Sampson, Thornton Rogers (1852–1915)

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: July 1, 1995

Thornton Rogers Sampson, missionary and teacher, son of Francis S. and Caroline (Dudley) Sampson, was born at Hampden-Sydney, Virginia, on October 9, 1852. He attended Hampden-Sydney College in 1868 and received his B.A. in 1871. He taught school in Bedford County, and on July 3, 1873, graduated from the University of Virginia. In 1874 he went to Europe to study in Scotland and at Leipzig, Germany. He entered the American College at Beirut, Syria, in 1877. Sampson had a talent for learning languages and during his studies mastered German, French, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic. In 1878 he returned to Virginia and was ordained a Presbyterian minister. He married Ella Royster on April 30, 1878, and they eventually had four children. The family sailed for Athens, Greece, where Sampson served for fourteen years as a missionary. He returned to the United States in 1892 and in 1894 became president of Fredericksburg College, North Carolina. Sampson came to Texas in 1896 to be president of Austin College at Sherman, a position he held from 1897 to 1900. In 1900 he was elected the first president of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. As such he helped bring about the college's affiliation with the University of Texas, a union that set a precedent for denominational schools. He resigned the presidency on June 30, 1905, but continued to teach as the Henry Jacob Lutcher professor of church history and polity. On April 1, 1914, he became executive secretary of the Conference for Education in Texas. Sampson was an advocate of a strong public school system and believed that the church and school were interconnected. He was influential with schools under the Southern Presbyterian Church in Texas and brought about the standardization of Presbyterian colleges and their affiliation with the state university system. He received honorary degrees from Davidson College in North Carolina-D.D. in 1893 and LL.D. in 1907. He was last seen on September 2, 1915, while mountain climbing on a vacation trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and was presumed lost in a snowstorm of September 3.

Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (5 vols., ed. E. C. Barker and E. W. Winkler [Chicago and New York: American Historical Society, 1914; rpt. 1916]). Arthur Gray Jones, Thornton Rogers Sampson (Richmond, Virginia: Richmond Press, 1917). Who Was Who in America, vol. 1.
  • Education
  • University Presidents and School Administrators
  • Religion
  • Presbyterian

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anonymous, “Sampson, Thornton Rogers,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995