Monday, April 28, 2014

What's in a Name? A lot as it happens.

If you have done any digging into your family history or genealogy research, especially for ancestors who lived before the 20th century, you have probably come across multiple issues with their names, both forename and surname. Spellings may differ from document to document. Spellings may differ from line to line on the same document. Is there multiple children with the same name or a single child with more than one possible year of birth? Is her name Mary or Polly, Sarah or Sally? And these are issues with English ancestors, ancestors from non English speaking countries have a host of other larger obstacles for which I have yet to scratch the surface.

Lately I have run into several name issues with two particular ancestors that illustrates some of the confusion caused by naming patterns in families and spelling of the family name. Rather than finding this defeating, I am plunging myself into the morass of what I call the "Colonial American Name Game". Here is what I have learned so far. 

same name, so many ways to spell it

I have a few ancestors who seem to have had multiple ways to spell their surnames.  In a will written in about 1770, William Thorington was named as an heir to Thomas Little.  His sons, John and Thomas Thornton were also named. Why is the father called Thorington and his sons Thornton? Another ancestor had the last name of Hammond. His name was recorded as Hammond, Hammand, Hammat and Hamment, as well as any other variation you can possible come up with.  Why so many variations in spelling.   Why would fathers and sons have different spellings of their surname? Did no one know how to spell back then?   

The answer to the last question seems to be yes and no. The problem wasn't so much that they didn't know how to spell, rather there was no standard way to spell.  The first American Dictionary was not published until 1823. It was written by Lexicographer Noah Webster, a proponent of standardized reformed spelling of the American English language. Until then people wrote words like they sounded, to them. 

In an article about family surnames Barbara Kransner-Khait, asks the question for family researchers, "does spelling matter?". Her answer, "In a word, no".  She goes on to say, "be prepared for lots of spelling variations" and "spelling didn't seem to matter much-the sound was what was important". She stresses that if you limit yourself to a singular spelling you will just might miss out on a lot of information. 

In the National Institute for Genealogical Studies course work on Orthography, the lecture by Dr. Penelope Christensen tells us that before 1900 most people did not know how to spell their last name, and they did not care. She goes on to say, "genealogist ignore spelling variations at their peril! Author John Titford is correct in affirming that the greatest difference between professional and amateur family historians is that the professional takes a more flexible approach to the form and spelling of a surname."

Because so many people did not know how to spell, they relied on the record keepers to write their names for them.  The record keeper wrote down what he thought he heard and how he thought it ought to be spelled.  He might spell the same name differently on the next entry. Members of the same family may have had their name spelled differently from each other, as in parish records for baptisms, marriages for death. This wasn't about spelling incorrectly, it was about spelling inconsistently. 

My case in point is the Sanders/Sanderson family of Watertown, MA.  Three men whose surname was Sanderson lived at some point in time in Watertown. Robert Sanderson lived there for about 10 years.  His name is not found very often in the Watertown records, but it was recorded as both Sanders and Sanderson.  William Sanderson was also recorded in both Watertown Records and Middlesex County Court Records, Middlesex County deeds and in the Groton town records.  The same goes for Edward Sanderson, he is Sanders, Sandors, Saunders, and Sanderson. Are these different men, I think not. I believe there was one Robert, Edward and William whose surname had no fixed spelling. 

naming patterns-multiple children, same name

So, whats the deal with these families having multiple children with same name? It seems that from the time of the middle ages children had been  interchangeable, they  were viewed as part of a unit, the family, and not as an individual.  When a child died, it was not seen as an individual loss, but rather a loss of part of the whole.  The next child born, of the same sex, would be given the deceased child's name, making the unit whole again. 

My case in point is Mary Egellston who married Edward Sanderson in Watertown in 1645. Many family researchers say that she was the daughter of Bigod Eggelston of Connecticut. Bigod's daughter Mary was baptized in Norwich, England in 1614.  When her marriage was recorded, the only time her name appears in any colonial record, it was not spelled the same as the current standard spelling of Bigod's surname.  This inconsistent spelling does not rule her out as a daughter. But there is another issue with Mary that I believe does rule her out.

