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Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
April 26, 1894

GLIMPSES OF THE PAST

Contributions to the History of Charlotte County and the Border Towns.

CXIII – MATTHEW THORNTON.

Among the grantees of lots in the fifth tract of the Penobscot Association lands was one Matthew Thornton.  His lot fronted upon the river between the Ledge and the Narrows.  After living upon it for some years, he sold to his son-in-law, John Young, and removed to another lot, overlooking Pagan’s Cove.  His descendants still hold the original lot, with the exception of the small portion occupied by the Methodist church.

In the province of New Hampshire, before the Revolution, there were two Matthew Thorntons, uncle and nephew.  The former, Doctor Matthew Thornton, was born in Ireland about 1714, and came with his father to America when three or four years of age.  After practicing for a few years as a physician and surgeon at Londonderry, N. H., he was appointed to accompany the New Hampshire troops in Shirley’s expedition against Cape Breton; and he was present at the surrender of Louisburg in 1745.  He held a commission as colonel of militia under the royal government; but he joined the revolutionary party, and was the president of a provincial convention assembled at Exeter in 1775.  He died, while on a visit to Newburyport, in 1803.

Matthew, the nephew, a son of James Thornton, was born in New Hampshire about 1731; and was therefore some forty-five years of age at the time of the Revolution.  According to family tradition, he was made captain of a company of insurgents, in which two of his brothers-in-law, named Crawford, served under him; but the company was disbanded, and he returned to civil life.  Just before the battle of Bennington, it is said, going to look at some land that he had bought or was about to buy, he fell in with the King’s forces, and was taken prisoner by them and compelled to drive one of their ammunition wagons.  His neighbors, finding him thus engaged, suspected him of having been all along secretly in sympathy with the British; and he was arrested on a charge of treason.  The affair called the battle of Bennington took place in August, 1777.  He must either have remained in prison for months before he was brought to trial, or else have been imprisoned a second time, for his wife, the story says, nearly perished in a winter journey to visit him in his cell.  At last, however, he was brought to trial; and the records of the court show that he was honorably acquitted.

The excited populace, it seems, still suspected him of loyalty; and with them suspicion was equal to conviction.  He fled to escape persecution, leaving wife and children behind him.  Being a freemason he found friends who gave him hiding place and secret aid, and thus he made his way to a seaport.  Three brother masons, it is said, brought him in a boat to Passamaquoddy; and he passed one winter alone with his dog and gun on St. Andrews island.1  After the peace, his devoted wife joined him at St. Andrews.

Thus far the uncle and the nephew are easily distinguished.  The confusion between them which calls for a reference to the former is in connection with another matter of interest, of which further mention will be made next week.

Matthew Thornton, the Loyalist, died about 1824, at the age of 93.

Whether he had from the first been secretly attached to the loyal party, or had sympathized for a time with the insurgents and then voluntarily returned to his allegiance; or whether he had only been at length driven to join the Loyalist refugees by the suspicions and persecutions of his former friends, is a question we will not undertake to decide.  The latter supposition, however, seems unjust to his memory and quite inconsistent with the fact that he was admitted on equal terms as a member of the Penobscot Association of United Empire Loyalists.


1A scarf pin which he wore is still a treasured heirloom among his descendants, and is now in the possession of Mrs. Matthew Thornton of Dufferin, the widow of his grandson.  It shows a shield, the device on which, though somewhat indistinct, seems to be a chevron between three castles, with the motto, ‘Amor, honor et justicia.’  Beneath the shield is a group of masonic emblems.


Article CXXIV contains the following correction to this one: 'The first sentence of the third paragraph should read: ‘Matthew Thornton, the nephew, was born in New Hampshire in December, 1746, and was therefore about thirty years of age at the time of the Revolution.’  In the paragraph before the last, ‘at the age of 93’ should be erased.'