Sunday, March 10, 2019

Thornton, Wasson and Clyde Families in the Mohawk Valley, New York during the American Revolution

In 1753, my ancestor William Thornton, born 1713 in Ireland, left his New Hampshire home and headed about 125 miles west to Schenectady, in the Mohawk Valley of  New York. Today it's a scenic three hour drive, then it was an arduous journey that might have taken weeks. Little did William know that in less than 25 years this remote, fertile valley would be the site of some of the bloodiest fighting of the American Revolution. The combatants were English Loyalist, Native Americans, American Patriots of Dutch, English and Scots-Irish descent.

Traveling with William was his wife Dorcas Little Thornton and their children; William, Matthew, James, Mary, and Thomas, all under the age of 10. More children would be born in their new home. Also making the trek to the Mohawk Valley was Thomas Little, father of Dorcas, and William's sister, Agnes Thornton Wasson, and her husband, John Wasson Sr. and  their children; Catherine Wasson Clyde wife of Samuel Clyde, John Wasson Jr. who married Dorothy Little, Thomas Wasson, Thornton Wasson and George Wasson. These families were intimately bound to each other through the bonds of marriage. In fact, William Thornton's son John, born in 1753 in Schenectady, married Anne Clyde, daughter of Catherine and Samuel Clyde. She was born in 1764.

So, why did they go and what was life like in the Mohawk Valley? And how did they survive living in one of the most dangerous places to be during the American Revolution? Let's start with some background on the area.

The Dutch
Arriving in 1661, the Dutch were the first European people to permanently settle in the Mohawk River Valley. You only have to look at a map of the area to see the Dutch influence. Towns such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam, revel their Dutch origins in their names. The Dutch, of course, established Dutch Reform Churches in their new settlements. After the French and Indian Wars, English and Scots-Irish settlers began to move into the fertile valley to establish farms. These groups intermarried, forming new bonds. During the American Revolution many men of Dutch descent fought for the American cause.  [ 1 ] 

The Natives
The Mohawk Valley takes it's name from it's original inhabitants, the Mohawk Indians. The Mohawk was one of five Iroquois tribes that inhabited a vast area of New York and Canada. One Native American in particular played a key role in the response of the people of the Mohawk Valley to the American Revolution. That man was Joseph Brant, a member of the Mohawk tribe whose Indian name was Thayendanega. He was born in March of 1743 in Ohio, during a hunting trip. He was raised at Canajoharie on the Mohawk River in New York. His father was not a chief, but was a member of some standing in his tribe. [2]

Sir William Johnston, Superintendent of the Northern Indians, made Joseph a protegee of sorts. Joseph's sister Molly was Johnston's mistress, whom he married after the death of his wife Catherine in 1759. Sir William recommended him to the Moor Charity School for Indians, at which he studied Western history among other subjects. The school is now known as Dartmouth College, in Lebanon, Connecticut.  After completing his education he went to work for Sir William and was his assistant during the French and Indian Wars. [3]

Joseph married and settled on a farm in Canajoharie. He converted to Christianity and became a member of the Anglican church. He translated parts of the bible into his own language. Brant was also a Freemason. When the war came, he was a Loyalist. [4]

In 1776 Joseph Brant was chosen as Principal Chief of the Confederacy of the Six Nations and a Captain in the British Army. He would wage bloody brutal war on his rebellious friends and neighbors, and was responsible for the destruction of their property and the death of hundreds. [5]

The English
The major players for the Loyalist side of the American Revolution were the Johnsons and the Butlers. Sir William Johnson, who so influenced the life of Joseph Brant, was succeeded in his lands by his son, Sir John Johnson and his position as Superintendent by his son in law, Colonel Guy Johnson, upon his death in 1774. John Johnson lived at Fort Johnson, his father founded Johnstown. Guy Johnson was a nephew of William's and he married his first cousin Mary, William's daughter. [6] Guy and Mary lived in a mansion called Guy Park in the city of Amsterdam.

The Butler family, like the Johnsons, were wealthy and held positions of power in the Mohawk Valley. John Butler and his son Walter were loyalist who formed their own militia company; Butlers Rangers. Walter Butler was among the most hated of the loyalist, following the massacre at Cherry Valley, for which he was blamed. [7]

The Thorntons
The Thornton's left New Hampshire and settled in the fertile river valley near the town of Schenectady in a place called Curries Bush. There is no town there now, only a road called the Curry Bush Road, but it was near modern day Princetown. Thomas Little and his family also settled near Princetown. The records are thin for this era so there is not much in the way of documentation for them. But we do know a few things about the family.

In his bible, James Thornton, son of William and Dorcas wrote that his mother died in Curry Bush in 1763. James who recorded her death in his bible was nineteen at the time, William's  youngest was John, age ten. [8] Dorcas is said to have buried on her father's father, which eventually came into the hands of the Wasson Family, through the marriage of Dorcas's sister Dorothy to  John Wasson. [9]

As the older boys grew to manhood they began to take on the duties of adult life, including military duties. In 1767 the local militia was headed by Captain Daniel Campbell. On his muster roll dated 12 May 1767 are the names William Little, Thomas Little Jr., William Thorenton, James Thornton, and Matthew Thornton. Also on the list, but I think misspelled, is John Wasson Sr. and his son Thomas Wasson. [10] I have two questions concerning the list. The first is why was William's surname spelled differently and second was William the 54 year old father or the 22 year old son?

Matthew was the first of the boys to get married. On 30 March 1768 he married Mary Crawford. [11] James married Antje Schermerhorn in the Dutch Reform church on 19 February 1769. [12] Both couples had a daughter born in June of 1770 and both girls were called Dorcas. [13]

This is confirmed by a land deed in which William sold land in New Hampshire, the deed places him in Curries Bush in 1771.

The Wassons
William's sister Agnes married John Wasson. Like William they immigrated with their family to Schenectady, leaving Chester, NH in about 1753. John Wasson found work in Schenectady as a butcher. Eventually he too moved to Curries Bush.

His only daughter married Samuel Clyde, also from New Hampshire, they moved to Cherry Valley in 1761.  The remainder of the children, all boys, stuck close to home, now Curries Bush.


[b] William Maxwell Reid, The Mohawk Valley, it's legends and it's history, (New York, NY : GP Putman and Sons, 1902).

[1] Jonathan Pearson, Contributions for the genealogies of the descendants of the first settlers of the patent and city of Schenectady, from 1662 to 1800, (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1976).

[2] George L. Marshall Jr. "Chief Joseph Brant: Mohawk, Loyalist and Freemason," Varsity Tutors ( : accessed 5 November 2016).

[3] Richard Berleth, Bloody Mohawk,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Reid, The Mohawk Valley.

[6] Berleth, Bloody Mohawk

[7] Ibid.

[8] James Thornton's Bible

[9] Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Dorcas Little Thornton (1725-1763), Find A Grave Memorial no. 95382890, citing Wasson Family Cemetery, ; this is a private cemetery on the old farm owned by Thomas Little. Many Wasson's are said to be buried there, but the headstones are degraded and cannot be read.

[10] New York State Historian, New York Colonial Muster Rolls, 1664-1775, Vol 2, (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2000) 824.

[11] Thornton book

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid


[i] "U.S. Dutch Reformed Church in Selected States, 1639-1989," database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 9 Novemeber 2016) citing Schenectady Baptisms, Vol. 2, Book 42, entry for Dorcas Thoornton.

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