History of the Thompson Family Association
by Marilyn M. Lear
Beginning June 22, 1958, descendants of Reubin and Rachael Chambers Thompson have gathered every year at Ebenezer Methodist Church. This small country church, organized in the early 1800s as Greenleaf Brush Arbor, relocated to the current property in the 1870s.
The white frame building stands on Kemp Road west of Swainsboro, Emanuel County, Georgia, on land given by Wesley Thompson. It was at the center of the Kemp community, once much more populated. The Kemp country school was nearby.
The family association was first proposed in 1957 when Ruby T. King wrote George A. Thompson. She said, “What do you think, cousin George, of getting our Thompson kin and allied families together at Kemp Church on a Sunday that is not a Preaching Sunday?” They agreed and corresponded for several months. George, who lived just down Kemp Road, sent names and addresses to Ruby, wife of Methodist minister Larry King. Larry and Ruby never lived in Emanuel County. There has been many homecomings at Ebenezer Church in the past, but a new reunion group was formed by descendants of Reubin Thompson and some early, closely-related families such as Beasley, Flanders, Hall, Kea, Kitchen/s, Rowell, Youngblood, and others.
The first reunion was reportedly a great success with over 500 in attendance. Someone said they were all talking at once! This gathering, with its business meeting, hymn singing, fellowship and overflowing tables of country food became a much-loved tradition. Eventually, the date was changed from summer to the first Sunday in October, likely because of the weather. In 1996, a family history newsletter was started, sent out along with the regular invitation to the reunion. Currently we are working to have the newsletter sent by email where possible to save on the expense.
About 1965 Ruby King wrote George Thompson that the next project would have to be a picnic shelter, as it rained and they had to eat their lunch inside the church! This was accomplished and a second shelter added later. Over the years, other projects were carried out by the Reubin Thompson Memorial Foundation, as our group was known after incorporation. Some include purchasing Baldwin brasses for Ebenezer Church, a chain link fence around the large and growing cemetery, planting dogwoods, azaleas and camellias on the property and marking Old Thompson Cemetery, a mile north of the church. A granite marker was unveiled in 1985 marking the site as Historical Site Number 10 of the South Georgia Conference, U.M.C. There was also a granite monument placed at Ebenezer for three family members who died in the Civil War, two at Gettysburg and one in Virginia.
More recent projects include the purchase of ten granite pillow stones at Ebenezer Cemetery for some kinfolk who had no permanent markers and the installing of trashcans. We also have given a number of $500 scholarships to family members, now called the “Roots and Wings” Scholarship.
Currently, the major expenditure of the foundation is the maintenance of the Ebenezer Cemetery and church. In this cemetery over 115 Thompsons are buried, along with 30 Halls, 27 Kitchens, with many other kin. There were numerous intermarriages among the Kemp families. Since the present church congregation is quite small, our foundation helps out in vital ways, including insurance, mowing and more. In order to continue to give timely assistance, we depend on donations and involvement by family members.
A number of loyal folks have volunteered their time and energy in leadership roles for the family association. Among those who served with great distinction was Reginald Thompson. He was secretary-Treasurer of the foundation for many years, gave legal assistance, and provided much financial and clerical support. Another was Kathryn Overman Scott who published Footprints of a Pioneer Family in 1977. A list of foundation presidents includes: Ruby Thompson King, Comer Kitchen, Benny F. Kirkland, Levy Thompson, Don Thompson, James A. “Buster” Johnson, Garland Thompson, Bill T. Akers and currently, Philip Stephens. The Rev. Clarence Thompson serves as current pastor of Ebenezer Church. Other family members have served on the foundation’s Board of Directors, which plans the reunions, communicates with family members and keeps the foundation running smoothly.
A major event for us occurred in October of 2007 when we celebrated our 50th annual reunion! Events were expanded to include a family history session Saturday afternoon and a fish fry and Gospel sing that evening. The Sunday schedule, as usual, included old hymns, business reports, family history update and an interesting program. The highlight for some was the final event, the delicious meal, complete with barbecue cooked on the spot by Robert Thompson and other dishes brought by our kin. Picture the colorful food spread on long tables under the picnic sheds, which was the inspiration for this special cookbook. Please remember with love the special women who gave their families not only hearty food but tender care and spiritual guidance to strengthen them for the future.