Bigod and his first wife had three children born in England.  They were James, Mary and James. Did they have two living children named James?  No, the first son named James died and the family reused his name when the next son was born. Fast forward a few years and Bigod is living in Massachusetts. His first wife had died and he was remarried. The first child of this marriage was a son named Samuel.  The second child was a daughter guessed it, Mary.  Now, does Bigod have two living daughters named Mary or it much more likely that the first daughter had died and they reused her name for the next living daughter. This is what I believe happened.  This does not rule Mary Egellston out as a relative of Bigod's, a cousin or niece maybe, but not a daughter.

What do you think?

Now accepting any polite comments or corrections, no ranting allowed!


Anderson, Robert Charles, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633. Boston; New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1995.

Fischer, David Hackett, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York; Oxford UP, 1989.

Kotre, John, N. and Hall, Elizabeth, Seasons of Life: The Dramatic Journey From Birth to Death, University of Michigan Press, 1990, p. 106.

Kransner-Khait, Barbara, "What's in a Name?", page 23, "Surnames: Family Search Tips and Surname Origins", Family Tree University, 
Surnames: Family Seach Tips and Surname Origins- ebook

Christensen, Penelope, English-Understanding Names in Genealogy, The National Institute for Genealogy,
Dr. Christensen's course work on familysearch

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Surname Sander, Saunders, Sanderson, Saunderson

Variations of the spelling of the name Sanders/Sanderson in the records of Watertown, Cambridge and Groton, MA

From the Watertown Records Book One and Two:
p. 38 1654 Robert Sanders should have 2lbs of powder for the making of fireworks 

p. 71 Jan 1660 Edward Sanders & six children

p. 77 1663 to old Saunders when his wife lay in. Cloak and a blanket and pork

p. 81 1664 agreed that Edward Sanders shall have 3 bushels of indian corn

p. 97 1669 to William Bond for a bushel of corn given to Ed Sanderson
        to John Coolidge for a bushel of corn given to Ed Sanderson

p. 98 1669 order that John Bigulah shall agree with John Ball about Edward Sanderson, what wages his (Edwards) daughter what wages she will be payed

p. 100 1670 Left. Jonathan Sanders rate of 2s and Simon Stons salery

p. 102 Nov. 1670 Ordered that Edward Sanderson and Richard Betch shall be warned to      the next meeting of the Selectmen that they give account of their condition as to any wants that they are in

p. 103 1670 .....appointed to treat with Edward Sanderson and his wife about getting a service for the biggest of his two least of his children where it may be in their own content and the good education of the child in learning and labor of the town will be helpful to them in it if they desire it and to aquaint them that if themselves do not that the town will provide a service for it. 

p. 104 1670 agreed that Thomas Fleg and John Bigulah shall treat with Edward Sanderson and his wife about putting out a child to be an apprentice with Mr. Neuenson and to drive a bargain about it if they can. 

p. 105 1671 There coming a complaint to us the Selectmen concerning the poverty of Edward Sandersons family. That they have not the wherwithall to maintain themselves and children either with supply of provision or employment to earn any and considering that it would be the charge of the town to provide for the whole family which will be hard to do this year....we have agreed to put out 2 of his children.

p.107 1671  Thomas Fleg and John Bigulah at a meeting were appointed to put out the childering of Edward Sanderson apprentices....they put out the oldest of the two of a matter of 8 years til she be 18.

p. 117 1673 to John Fleg part of what was promised him with Sandurses child by the selectmen

p.  120 to John Fleg for Sandurses

p. 124 to John Fleg for Sandures

p. 127 to John Fleg for Ned Sandurs

Watertown Land Grants
Robert Sanderson:
A Homestall of 6 acres bounded east with the hiway the south with Richard Linton the north with Thomas Boyson
4 acres of swamp

Thomas Boyson:
borders with Robert Sanders

Sale of land to William Shattuck
p. 85 of Watertown records Vol. 1
at at town meeting on Dec 27 1664 the town voted that William Shattuck shall enjoy the land he bought of Sandors provided he pay to Sandors 20 bushels of corn

William Shattuck's will
 he leaves his wife and son the house and land he bought of Edward Sanderson.

