mist o’ tears;
For there’s no thing will touch the heart
Like mem’ry’s subtle wand, I trow,
An’ there’s no tear that will not start
At thought of home an’ long ago.

You make us boys an’ girls again,
An’ like a tender, sweet surprise,
Come thoughts of those dear moments when
Our greatest joy was mother’s pies!
I’d ruther have your happy knack
Than all the arts which critics praise–
The knack o’ takin’ old folks back
To childhood homes and childhood days.
–September 2, 1885

In 1889 H. Denman Thompson donated and conveyed to the church in Swanzey NH about half an acre of land lying west of and adjoining the church land, being a portion of the “Old Tannery Lot,” upon the condition that the church should remove the horse-sends west to the west line of land thus conveyed by deed. Early in 1890 the church sold their parsonage to H. Denman Thompson for $2000. In the same year he supplied the church with a bell.

In 1964 a New Hampshire Historical marker was placed in Swanzey NH at the junction of NH 32 and West Swanzy Road, opposite Monadnock Regional High School to commemorate the life of this interesting man.  The marker says: DENMAN THOMPSON, (1833-1911), “A famous theatrical trouper who lived and died in West Swanzey. He gained
a national reputation by his portrayal of the character, “Joshua
Whitcomb,” the New Hampshire farmer on a trip to Boston. From this he
subsequently evolved “The Old Homestead,” a play of long runs before
enthusiastic audiences.”

Each year the Swanzey NH Community puts on the play “The Old Homestead” to honor Denman Thompson and the old-time residents of the townThe Swanzey NH web site promoting the current year’s play.


1. “Preface to The Old Homestead,” by Denman Thompson, John Russell Coryell, G.W. Dillingham Company, 1908
2. “The History of Swanzey, New Hampshire, from 1734 to 1890,” by Benjamin Read, page 176
3. The Cambridge Guide to American Theatre By Don Burton Wilmeth, Tice L. Miller, page 379
4. FamilySearch: birth, marriage and death records. https://familysearch.org


Book: The Old Homestead, by Denman Thompson

Book: Life of Denman Thompson, by Joshua Whitcomb; 1888 [includes quite a bit about the play “The Old Homestead”]

NH Historical Marker: Denman Thompson from waymarking.com

Denman Thompson: Theatrical Postcard, at Z. Reynolds Smith Library

1955 Swanzey Players, Souvenir Booklet for The Old Homestead | 1962 Program Booklet

Audio: Church Scene from The Old Homestead, 1901

Denman Thompson

Wikipedia: Denman Thompson

**PARTIAL FAMILY TREE OF Henry Denman Thompson**
SEE HISTORY OF SWANZEY for Thompson Genealogy, page 1451-1452
Also See Genealogical and family history of the state of New Hampshire, by Ezra S. Stearns, et al; 1908, p 1451, Thompson Family

Benjamin Thompson, probably son of John & Hannah (Wight) Thompson, b. 28 Apr 1703 in Medfield, Norfolk Co MA and d. 4 July 1786 in Bellingham MA. He married Mary Darling, daughter of John & Elizabeth (Morse) Darling on 10 March 1726 at Bellingham, Worcester Co. MA. She was b. 10 March 1706 in Mendon, Worcester Co MA and d. Jan 1783 in Bellingham MA. For a time they resided in Smithfield, Providence Co. RI. They had twelve children.
Children of Benjamin & Mary (Darling) Thompson:
1. Benjamin Thompson, b. 10 May 1727, d. in infancy
2. Tamer Thompson, b. 10 March 1728, d. 1788
3. Mary Thompson, twin, b. 10 March 1729; m. 18 Oct 1752 to Samuel Wight
4. Martha Thompson, twin, b. 10 March 1729; m1) Daniel Ballou; m2) Samuel Buxton
5. Benjamin Thompson, b. 9 May 1731
6. +Samuel Thompson, b. 20 July 1733, lived in Swanzey NH
7. Timothy Thompson, b. 16 May 1735; m. Rachel Draper and had issue.
8. Elizabeth Thompson, b. 21 Aug 1737
9. Joanna Thompson, b. 3 Aug 1739
10. John Thompson, b. 6 June 1741;lived in Swanzey NH; m1) 4 Dec 1764 Lucy Sabin; m2) 1797 widow Sarah Guild. He d abt 1808; had children, John, Israel, Chloe, Samuel, Lydia, Lucy and Benjamin
11. Roger Thompson, b. 18 Dec 1744; lived in Swanzey NH; m1) Elizabeth — who d. 24 July 1771; m2) widow Rachel Thayer. Children: Zadoc, Elizabeth, Thankful, Rufus, David, Ezekiel, Olive, Timothy and Moses.
12. Ebenezer Thompson, b. 27 Oct 1751; lived in Swanzey NH; m. 18 Jan 1776 to Sarah Applin. Children: Levi, Levi 2nd, Darling, Mabel, Sarah,  Ebenezer, Benjamin, Mary, Dolly, Adin, Zadoc, Roger, Mary and Rufus.

