Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Piecing together the Puzzle; Some thoughts on Genealogy

My love affair with genealogy began about six years ago when I was sorting out all my mother's hundreds of photographs and was asking her to identify the people in the pictures.  I wanted to be able to remember who they were, put a name to a face, make sure they weren't forgotten and discarded. What started out as an innocent project quickly spiraled out of control, before I knew it I had memberships on ancestry.com, fold3, and archives.com. I was reading dusty old history books about towns I had never heard of, I was digging through the past and loving every minute of it. Unbeknownst to me, I had been infected with the genealogy bug. I was a genealogy junkie. I am a genealogy junkie. I'm surprised there is not a support group for people like me.

What do I love about genealogy?  I love that it is not easy.  I love that it may take hours, days, weeks even years to find nothing more than a date of birth or marriage or death.  It's challenging, frustrating and infuriating.  But, but when I find that name or date or what ever document that has been hiding from me, it is sublime.  I was sitting at my computer at work on day (yes, I sneak a peak or two on my lunch break) when a particular piece of information lined up and I made what I consider to be my greatest find, my co-workers must have thought I'd lost my mind or won the lottery.  I could hardly contain myself, I was dancing around the office, that memory still makes me smile.

To me, each ancestor is a puzzle.  A puzzle that has been broken apart and three quarters of the pieces thrown out.  The pieces that remain were scattered about and, just to make it even more difficult, they were mixed with the pieces of another person's puzzle. The more pieces we find, the clearer the person becomes to us.  The further back in time we go, looking for puzzle pieces, the harder they are to find and, the fewer there are of them.

Puzzle pieces with dates and major events are the easiest pieces to put together. What is harder and, sometimes impossible, to locate are the pieces that tell us not the whens and the wheres but the whats.  What did they look like, were they short, tall, skinny, fat, beautiful or ugly?  What color was their hair, their eyes, what did their voices sound like?  What were their beliefs, were they religious, did they believe in heaven or hell? Were they funny, smart, stupid, rude, were they mean or a bully?  Did they love, were they loved in return? Unless they wrote a revealingly intimate journal, these are questions which I believe we can never answer, but it is surely tempting to try. I love to try to place my ancestors into their historic time and place and write a narrative of their life. It makes them more interesting to me, not just a bunch of dates, but a real person, who lived and walked this earth. That is what I love the most about genealogy.

What do I dislike about genealogy?  Often times the answer is....other researchers. We are all chasing the same pieces of our ancestor's puzzle, are we not?  We may have different objectives and wish for different outcomes. Some researchers are sharers, some are not.  Because I write this blog, I am lucky to have been contacted by fellow researchers who are interested in sharing and comparing our pieces. People have generously mailed me printouts of their information, they have emailed me documents and they have sent CD's filled with photos. There have been many times when I have found that not only was I missing some important pieces, but that I had the wrong ones as well, and I am grateful for the assistance of others in correcting my information.

I have also been TOLD my puzzle is wrong.  I may have the right pieces, but I have not put them together the right way, their way. I have been berated and bullied; I was once threatened with a  lawsuit if I did not amend my post. I am more than happy to allow polite dissenters to air their views on my blog, and why not. I understand that though we may have the same pieces, we interpret them differently, we come at them from differing angles. differing view points, differing life experiences. These differing interpretations bring us back to the fact that we can never really know another human being, especially one long dead.   We will never know our ancestor's motivations, their passions, their relationship with their world and with those whom they came in contact with. If we can civilly agree to disagree, I will happily play the puzzle with you. If, however, you demand that I change my puzzle or you retreat to your own ill written website to bad mouth me and other researchers whose work you disagree with, well, I don't want to play with you.

I write my blog for my own pleasure.  I hope that members of my family also enjoy reading about our common ancestors.  If others stumble upon my blog, and actually read the content, great. If you want to collaborate, yea!  If you don't like what I've written, oh well.  Write your own story of our ancestor's puzzle, but leave me and my name out of it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Two Matthew Thorntons; A Family Divided

Growing up a Thornton I was always familiar with the story of Matthew Thornton, my 4th great grand uncle. He was a doctor, soldier, statesman, and signer of the Declaration of Independence.  For me, this amazing connection to the birth of our great nation is a point of family pride.  But there is another Matthew Thornton in my family tree, he is my 3rd great grand uncle, nephew of the other Matthew, brother of my 3rd great grand father, and he was accused of treason, tried as a traitor, called a loyalist. Two men, two sides of the greatest conflict in our history, one family divided.

