Died At Age: 89
Also Known As: Matthew Thornton
Born in: Ireland
Spouse/Ex-: Hannah Jack
father: James Thornton
mother: Elizabeth Malone
Died on: June 24, 1803
place of death: Newburyport, Massachusetts
Matthew Thornton was an Irish born American physician and legislator who was one of the 56 signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776. He was a man of principles who believed that freedom is everyone’s bright right. Though he was born in Ireland he migrated to America at the young age of three and developed an undying love for the country. An intelligent young man, he chose to become a physician so that he could help others by alleviating their sufferings. He studied medicine under Doctor Grout, and established himself as a physician and surgeon. He was hardworking and ambitious and built a successful medical practice that made him quite wealthy and earned him considerable social status as well. During the King George’s War, he was selected to serve as a surgeon in the New Hampshire military. His political career began when he was elected as a delegate for Londonderry in the Colonial Assembly. Later on he went on to become the President of the New Hampshire Provincial Congress. He served as the president of the five member committee that drafted the first state constitution that America was to adopt on her independence. He signed the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776 and was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born to Elizabeth and James Thornton in Ireland. The family migrated to America when he was three years old. At first they lived in Maine but soon shifted to Massachusetts following an attack on their home.
He attended Worcester Academy from where he received his basic education. His goal was to pursue a career in medicine and he completed his medical studies at Leicester under the guidance of a physician relative, Dr.Grout.
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After completing his education, the young and ambitious Thornton started a medical practice in 1740 when he was 26 years old. His practice thrived and soon he made a name for himself as a successful physician and surgeon.
He was enlisted as a surgeon in the New Hampshire Military in 1745 during the King George’s War that lasted till 1748. He played a major role in siege of the French Fortress of Louisbourg.
In 1758, he was chosen as a delegate to the colonial assembly where he represented Londonderry. He took active part in colonial affairs and was a prominent participant in the protests against the Stamp Act in New Hampshire.
He believed strongly in the concept of freedom and liberty and was of the view that the states of America should be freed from the control of the British Empire. He openly condemned the oppressive acts of the British Parliament.
He was appointed the President of the New Hampshire Provincial Congress in 1775 and also elected the Chairman of the Committee of Safety which was in charge of raising ammunitions at times of war.
As a member of the Committee of Safety, he was responsible for drafting the first state constitution that would be adopted after the dissolution of the British Empire rule.
On 4 July 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence which had been approved a couple of days before. Thornton signed the Declaration as a representative of New Hampshire, becoming one of the 56 delegates who signed the Declaration.
After independence, he was elected the first president of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. In spite of not having any legal education, he was chosen to serve as a justice in the Superior Court from 1776 to 1782.
When his public career ended, he also retired from medical practice owing to his advancing age. He spent his later years farming and operating a ferry.
He played a major role in the expedition leading to the capture of the French fortress of Louisbourg. The troops were led by Colonel William Pepperell and Thornton was the accompanying surgeon. The expedition was a physically excruciating one for the soldiers, but only six among the 500 entrusted to the doctor died of sickness.
He is famous as one of the 56 signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Initially he was not able to participate in the signing of the Declaration on 2 August 1776, but then he got the opportunity to sign the document on a later date along with some others.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Hannah Jack in 1760 and had five children with her.
After retiring from both his public career and medical profession, he spent his leisure time farming. He also operated a ferry service. He led an active life till the very end and died in 1803 at the age of 89.
The original epitaph on his grave simply reads "An Honest Man."
He was also a political essayist who wrote many essays, articles, and letters for various newspapers.