Samuel Thompson, third son and sixth child of Benjamin and Mary (Darling) Thompson, was born July 20, 1733 in Bellingham, Norfolk Co MA  and died about 1803 in Swanzey NH. He married 16 July 1761 in Smithfield, Providence Co RI to Rhoda Smith. She b. abt 1733 in Smithfield RI. They lived in Uxbridge MA and Swanzey NH.
Children of Samuel & Rhoda (Smith) Thompson:
1. ?Benjamin, b. 22 June 1763 in Uxbridge MA
2. Beulah/Bulah Thompson, b. 28 June 1765 in Uxbridge MA
3. Benoni Thompson, b. 19 Apr 1767 in Smithfield RI;  m. 10 Apr 1786 to Susanna Day.
4. ?Uriah Thompson, b. 31 March 1769 in Swanzey NH
5. Anna/Anne Thompson, b. 14 May 1771 in Swanzey NH
6. Rhoda Thompson, b. 30 Sep 1773 in Uxbridge MA
7. Josiah Thompson, b. 27 June 1775 in Swanzey NH
8. Jesse Thompson, b. 19 March 1777 in Swanzey NH; m. 28 Oct 1802 Uranah Aldrich, dau of Amasa Aldrich. Children: Mary, Rhoda, Uranah, Russell F., Rachel, Jesse, Angeline, Joshua Chandler, David, Emily and Lysander.
9. +Timothy Thompson, b. 11 Dec 1778 in Swanzey NH
10. Ebenezer Thompson, b abt 1780 in Uxbridge MA
11. Martha Thompson, b. abt 1785 in Swanzey NH
12. David Thompson, twin, b. 24 June 1796 in Swanzey NH, twin
13. Jonathan Thompson, twin, b. 24 June 1796 in Swanzey NH, twin
14. Mary Thompson, b. 17 May 1798 in Swanzey NH
15. Rufus Thompson, b. 28 April 1800 in Swanzey NH
16. Fanny Thompson, b. 29 May 1803 in Swanzey NH

Timothy Thompson, fifth son of Samuel and Rhoda Thompson was born in Swanzey NH 11 Dec 1778, and died Oct 1857. He married Mary Aldrich, daughter of Amasa Aldrich on 30 Sep 1805. She was b. 27 May 1783 and d. 18 June 1858.
Children of Timothy & Mary (Aldrich) Thompson:
1. +Rufus Thompson, b. 13 Dec 1805 in Swanzey NH
2. Otis Thompson, b. abt 1807
3. Amasa Thompson, b. abt 1809
4. Roswell Thompson, b. abt 1810
5. Czarina Thompson, b. abt 1812
6. Caroline Thompson, b. abt 1814; d. 1882 in Oregon, Wisconsin; m. Roswell Babbitt of Iowa
7. Maria Thompson, b. abt 1817; d. in Oregon, Wisconsin
8. Polly Thompson, b. abt 1818; d. in Oregon, Wisconsin

Rufus Thompson, eldest son of Timothy and Mary/Polly (Aldrich) Thompson was born 13 Dec 1805 in Swanzey NH, and died in Swanzey NH. He married 1st) 14 Aug 1831 to Anne Hathaway Baxter, daughter of Dr. Henry & Polly (Weeden) Baxter. She b. 20 Nov 1807 in Pomfret CT, and died 17 January 1889 in Swanzey NH. He married 2nd) 29 Nov 1889 in Swanzey, Cheshire Co. NH to widow Sarah A. Walker. She b. 30 March 1815 in Springfield, Windsor Co. VT. After his first marriage, Capt. Rufus Thompson removed to the wilderness of northwestern Pennsylvania, about 3 miles from the town of Girard. He made a clearing and put up a log house at a  settlement called Beech Wood. He was the carpenter for the neighborhood. They lived here until 1847 and their four children were born here, but they eventually returned to New Hampshire.
Children of Rufus & Anne Hathaway (Baxter) Thompson:
1. +Henry Denman Thompson, b. near Girard, Erie Co PA on 15 Oct 1833
2. Mary Melvenah Thompson; b. 11 Jan 1836; m. William R.Granger of Chicago
3. Sarah Melissa Thompson; b. 10 Nov 1839 in Girard, Erie Co. PA;  m. 1 January 1885 in West Swanzey, Cheshire Co. NH to Henry Abbott, son of John & Betsey Abbott. He b abt 1819 in Chesterfield NH.
4. Timothy Elbridge Thompson, b. 28 Nov 1843; he d. 27 October 1899 in Winchester MA; buried Swanzey NH