matthew thornton, the uncle

Matthew Thornton was one of only a handful of foreign  born men who signed the Declaration of Independence.  Born about 1714 in Ireland, his family, staunch Presbyterians, left Ireland about 1718. The Thornton family lived for a time in Worcester, in the Bay State (Massachusetts).   Matthew's father, James Thornton, was a smart man, he was unhappy in Worcester, the town would not grant the Presbyterians the right to their own minister and forced them to pay taxes supporting the Puritan Church. He was the driving force behind the formation of the town of Pelham, admission requirement: being a good upstanding Irishman.

Matthew Thornton, son of James, was also intelligent and ambitious.  Farming was not for him.  He trained as a doctor under Dr. Grout in nearby Leicester, MA. After finishing his apprenticeship he set up practice in Londonderry, NH, a town founded by his fellow countrymen from Ireland. In 1745 he joined the New Hampshire Militia as a surgeon, and accompanied them to the siege of Louisburg.  He had a royal appointments as a Justice of Peace.  He also was a proprietor in many of the new towns that were being formed in New Hampshire, including the town of Thornton, NH which was obviously named for him. 

Matthew lived in Londonderry, where he married, finally, in 1760 Hannah Jack.  He was elected selectman for Londonderry many times, as well as a representative to the provincial assembly. In the run up to the American Revolution he was a member of the Committee of Safety, he was not only a representative to the Continental Congress, but a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Matthew supported the war wholeheartedly and continued to participate in state politics after the formation of the state legislature. He was born an Irishman but became a great american patriot. 

matthew thornton, the nephew

Matthew Thornton, sometimes called Matthew Thornton, Jr. was the third son of William and Dorcas Thornton and nephew of Matthew, Sr.  He was born in 1746 in Palmer, MA, but came of age in Schenectady, NY.  In 1768, at the age of 21, he married Mary Crawford. He was a farmer and served in the Schenectady Militia with his brothers under Captain Daniel Campbell. 

His uncles, Matthew, James and Andrew were grantors in the new town of Thornton, NH that same year, 1768.  In 1770 a census of Thornton showed only 4 tax paying men living in the town. By 1775 there were Thorntons, Wallaces, and Crawfords settled there. The Thornton men included William Sr. and, William Jr. and Matthew, his sons.   James, John and Thomas, other sons of William Sr. chose to remain in Schenectady, NY. 

Captain Matthew, as he was known, was chosen to represent the town of Thornton in the third Provincial Congress on 21 April 1775 in Exeter, NH as well as the 4th congress held in May. He was appointed to various committees including one that was asked to form a plan to regulate the militia. On 6 July 1775 he was recommended to serve as a Lieutenant in Captain Osgood's company in the Continental Army. He was also recommended by David Hobart, David Webster and  Samuel Sheppard to the Committee of Safety to be allowed to enlist his own company of 43 able bodied men as soldiers. In their letter the men wrote that Matthew was "a man we can depend upon in the greatest trouble or distress".Two of the men who joined up with him were Thomas and Jonathan Crawford of New Chester, possible relatives of his wife Mary Crawford and also his cousin John Wallace.

Captain James Osgood and 1st Lieutenant Matthew Thornton were able to raise three companies who marched from Haverhill, NH on 8 September 1775 to Ft. St. John in Quebec, which fell to the American forces on 2 November 1775. On 21 December 1775, Matthew's term of enlistment was up and he mustered out of the army.  This was the last time he took up arms as a patriot. 

On 30 September 1777 Matthew Thornton was arrested and accused of being a traitor. It seems that he had be caught on 16 August 1777 at the Battle of Bennington on the British side of the breastwork. He claimed that he had left Thornton, NH to check on his property at Otter Creek, New York, some 170 miles away.  He claimed that he was taken by Hessian soldiers and forced to drive their wagons, witnesses said that there was not a wagon in sight when he was taken.

General John Burgoyne
At the time that Matthew decided to do a property check, General Burgoyne and his army were pushing south to Albany, NY after their recent victories including that at Ft. Ticonderoga. Burgoyne sent a detachment of men under the command of Lt. Col. Frederick Baum to forage for the army.  Baum's men were mostly Brunswick Dragoons, British Sharpshooters, Canadian and some Indians.  Along the way the met up with several companies of American Loyalist who joined them.  Was Matthew Thornton one of these men?  

