Thomson, Samuel (1766–1816), poet, was born 25 May 1766 near Templepatrick, Co. Antrim. Nothing is known of his family or early life; his father could have been a James Thompson who signed a document in Templepatrick in 1771. Thomson was presbyterian, and made a living as a schoolmaster in the townland of Carngranny, near Lyleshill. Educated, ambitious, and passionately interested in literature and theology, he was well read in English and Scots literature, sought out new books, and began to write poetry, which at first appeared over pseudonyms in Belfast newspapers. He published a book of poems by subscription in 1793, and two other volumes appeared similarly in 1799 and 1806. His verse in English is competent and still of interest, particularly his pastorals, and poems that successfully and amusingly parody the styles of fashionable English and Scots writers. He was more interested in using the Scots language of his native area, and wrote that ‘in costume Scotch, o'er bog and park/My hame bred muse delighted plays’ (Scott & Robinson, 62). Some of his best poems in Scots are skilful and humorous; he was particularly adept at rendering Scots speech and in using speech to delineate character. He was much impressed by the poetry of Allan Ramsay and then by that of Robert Burns. He corresponded with Burns, sent him presents of Dublin-made snuff, complimented him by dedicating his first volume to him, and in February–March 1794, with a friend, visited Burns in Dumfries. The journey on foot took three days in each direction, but Thomson was so keen to participate in literary culture and to acknowledge Burns's celebrity that he regarded it as one of the most significant events of his life. Burns gave him a copy of two poems, one of which is not otherwise known.
Thomson had many friends, who shared his enthusiasms and who kept each other informed of literary and political news; his network of correspondents included the Rev. James Porter (qv), W. H. Drummond (qv), and James Orr (qv). Thomson's own letters are lost, but his friends’ letters, along with ephemera and drafts of his poems, survive in a fascinating collection in TCD MS 7257. Material such as this, which enables historians to explore the aspirations and concerns of men who participated in the radical enlightenment of east Ulster in the late eighteenth century, is not particularly common, and Thomson would be remembered for his role in this network, even without his poetry. As a young man, Thomson to some extent supported the radical politics espoused in the 1790s by the Northern Star newspaper, and one of his best friends and most interesting correspondents, Aeneas Lamont, was a compositor on the paper. James Porter and James Orr were United Irishmen, but it seems that Thomson did not take part in the armed rebellion, and his radicalism faded in the aftermath of its debacle. He and Orr disagreed in the early 1800s, at least partly about politics.
Thomson died in 1816, probably on 1 June, after suffering ill health and despondency. There is no record of his being married. His reputation as an important pioneer of Scots writing in Ulster has been growing, and some of his work was republished in 2002.