Henry Denman Thompson, son of Rufus & Anne Hathaway (Baxter) Thompson, b. near Girard, Erie Co PA on 15 Oct 1833; he died 14 Apr 1911 in Swanzey NH and is buried in Old Cemetery West, West Swanzey NH. He married 7 July 1860 in Toronto, York Co., Ontario, Canada to Maria Bolton. She was born 30 Nov 1839 in Niagara, Welland, Ontario Canada and d. 2 Oct 1904 in Swanzey, Cheshire Co NH. In 1900 Henry and wife Marie living in Swanzy NH. Census indicates Marie had 7 children, but only 3 living, and her mother was born Ireland, and father b. England. She had immigrated in 1870.
Children of H. Denman & Maria (Bolton) Thompson:
1. +Melvenah Thompson, b. 25 Feb 1863 in Niagara, Ontario, Ontario Canada; m. 23 May 1883 in Swanzey, Cheshire Co NH to Edward McFarland. He b. abt 1859 in Philadelphia, Montgomery Co PA
2. Annie Thompson, b. 17 March 1867 in Niagara, Ontario, Ontario Canada, d. 22 Nov 1916 in Boston MA (actress living at 1 Boyalston Place; m.  Washington G./J. Kilpatrick. She is buried in W. Swanzey, NH. Had at least one child, Anita Kilpatrick.
3. Franklin “Frank” Thompson, b. 23 Aug 1869 in Niagara, Ontario, Ontario, Canada; He married 1st) 23 Aug 1894 in Winthrop MA to Ethel Lawson Ormonde, dau of Edward & Catharine (Riordon) Ormonde.  They divorced. He married 2nd) 23 Dec 1908 in Boston MA to Laura B. Cobb, dau of Charles E. & Annie C. (Bradford) Cobb. She was b. abt 1881 in Auburn, Maine.  In 1908 his marriage record lists himself as “theatrical manager.”  In 1930 She was living, a widow, with her mother and sons in Needham, Norfolk Co. MA
In 1900 he was living in Swanzey NH, “a theatrical actor” with his wife Ethel S. (b. March 1874 in England & Ireland) “a theatrical actor.” At this time they had been married for 5 years and had no children. In 1910 living in Swanzey with 2nd wife Louisa C. (age 29 b. Maine) having been married for 1 year, no children in the census.  Sons of Franklin & Laura B. (Cobb) Thompson: 1) Henry Denman Thompson, b. 18 May 1910, d. 21 March 1971 in Bellows Falls, Windham VT; married Rella Alice Brown. They separated. At his death his occupation was listed as hotel clerk [Ellis Hotel, Keene NH]. He donated his body to the U.V.M. Medical School in Burlington VT. 2) Franklin Thompson, b. 18 Aug 1912 in Boston MA; died Sept 1978 in Duxbury, Plymouth Co. MA

Melvenah Thompson, daughter of H. Denman & Maria (Bolton) Thompson, was born 25 Feb 1863 in Niagara, Ontario, Ontario, Canada, and d. in 1923 at Massachusetts General Hospital. She m. 23 May 1883 to Edward A. McFarland from Philadelphia. He b. abt 1859 in Philadelphia, Montgomery Co, PA. Edward McFarland was associated with his father-in-law, H. Denman Thompson, in the management of the “Old Homestead.” His home was in Philadelphia PA. In 1900 they were living in Keene NH.
1900 United States Federal Census > New Hampshire > Cheshire > Keene Ward 3 > District 35
McFarland, Edward A. Head W M Nov 1856 43 married 18 yrs VA PA NH Theater manager
McFarland, Melvenah wife W F Feb 1863 37 married 18 yrs 3 ch 2 living Canada PA Canda imm 1875 living here 25 years
McFarland, Ethel H. dau W F Sep 1885 14 single NH VA Canada at school
McFarland, Denman T son M W June 1888 11 single NH Virginia Canada
U.S. Census > 1910 United States Federal Census > Massachusetts > Suffolk > Boston Ward 11 > District 1425
McFarland Venie Head F W 46 widow 3 ch 2 living Canada, PA Canada
McFarland, Ethel dau F W 24 single NH PA Canada
McFarland, Denman S. son M W 21 single NH PA Canada no occup.
U.S. Census > 1920 United States Federal Census > Massachusetts > Norfolk > Brookline > District 175
McFarland, Melvina Head F W 57 div Canada PA Canada
McFarland Denman D. son MW 31 single NH VA Canada manager
Turner, John servant M B 25 single VA VA VA chauffeur
Turner, Burie? servant F B 23 div VA VA VA housework
U.S. Census > 1930 United States Federal Census > Massachusetts > Middlesex > Newton > District 386
McFarland, Denman T Head M W 42 married at age 35 NH VA Canada Commercial Trade, Bonds
McFarland Alice D. wife F W 32 married at age 25 MA Ire Ire
McFarland Denman T. son M W 3-11/12 single MA NH MA
McFarland David son M W 1/12 single MA NH MA
Mannion, Elizabeth, servant F W 24 single Scotland Scot Scot
Children of Edward A. & Melvenah (Thompson) McFarland:
1. Alice McFarland, b. 6 Jan 1884, d. 10 Jan 1887
2. Ethel McFarland, b. 10 Sep 1885; she m. Thomas B. Holmes and resided in Mexico.
3. Denman Thompson McFarland, b. 30 June 1888 and d. July 1965 in Miami FL; he married abt 1926 to Alice D. Finnegan.  She was b. Feb 28 1898 in MA and died Apr 1968 (at age 70). He was President/Treasurer of Purity Bakeries Inc in Newton MA. They had children Denman T. (b. 30 Apr 1926, d. 6 Sep 2001 Hull MA, who m. Anne Murphy. She b. 10 Sep 1931 and d. 20 July 2003. He is buried at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne MA, section 30, site 67) and David, b. abt 1929

