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Matthew Thornton

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Signer of the Declaration of Independence

MATTHEW THORNTON was born in Northern Ireland in 1714 and came to America with his parents when he was four years old. The family arrived in New England and resided for a few years in Wiscasset, Maine. Afterward they moved to Worchester Massachusetts where Thornton received a classical education. He went on to study medicine and opened up his practice in Londonderry, New Hampshire in 1740, and soon became wealthy as his practice flourished.

Five years later and still unmarried, Thornton volunteered to serve as a military surgeon for the Fort Louisburg expedition. It was a major campaign and ended with the capture of the French Fort at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.  Following his tour of duty, Thornton returned home to Londonderry, remained in the local militia and rose in rank to colonel.

Thornton was forty-four when he married Hannah Jack and he eventually fathered five children. He took an active part in the overthrow of the royal government in New Hampshire, being prominent in the agitation against the Stamp Act. Thornton was chosen president of the provincial convention when it assembled in 1775 and for the next decade he held a number of responsible positions, including chairman of the regional committee of safety and president of the constitutional convention. He was most active in securing weapons and recruiting militia for the colony. He was allowed to sign his name to the Declaration of Independence, being in full accord with the voting, although he was not elected until after its passage and did not take his seat until November 1776.

Thornton was tall, big-boned and handsome and he was a natural storyteller who could hold the attention of his friends for hours on end. He remained in the continental congress for another year, having been reelected to represent New Hampshire in December 1776. Thornton then returned to New Hampshire in 1779 and settled his family on a farm in Merrimack County, relinquishing his medical practice. He served as an associate justice of the superior court until he was sixty-eight and when he was in his seventies, he was in the state senate. He retired to his farm and wrote political articles for the newspapers, even after the age of eighty. In his last days he composed a metaphysical work on the origin of sin, which was never published.

Thornton died on June 24, 1803 at the age ofeighty-nine.

Source: Centennial Book of Signers

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THORNTON, Matthew, signer of the Declaration of Independence, born in Ireland about 1714; died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, 24 June, 1803. When he was two or three years old his father, James, emigrated to New England, residing for a few years at Wiseasset, Maine, and afterward at Worcester, Massachusetts, where the son received a classical education. He studied medicine in Leicester, practiced in Londonderry, New Hampshire, and soon became wealthy, he accompanied the New Hampshire troops in the expedition against Louisburg in the capacity of surgeon. He was appointed a justice of the peace, and before the Revolution was a colonel. Taking an active part in the overthrow of the royal government in New Hampshire, Dr. Thornton was chosen president of the Provincial convention when it assembled in 1775. He was chief justice of the court of common pleas, and from 1776 till 1782 a judge of the superior court of New Hampshire. He was elected speaker of the assembly on 5 January, 1776, and on 12 September the legislature chose him as a delegate to the Continental congress. As in the case of the delegates from Pennsylvania, he was allowed to affix his name to the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence, although he was elected after its passage, and did not take his seat till 4 November, 1776.

In December he was again chosen to represent New Hampshire in congress for another year. He removed to Exeter in 1779, and shortly afterward settled on a farm at Merrimack, relinquishing medical practice. He was elected a member of the general court, then a state senator, and in 1785 was appointed a member of the council. From the adoption of the state constitution till his death he was a justice of the peace. He wrote political articles for the newspapers, even after the age of eighty, and in his last days composed a metaphysical work on the origin of sin, which was never published. In 1887 the legislature of New Hampshire voted $1,000 for a monument to be placed over his grave in Merrimack.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

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