The Battle of Bennington, was a great victory for the American forces, led by Col. John Stark of New Hampshire. It ultimately resulted in the surrender of General Burgoyne and brought the French into the war.  It is said that the most vicious fighting took place between the patriots and the american loyalists. David Hobart, who first recommended Matthew to the Committee of Safety, was commander of the detachment of the 12th New Hampshire Regiment that was fighting at the Tory breastwork.  Matthew was lucky he survived the battle at all. Matthew's brother John was present at the surrender of Burgoyne. I wonder if he knew then that his brother had been arrested for treason.

Matthew was taken back to New Hampshire, formally charged with treason and imprisoned awaiting trial in Exeter. He tried to escape in May of 1778, but he was caught and put in irons. He remained in handcuffs until June, when he petitioned to have them removed. 

 His trial was not until September 1779.  He plead not guilty.  His Uncle, Matthew, was not a judge at his trial, but it possible that he influenced the jury's decision of not guilty. It's hard to imagine what he could have said to convince the jury of his innocence.  

After the trial Matthew and his family left the United States for the loyalist stronghold of New Brunswick, Canada, where he was given a Loyalist land grant in St. Andrews. He was also a member of the Penobscot Association of United Empire Loyalist. His wife and family joined him in Canada after the war in 1783. His brothers James, John and Thomas, who remained in New York all served and survived the war.  I wonder what they thought of him and if they ever heard from him after he left the country.  

New Hampshire Historical Society, Proceedings, Vol. 3
Musgrove, History of the Town of Bristol 
New Hampshire Provincial Papers
Committee of Safety Minutes

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

William Thornton County Tyrone Ireland to Thornton, New Hampshire

My Thornton ancestry search was recently turned upside down when I realized that the man I though was my ancestor was not and his brother whom I always believed to be a great uncle was.  I had always believed that my ancestry came through Samuel Thornton, son of James and Elizabeth Jenkins Thornton, but instead it was his brother William.  I was really quite happy when I found this out as there is not much known about Samuel, William on the other hand had quite an eventful life.

irish origins
In his book about the James Thornton family, Charles Thornton Adams wrote that they lived outside of Londonderry in what is now Northern Ireland.  But William's son said that the family came from County Tyrone.  There is a Derry Townland in Tyrone, so maybe that is where they were from. A townland was not a village, it was more of a rural land division. The Thornton family had migrated to Ireland from either Scotland or England sometime in the previous century.  Their religion of choice, Presbyterian, was not a popular one in England and then in Ireland and finally to their chagrin in New England.  In the early 1700's a large number of other Scotch-Irish Presbyterians left Ireland for America.  Some went to Virginia and others to Massachusetts, the Thornton's were part of the Massachusetts contingent.

new england
No one knows exactly when the Thorntons left Ireland, some say 1718 and other 1720.  In any event they made their way to America by 1720.  They are believed to have landed in Boston and then tried their luck in coastal Maine.  Some sources say they were in Wiscasett and others Brunswick, whatever, they weren't there for long. There is also a story that the settlement was attacked by Indians, causing the Thorntons to flee.

Worcester was a frontier town in 1720.  It was only about 40  miles west of Boston yet it had been attacked, abandoned and burned to the ground on numerous occasions.  What the town and the colony needed was a  barrier to Indian incursions. Who better, apparently, than the Scotch-Irish immigrants, send them to the frontier and see what happens. As it turns out the Thorntons and the rest of the S-I were not driven out by Indians but by Puritans.

The S-I may have been welcome, but their religious beliefs were not.  James Thornington was given a pew for his family to worship in the meetinghouse but he was not allowed to listen to a minister of his choosing. He and the other S-I were taxed to pay for a minister who they did not agree to and to make a long story short, they left.

pelham and dorcas
So far, this has been James' story.  But by 1740, when the Thorntons started a new settlement called Pelham, William was a grown man.  And, what does a grown man need, a wife, of course.  By 1744 William was married to Dorcas Little, daughter of Thomas and Jane Little.  Jane, according to researcher Robbie Scott, was the sister of James Thornton. If true this would make William and Dorcas first cousins which has a decided ick factor.

