Matthew Thornton
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Matthew Thornton
Matthew Thornton
Matthew Thornton.jpg
DiedJune 24, 1803(1803-06-24) (aged 88-89)
Resting placeThornton Cemetery, Merrimack, New Hampshire
Known forSigner of the United States Declaration of Independence
Matthew Thornton signature.png
Thornton's old inn which he ran with his wife Hannah Jack, whom he married in 1760, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. It is located across from his gravesite and close to the former Thornton's Ferry landing site, which he also ran with his wife.

Matthew Thornton (1714 - June 24, 1803) was an Irish-born signer of the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of New Hampshire.

Background and early life

Thornton was born in Ireland in 1714 to James and Elizabeth Thornton (née Jenkins), who were Scots-Irish.[1] At the time of the Siege of Derry in 1689, James Thornton lived on a farm within a mile of Londonderry and this is where Matthew was probably born.[2] In 1716, Thornton's family immigrated to North America when he was three years old, settling first in Wiscasset, Maine.[3][4] On July 11, 1722, the community was attacked by Native Americans.[4] James and Elizabeth Thornton fled from their burning home with Matthew, moving shortly thereafter to Worcester, Massachusetts.[5] Thornton completed studies in medicine at Leicester.[4] He became a physician and established a medical practice in Londonderry, New Hampshire.[4] He was appointed as a surgeon for the New Hampshire Militia troops in an expedition against Fortress Louisbourg in 1745.[6] He served in the New Hampshire Provincial Assembly from 1758 to 1762, had royal commissions as justice of the peace, and served as colonel in the militia from 1775 until his resignation in 1779.[7]

In 1760 Thornton married Hannah Jack, and the couple had five children.[4] Thornton became a Londonderry selectman, a representative to and President of the Provincial Assembly, and a member of the Committee of Safety, drafting New Hampshire's plan of government after dissolution of the royal government, which was the first state constitution adopted after the start of hostilities with England.

Continental Congress

He served as the President of the New Hampshire Provincial Congress in 1775, and from January to September 1776, as Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.[8] He was elected to the Continental Congress after the debates on independence had occurred, but as he did not arrive in Philadelphia until November 1776, he was granted permission to actually sign the Declaration of Independence four months after the formal signing in July.[9]

Later life

He became a political essayist. He retired from his medical practice and in 1780 moved to Merrimack, New Hampshire, where he farmed and operated Thornton's ferry with his family. Although he did not attend law school,[9] he served as a judge on the New Hampshire Superior Court from 1776 to 1782.[8] In 1783, Thornton represented the towns of Merrimack and Bedford in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, and then Hillsborough County in the New Hampshire Senate from 1784 to 1787 while simultaneously serving as a State Councillor from 1785 to 1786, and as a state representative again for Merrimack in 1786.[10] His wife Hannah (Jack) Thornton died in 1786.

Thornton died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, while visiting his daughter. He was 90 years old.[9] Matthew Thornton is buried in Thornton Cemetery in Merrimack, and his cenotaph reads "The Honest Man."[11]

Legacy and family

The town of Thornton, New Hampshire, is named in his honor, as is a Londonderry elementary school, and Thorntons Ferry School in Merrimack. Thornton's residence in Derry, which was part of Londonderry at the time, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He is featured on a New Hampshire historical marker (number 79) along U.S. Route 3 in Merrimack.[12]

Thornton was the uncle of Capt. Matthew Thornton, a suspected Loyalist who was tried for treason related to actions just before the Battle of Bennington in 1777. At his trial, held at Exeter on the first Tuesday of September, 1779, he pleaded not guilty. Evidence was given both for and against the prisoner, and the jury found him not guilty; whereupon he was discharged.[13]


  1. ^ "The Ulster-Scots and New England: Scotch-Irish foundations in the New World" (PDF). Ulster-Scots Agency. p. 4. Retrieved 2019.
  2. ^ Adams, Charles Thornton (1903). Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire: A Patriot of the American Revolution. Philadelphia: Dando Printing and Publishing Company. p. 13.
  3. ^ "Signers of the Declaration of Independence: Matthew Thornton". Retrieved 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e Reynolds, Alistair, "Matthew Thornton" Archived 2013-10-23 at the Wayback Machine Maine Ulsterscots Project, retrieved Oct. 8, 2014
  5. ^ Ferris, Robert, and Morris, Richard, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Interpretive Publications Inc., Flagstaff, Arizona, 1982, ISBN 0-936478-07-1, p. 139
  6. ^ "Glimpses of the Past", St. Croix Courier, St. Stephen, New Brunswick, April 26, 1894, retrieved 12-03-11
  7. ^ Adams, Charles Thornton (1903). Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire: A Patriot of the American Revolution. Philadelphia: Dando Printing and Publishing Company. p. 21.
  8. ^ a b Adams, Charles Thornton (1903). Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire: A Patriot of the American Revolution. Philadelphia: Dando Printing and Publishing Company. pp. 22-33.
  9. ^ a b c Ferris and Morris, p. 140
  10. ^ Adams, Charles Thornton (1903). Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire: A Patriot of the American Revolution. Philadelphia: Dando Printing and Publishing Company. p. 57.
  11. ^ Matthew Thornton at Find a Grave
  12. ^ "List of Markers by Marker Number" (PDF). New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources. November 2, 2018. Retrieved 2019.
  13. ^ Adams, Charles Thornton (1905). The family of James Thornton, father of Hon. Matthew Thornton. Boston Public Library. New York : pp. 23-24 [s.n.]


Further reading

External links

  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference :13 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).

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