Granite State Stories: Count Rumford flees New Hampshire

  • Portrait of Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (1753-1814), by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), 1783. Thompson is wearing the military uniform of the King’s American Dragoons, a Loyalist unit he founded in 1781. Courtesy of the N.H. Historical Society

Published: 8/10/2018 11:46:46 AM

Benjamin Thompson was an intellectually gifted but struggling schoolmaster when he arrived in Concord, then called Rumford, in 1772.

His fortunes changed, however, when he met and married Sarah Walker Rolfe, a wealthy and influential widow. Through his marriage, Thompson became a man of property and standing. A Loyalist, Thompson fled behind British lines in 1776, abandoning his wife and daughter.

He advised the British command in the colonies and conducted experiments with gunpowder, launching his scientific career. He moved to London and studied physics and thermodynamics, then relocated to Bavaria in 1785 to work for Charles Theodore, Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. Thompson reorganized the Bavarian army, designed the famed English Gardens in Munich, and produced many scientific innovations, including the Rumford fireplace and a drip coffeepot.

In 1791, Thompson was named a Count of the Holy Roman Empire, and chose the name “Rumford” after the town where his career began.

N.H. Historical Society

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