The first child of William and Dorcas was born in Pelham, they named him James after his grandfather. Shortly thereafter, William relocated some 19 miles to the south to Palmer, MA.  His sons William and Matthew were born there in 1745 and 1746 respectively.

is the grass always greener? 
So far, William had moved his growing family from Pelham to Palmer.  William's brother Matthew was among things a proprietor in many of the early settlements in western and northern New Hampshire.  He acquired shares in the new "town" of Dublin, NH and although he never settled there his brother, William did. It is believed that Molly, daughter of Dorcas and William was the first child born in Dublin.  Unfortunately, by 1753, the threat of Indians once again drove the family from their home.  Next stop, Schenectady, New York.

schenectady, ny
Schenectady, New York is some 116 miles due west from Dublin, New Hampshire.  Today this would take less than 3 hours to make the trip.  It must have taken days, weeks even, back in 1753.  Schenectady, at least was a settled area, unlike Dublin.   Many of the residents of the area were of Dutch origin, they had founded the town in 1661.  The area around Albany and Schenectady, was home to the Mohawk and Iroquois Indians who had occasionally attacked the new settlers.

James and Dorcas settled in an area then called Corry's Bush, now Currybush.  Thomas Little, father of Dorcas also lived in the area. William's sister Agnes Thornton Wasson and  her family also chose to make there home in New York, in the Cherry Valley not to far from Schenectady.

Although the area had been long settled, life was probably not very easy.  There was constant fear of attack from Indians and the Thornton's were part of the local militia that fought in the border wars.  The names of William, James and Matthew Thornton appear on the muster rolls of Captain Daniel Campbell's company in 1767.  Charles Adams say that the William was the elder who would have been 54 by then.  I think it was just as likely, if not more, that it was William Jr. who was the more youthful 22 years old and not his father.

Dorcas Little Thornton died in 1763.  Her parents Thomas and Jane outlived her by quite a few years.  Her children with William were:

1. James b. 1744 Pelham, Massachusetts, m. Antje Schmerhorn in Schenectady, d. 1815 Schenectady
2. William b. 1745 m. Dorothea Bagley by 1784 in Thornton, NH, d. 1814 Thornton, NH
3. Matthew b. 1746 Palmer, MA, m. Mary Crawford in Schenectady, d. 1824 New Brunswick, Canada
4. Mary/Molly b. 1749 Dublin, NH, Unknown
5. Thomas b. 1751 Dublin, NH,  m. Elizabeth Richardson, d. 1819 Schenectady, NY
6. John b. 1753 Schenectady, NY, m. Ann Clyde, d. 1819 Schenectady, NY

In 1771 Thomas Little wrote his will.  He left some money for the four youngest children of William Thornington, they were: Thomas, John and

7. Nancy, b. ?
8. Samuel b. ?

There is a ten year gap between the birth of John and the death of Dorcas.  Was she the mother of Nancy and Samuel?  This is where everything get a bit confusing.

back to new hampshire

The last piece of evidence that seems to tie William to New York is a deed, dated 3 Feb 1770.  It places him in Curry's Brook according to Charles Adams.  The next time his name is found is in 1773 in a Londonderry petition. William, his sons Matthew and William, and presumably Samuel left New York and settled finally in Thornton, NH. Sons James, John and Thomas remained in New York.  Why did they leave? I wish I knew.

1790 probate

William died in 1790, he was 77 years old.  He must have been a vigorous man, at the time of his death he was married and had three small children and his wife Eleanor was pregnant.  He did not leave a will, but because of a rather lengthy probate case we learn that the names of his heirs included his sons William and Samuel and a daughter Dorcas. I believe that Samuel was my ancestor who married Catherine Baker and that Dorcas married John Durgin.

When William died his debts were more than the value of his estate, he largest creditor was his brother Matthew.  Eleanor, of course, was given her dower lands which she held until her death in 1845.  The revenue from the land was used to pay off any remaining debt from William's estate, better late than never I guess. Eleanor remarried by 1797 to Benjamin Avery.  Things did not go to well for him and he became "idle" and wouldn't or couldn't work.  William Thornton, grandson of Eleanor's husband William, and the other Selectman of Thornton, requested and were made guardians of Benjamin and Eleanor and their land.

If Benjamin and Eleanor had any children I can't find them.  I also cannot find anything on two of the children of William and Eleanor; Abraham and Sarah.  Catherine Thornton apparently never married and eventually lived with her sister Dorcas and then with Dorcas' children.

Related Posts:
William and Samuel
William Thornton
James Thornton
Thornton DNA project