Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Tale of Families: The Thorntons

America is essentially a country of immigrants. Only two essential questions bracket the understanding of transplanted people groups. From whence did the immigrants hail from?  Where did they settle and raise their families? The heritage, history and beliefs that people bring is what shapes politcal movement, policy and eventual government of the new homeland. The history of migration is not unique to American shores.
map showing Ireland Scotland England Wales
and shorelines
17th century Ireland became home to Scots settled in the Northern parts of the island dubbed the Ulster Plantation and thereafter referenced to as Scots-Irish or Ulster Scots.

These transplants where welcomed and brought to the country economic growth with new industries and taming of wild lands. The natural course of events lead to a multi-cultural society with people of mostly English descent and those of mixed descent being English-Scot, or English-Irish or, as defined above, as Scot-Irish. The Scots also brought with them their spiritual heritage; Presbyterianism. Churches where planted and grew which soon found them in conflict with their Catholic and Angelican Church neighbors.


At the start of the 18th century economic and political tensions rose. Passage by the British of the Sacrament Test Act of 1704 exacerbated already harsh natural disasters, resulting in migration out of Ireland. Their Presbyterian Church roots stretched across the Atlantic and upon arrival in their newest homeland the Scot-Irish settled America's Middle Colonies,established new church bodies, and continued their religious traditions. The British crown created natural enemies in the colonial Scot-Irish citizens, fueling anti-British sentiment, the very same ruling class who had driven them across the Atlantic. It is estimated that fully 40-50% of the American Revolutionary Forces where of Scot-Irish heritage.

In this wave of people was one known as Thomas Towles Thornton, a young, "tall and straight"  fellow who left his homeland of Donegal, Ulster, Ireland, for the shores of Colonial Virginia at the age of 18 years. 1773 is the best approximated date of his arrival given his birth year of 1755. A survey of the Revolutionary militia muster roll of Lancaster County includes names such as "Presley" and  "Thornton." For instance, "Presley" was a name associated with Bacon's Rebellion of 1676.

It is reported that Thomas T Thornton (click on his name to see records from the DAR) joined the service of the Revolutionary War on the British side and then on the American side. Virginia as deeply divided by loyalties to both sides of the brewing conflict, in as "Thornton" is a popular surname with English origins, it is not impossible to understand Loyalist tendencies. Before the War came to a close Thomas "joined his lot" with the Americans. As a member of the Delaware regiment he was instrumental in fighting the battle of Eutaw Springs in South Carolina where he was wounded.

Upon return from the war he married Elizabeth (Betsy) Robertson, (sister of James Robinson, who rose to the rank of a general in Revolutionary War, and fought with Generals Marion, Sumter and Lee. He participated in the battles of Kings Mountain, Eutaw Springs and Cowpens, explored rugged terrain with Daniel Boone and settled Tennessee where a county is named in his honor). In the year 1782 and made their home in Salisbury, North Carolina eventually migrating to Kentucky where they are buried in Bourbon in the area that is now known as "Little Rock." It is believed that Thomas raised his family in the Presbyterian church. To this couple where born three children, Henry Presley (1783 Bourbon, KY-1865 Paoli, IN), Benjamin, and Margaret.

Margaret married George See, (son of Jacob and Margaret), remained in Kentucky and to this marriage where born Angeline, Eliza Jane, Thornton, John Henry, Ben, and James Ellington. 
(Note: find Geo See biography sketch in History of Burbon County .... Kentucky, text link below)

Benjamin married the sister of George See, Elizabeth See, to this home where born two daughters; Juliann and Martha Harriet. Benjamin stayed in Kentucky and worked the farm.

Henry Presley Thornton
Henry Presley Thornton elected to become part of the educated class. He studied law after primary education at the Bourbon Academy. It is thought that he was mostly self taught at a time when formal education was difficult to attain except for the wealthiest offspring. The study of law brought with it new found social prestige, land ownership, marriage and an introduction to politics. He was elected to the State Legislature of Kentucky for the years 1812-1814 and served as a member of both the Kentucky and Indiana Constitutional Conventions. He lent his support to Col. Richard Mentor Johnson in his bid for the Senate in the year 1819, and later to the Vice Presidency on the Martin VanBuren ticket. HP Thornton was an ardent supporter of Henry Clay and the War of 1812 enlisting as an officer. A request from Col Johnson lead to the formation the Kentucky Rangers with William Henry Harrison as commander-in-chief, Captain Coombs, and Lt Col HP Thornton. The mounted cavalry was instrumental in the victory of the Battle of the Thames. At the close of this conflict Henry returned to civic and home life.

The Braxtans where not to be outdone by the Thorntons. Like the former, the Thorntons migrated from the South to Indiana. It is likely the Land Act of 1804, attracted such families. The legislation included the Northwest Territory  which is presently known as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota. The Braxtans relocating for the promise of a slave free home; the Thorntons for room to grow their family and opportunities as they may present themselves. Indiana was admitted to the Union in 1818 this being the same year Henry and Martha's 6th child was born in Paoli.

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References and futher reading:

HISTORY: of Lawrence, Orange and Washington Counties, Indiana From the Earliest Time to the Present; Together with Interesting Biographical Sketches, Reminiscences, Notes, Etc. Chicago, Goodspeed Bros., & Co., Publishers, (1884) Weston A. Goodspeed, Leroy C. Goodspeed, Charles L. Goodspeed. Bourbon County, KY 
(searchable text link)

History of Bourbon, Scott, Harrison and Nicholas counties, Kentucky (1882)
(searchable text link)

The Annals of a Family, J.F. Thornton (1940)

BBC-History of Wars and Conflicts in Ireland

Plantations of Ireland

The Ulster Plantation - History - Related Links
 

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