Edwin Thompson was born in 1809 in Lynn, Massachusetts where he was educated at a Quaker School. As a teenager he took up the abolitionist cause and quickly became active in the Young Men’s Anti-Slavery Society of Lynn. By the early 1830s, he was engaged as a speaker throughout Massachusetts often in the company of abolitionist leaders William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips. Thompson was among the abolitionist lecturers who influenced escaped slave Frederick Douglass to take on a public role in the anti-slavery cause.
Thompson embraced the Universalist faith in 1833 and was the minister at South Dedham from 1841 until 1846. While the leader of this community’s Universalists, in April of 1844, he spoke – alongside Frederick Douglass – at a meeting of the Norfolk County Anti-Slavery Society held in Dedham. During this time period and through the Civil War, Thompson’s home at 12 East Street in East Walpole was a safe house for runaway slaves heading to Canada.
Well-loved, jovial, and without bias of any kind, Thompson, who was nicknamed “Little Thompson” due to his short stature, was also a leader in the Total Abstinence Movement. He organized a temperance chapter in South Dedham and convinced local tavern owner Joseph Sumner to join the cause by buying up Sumner’s existing stock of liquor.
Rev. Edwin Thompson died in his East Walpole home in May of 1888 at the age of 79. A few months earlier, in December of 1887, Frederick Douglass recalled how clearly he remembered the powerful effect Thompson and his friend, the anti-slavery poet John Greenleaf Whittier, had upon audiences in New Bedford during their abolitionist campaign.