Friday, October 21, 2016

Rainsford Island, Boston and other Quarantine Islands of New England

Most Americans, especially those whose immigrant ancestors passed though New York City, are familiar with Ellis Island and the part it played in processing the new arrivals, especially those who were possibly ill with a contagious disease. But, long before Ellis Island there were many such places. I was surprised to see that one of my ancestors died on a Island in the Boston Harbor called Rainsford Island. Her named was Cynthia Thornton Brown. She was born in 1812 in Thornton, New Hampshire. Cynthia married a local man, Obadiah Brown, and the eventually settled in Boston. In May of 1856 she contracted the deadly disease of small pox. Cynthia was transported to the Island, located in the Boston Harbor to live or die. She died.

Rainsford, as I said, is very small, only about eleven acres and has an elevation of 49 feet. It had been used by the Native Americans prior to the arrival of English colonist. In 1632 it was given to Edward Rainsford who used it to raise cattle, safe from hungry wolves and poachers. In 1737 the town of Boston to use a place of quarantine. Ships coming into the Boston harbor who drop off any sick sailor or passenger, complete with their bedding and clothes. If you lived you left, if you died, you were buried in an unmarked grave.

The Island was used for various additional purposes in the ensuing years. Boston sent it's  desperately poor there to live in almshouses. A boy's school was established, called the Suffolk School for Boys, it remained open until the 1920s. When there was no contagion on the island, the caretakers could rent out holiday houses to Bostonians.

Today there are no remaining buildings on the Island which is reachable only by private boat. It is part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

The Lazaretto
Many of the colonial east coast cities had their own quarantine island. While Philadelphia did not have a quarantine Island, it did have a large facility, called the Lazaretto located just outside the harbor area. The word Lazaretto is Italian and is defined as a maritime quarantine station. The building, erected in 1799, still stands and is near the airport. This 217 year old building is the oldest surviving quarantine hospital in the United States. It was built shortly after the terrible yellow fever epidemic of 1793 during which about 5,000 people died.

The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

New York Island
New York City had multiple quarantine Islands. North Brother Island is in the East River between Rikers Island and the Bronx. Beginning in the 1880's it was the site of Riverside Hospital, the ruins of which still stand on the abandoned Island. This was the eventually home of the cook, Mary Mallon, famously known as Typhoid Mary.  She infected 51 people before being quarantined, for the rest of her life.

The federal government built several man made island in the lower New York Bay for the purposes of quarantine. Swineburne and Hoffman Islands housed victims of cholera epidemics, the last of which was in 1910-1911.  New York also had quarantine ships to house infected people.

North Brother Island is a bird sanctuary, owned by the City of New York. Swineburne and Hoffman are managed by the National Park Service and is off limits to the public.

Maine Islands
There are multiple islands off the coast of Maine that were once used for quarantine. Widows Island, a 15 acres land mass off the shore of North Haven was used to house yellow fever victims. Wood Island was used by the U.S. Navy for the same reason. Hospital Island in the Passamaquoddy Bay is a tiny three acre island that was used in 1832 to isolate ship passengers with cholera.

Thankfully, the days of rampant infectious disease are behind us. I can only imagine the pain and suffering felt by these people. What was Obidiah thinking when his wife Cynthia Thornton Brown was taken to Rainsford Island? He would never see her again. Did someone come by and tell him she had died?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Samuel Thornton of Abbeville, South Carolina; Who Was He? Was he the brother of Matthew Thornton of Londonderry, NH?

If the Thornton Project at FamilyTreeDNA is an accurate  reflection of the Thornton men who immigrated to North America then there are two large groups of  related descendants. The largest by far are the Virginia descendants of William and Luke Thornton. The next largest group seems to be the Thorntons of Rhode Island. Many of the other Thorntons have no match; my father's YDNA has one match.

My father was a descendant of the Thorntons who immigrated from the North of Ireland to New England in about 1720. They first established themselves in Maine, but were forced out by the Native Americans. They moved on to Worcester, Mass before settling in New Hampshire. His ancestors were James Thornton and his son William who died in Thornton, NH in 1790. The YDNA match was from a man who descended from Samuel Thornton who died in 1797 in Abbeville, South Carolina. So who was Samuel Thornton of Abbeville?

the simonton family of conestoga manor
Theophilus Simonton, believed to have immigrated from Ireland, purchased land in what was called the Conestoga Manor in Lancaster County, PA. Sometime around 1754 brothers William and Robert Simonton, sons of Theophilus, bought land in what was then Anson County, North Carolina. [1] Samuel Thornton purchased his land grant on 7 May 1757. He was married to Theophilus' daughter Mary Simonton. There is no record of their marriage so we cannot be sure where this marriage took place, in Pennsylvania or in North Carolina.

The map above shows the location of the Samuel Thornton land. It's interesting to note that his closest neighbors were Wassons. The Thornton family of Londonderry had close family ties with a Wasson family as well.

who was samuel?
Some folks claim that Samuel was the brother of Matthew Thornton who signed the Declaration of Independence. Another thought is that he was the son of Robert Thornton of West Bradford, Chester, PA. Robert did have a son named Samuel. He also had a daughter Hannah Thornton Freeman who is said have immigrated with her husband John to Cane Creek, North Carolina. Thornton/Freeman families were Quakers and they belonged to the first Quaker church in North Carolina. I do not think that Samuel of Abbeville is the Samuel son of Robert in this family for two reasons. First Samuel Thornton of Abbeville was a Presbyterian and was one of the founders of the Forth Creek Church in Anson/Rowan/Irdell County North Carolina. The other problem is that Samuel Thornton was still on the tax rolls for West Bradford, Chester, PA in 1789.

was samuel the brother of matthew?
If Samuel was the brother of both Matthew Thornton and my ancestor William Thornton, then the common ancestor between my father and the matching YDNA kit would have to be their father James Thornton. James would be my father's fourth great grandfather. Below is the chart showing the probability of our common ancestor.

I am only a novice when it comes to deciphering DNA results, but to me it seems that our common ancestor is more likely further up the chain. What we need is more Thornton descendants to take a DNA test to solidify the results. With only two tests it's simply not possible to tell. So, that being said, Hey all you Thornton males, get tested!

related story: The Mysterious Samuel Thornton

[1] North Carolina, Land Grant Files, 1693-1960, database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 25 September 2016), Anson County, Robert Simonton, 20 February 1754.

Have a great day!