The will of John Flagg
In the will of John Flagg he describes his land including the 12 acres he had that was next to Edward Sanders

Watertown compilation of births and marriages:
p.  14  1649 Benajmin Sanderson s/o Robert and Mary baptized
p.  16  1651 Sary Sanderson d/o Robert and Mary baptized
p.  16  1652 Robert Sanderson s/o Robert and Mary baptized
p.  12  1645 Edward Sanderson and Mary Egellston were married
          1646 Jonathan Sanderson s/o Edward and Mary
p. 28   1665 William Sandors & Sary  were married
p. 29   1667 John Sandors s/o William and Sary
p. 30   1668 Sary d/o William and Sary Sanderson
p. 33   1670 William Sandors s/o William and Sary 
p. 34   1671 Mary Sandors d/o William and Sary
p. 46   1679 Lidia d/o William and Sary Sanderson
p. 48   1680 Joseph s/o William and Sary Sanderson

Middlesex County Court Records
1659 Job Lane recognizance for Jonathan Saunders and Richard Tree his servants 
1666 in a court case involving multiple young people, William Sanders was named as one who was drinking alcohol with Justinian Holden Jr. and other young people.
1669 William Sanderson was a witness in the drowning death of Thomas Hastings son. 
1673 Jon. Sanders testified, age 26

Middlesex County Land Deeds
1678 Joseph Parker to William Saunderson sale of land in Groton was made in 1673
1681 D. Andrews sells to Jonathan Sandors of Cambridge land in Watertown
1684 Martin Towning to Jonathan Saunders of Cambridge land in Watertown
1687 Richard Norcross to Jonathan Sanders of Cambridge of Watertown
1697 Deposition of Jonathan Sandors who was a servant of Justinian Holden

Records and Files of the Quarterly Court of Essex
Edward Sandors, Mr. Robert Saltinstall assignee of Edward Sandors agent of Richard Saltinstall

1669 William Sanders and Mary Vocah sentenced for fornication. (note: this pair decided to marry to avoid being whipped and fined, they were from the Salem area of Mass. William deserted Mary and went first to Barbados and them to London.  Several men from the Salem area identified him in Barbados and caught up with him in London. He was not the the William Sanders of Watertown, but he might have been the Wiliam Sanders who took the oath of fidelity in 1654.

Salem Vital Records
April 1670 William Sanders son of William and Mary Vokes 

Records of The Suffolk County Court
1678 Sarah Sanderson and Robert Darbey for fornication, since married

Cambridge Town Records (these are the records concerning Jonathan Sanderson s/o Edward Sanderson of Watertown
p. 209 Jonathan Sanders chosen hogreeve 1673
p. 221 1674 Jonathan Sanders appeared before the selectmen and was convicted of felling trees on the common
p. 246 1679 Jonathan Sanders chosen surveyor of highway
p. 246 1679 mention of a cow on the common belonging to Mr. Sanders
p. 253 1681 Jonathan Sanders complaint of Daniel Gookin
1688 list of Cambridge tax payers: Jonathan Sanders

Cambridge Vital Records pertaining to Jonathan Sanderson 
1669 marriage of Jonathan Sanders and Abiah Bartlett
1673 Oct 25 Abiah Sanders d/o Jonathan and Abiah
1674 Thomas Sanders  s/o Jonathan and Abiah 
1679 May 28 Benjamin Sanders s/o Jonathan and Abiah
1677 May 25 John Sanders s/o Jonathan and Abiah
1681 Samuel Sander s/o Jonathan and Abiah
1683 Eward Saunders s/o Jonathan and Abigail (is that a typo)
1689 Hannah Saunders d/o Jonathan and Abiah 

Watertown Church
19 June 1687 Abia w/o Jon Sanders admitted to Watertown Church

Watertown Records
27 March Jonathan Sanders chosen Constable
14 May called serjant Sanders
1696 Jonathan Sanders chosen to keep a committee for the east part....