[updated August 2013, and June 2014, family information and photograph]

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8 Responses to Swanzey New Hampshire Actor and Playwright, Henry Denman Thompson (1833-1911)

  1. Stephanie Jackman/(Denman Thompson McFarland's grand daughter) says:

    I was told that one of my grandfathers’ grandfathers wrote “the Old Homestead” play. So i google searched his name and found this page. My grandfather was Denman Thompson McFarland married to Anne Murphy.The family tree ends with them on this page. But, goes far beyond. His brother David McFarland is still alive and lives on Cape Cod. Denman and Anne lived in Hull, Ma and had 9 children; Scott, David, Richard, Steven, Kennith, Glen, Denise, Cheryl, and Kim all McFarland. He was in the Navy, served in Guam,and became a Fireman for the town of Hull until he retired.Ken has a daughter Cathrine McFarland,Steven has a son Mathew McFarland, Cheryl has 3 children AnneMarie, Stephanie, and Jeffrey and Denise has 2 boys Greggory and Riley. Annemarie also has a son Gavin. which would be Denman’s great grandson. Not sure if any of this is relevent to this but i figured some one took the time to figure out the family tree until that point.

  2. Evelyn Randall says:

    I’m looking for any surviving relative of Denman Thompson’s daughter, annie..can you help? Thanks

    • Stephanie says:

      not sure I would be able to help. 🙂 My grandfather was Denman Thompson McFarland. Annie would have been my great great great grandmothers sister.

  3. Tim Cattron says:

    I found this site while searching for the parents and ancestors of Timothy Thompson. Mary Ann Thompson (B. 14 Dec 1834, D. 22 Oct 1911) is my 2nd. great grandmother. She was granddaughter of Timothy Thompson. It is great to find this genealogy information and that a distant relative was the well known playwright.

    • Richard Thompson Mcfarland says:

      my father Denman Thompson Mcfarland was U.S.Navy Submariner in WW2.My family
      laid him to rest with honor the
      day before the attack on the U.S
      on Sept11/2011…which confidently was my mother
      Anne Murphy Mcfarland ‘s
      birthday,wedding anniversary ,
      and the day the red van with
      U..S.M.C. logo picked me up
      to drive me to Logan Airport
      for flight to Paris Island for boot camp.She told me she had a bad
      dream about me the previous night.I missed connecting flight from D.C. …Plane crashed
      in N.C. ..69 people were killed
      many young men on their way boot camp….My father ‘s only
      sibling …my uncle Dave Mcfarland U.S.M.C. ret .
      served in Korea. and Vietnam.
      was highly decorated.
      when the telegrams came to notify my grandmother Alice
      Mcfarland that her son had been wounded in combat
      again…my father hid them from
      Alice so as not to worry her.
      and uncle Dave earned several
      purple hearts being a career
      marine…..He always told us about Denman Thompson
      and his fame……

      My parents had nine children
      six boys three girls.All have talent I have entertained for years in clubs,play guitar,and
      have been lead singer in many bands,am a poet, songwriter ,and comedian All my brothers
      and sisters play music..and we still jam on holidays….my site Kim was homecoming queen
      and other sisters quite attractive .
      just wanted to throw this little
      info into the mix

      Richard Thompson Mcfarland

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