The Early Records of Groton 1662-1707
p. 67 Rate list for the year 1681 Wil Sander
p. 70 one of only 73 heads of households in Groton William Sanders
p.90 at a general town meeting held at Groton 27 May 1685 agreed upon and voted that they would give William Sandrs that smalll piece of land lying by John Parshis to set your house upon consideration William Sandrs is to have the hiway four poles wide and if he do anyway damage to the hiway he is to make it so finished.
p. 99 June 1689 chosen fence viewer: William Sandors

Middlesex County Probate Records
William Sanderson was killed in Groton in 1694 in an Indian attack, he had no will but his estate was probated by his son. In the document they are known as William Sanderson of Groton and his son, also named Sanderson.

Named in the Will of Robert Sanderson and his wife
Joseph Saunderson son of William Saunderson of Groton
Lydia and Mary daughters of William Sanderson

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, fold3, and 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
James Thornton and his family left Ireland in 1718 and settled on the coast of Maine in the newly formed settlement called Brunswick.  Maine was part of Massachusetts at that time, it was also the frontier. The settlements in Maine were a dangerous place to  live. In 1690 the Indians wiped out most of the Maine settlements and it was abandoned for a while. The land drew settlers back. James Thornton was given lot #46. His land was near the head of Masquoit Bay and there is a marker on the site of his homestead. In 1722, Indians once again struck the Brunswick area, and the Thornton's house was burned to the ground.

There is no evidence for the family for the next few years. It seems probable that they remained in Brunswick and rebuilt their house. There were no further attacks for several years, but it may have been the fear of further attacks that drove the Thornton's to abandon Maine and head south to west to Massachusetts.

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.

So far, this has been James' story.  But by 1740, when the Thorntons started a new settlement called Pelham, William was a grown man. by  When the land was divided among the proprietors William was included, his father also sold him some of his allotments.   William must have met and married his wife Dorcas Little by early 1743 as their first child, James, was born in "Pallham" on 7 March 1744. William did not stay long in Pelham, by June of 1744 he was selling his land there and moving to a new town called Palmer which was about 19 miles farther south, near Springfield, MA.

the elbows
In September of 1744 William was buying land in a section of Palmer known as "the Elbows". Also living in "the Elbows" was the Thomas Little family, his in laws. Thomas Little's name appeared on a petition to the General Court dated May of 1732, so he had been in the area for some time.

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 Palmer, Massachusetts, m. Antje Schmerhorn in Schenectady, d. 1815 Schenectady
2. William b. 1745 Palmer, 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. Thomas b. 1751 Dublin, NH,  m. Elizabeth Richardson, d. 1819 Schenectady, NY
5. John b. 1753 Schenectady, NY, m. Ann Clyde, d. 1819 Schenectady, NY
6. Mary b. about 1755 Schenectady, m. Charles Westley, d. Glengarry, Ontario, Canada
7. Samuel b. by 1771

In 1770, William Thornton of Currysbush sold to his brother Matthew Thornton his land in Dublin, NH. In 1771 Thomas Little, father of Dorcas Little Thornton, wrote his will.  He left some money for the four youngest children of William Thornington, they were: Mary, Thomas, John and Samuel. William also bought more land in 1771 in Currysbush, his new land bordered that of Thornton Wason, his great nephew. It would seem that William was well settled in New York.

back to new hampshire

The next time his name is found is in 1773 in a Londonderry petition. William, his sons Matthew and William Jr., 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.

My Thornton family:
James Thornton and Elizabeth Jenkins
William Thornton and Eleanor Unknown
Samuel Thornton and Catherine Baker
Samuel Thornton and Chloe Blanchard
John C. Thornton and Enoch Rowell
Paul R. Thornton and Elizabeth Bowker
my parents

Are you a Thornton Cousin?  I would love to hear from you, I am trying to compile a tree of all the descendants of James Thornton.

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

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