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Gallery #4 – Merrimack in War Time

  • MATTHEW THORNTON, SIGNER (1714-1803) Matthew Thornton is perhaps Merrimack's most famous resident. He was born in County Antrim, Ireland in 1714. He came to the American colonies with his parents, James and Elizabeth (Jenkins) Thornton, in 1718. He became a physician and opened a medical practice in what is now Derry New Hampshire in 1740. In 1745 he served as a surgeon in the New Hampshire militia during King George’s War (1745-48) and accompanied the expedition that captured Louisburg in Nova Scotia, Canada. Thornton became involved in politics, serving in various assemblies and helped to draft New Hampshire's State Constitution. In 1760 he married Hannah Jack, daughter of Andrew & Mary (Morrison) Jack, and they had five children. In 1775 he was elected President of the New Hampshire Provincial Congress after Royal Governor John Wentworth fled the New Hampshire Colony on the eve of the American Revolution. Afterward Thornton was also chairman of the provincial committee that was charged with raising troops, arms, and ammunition. He was elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1776, serving there for one year, and signing the Declaration of Independence even before he took office in November 1776. He served as Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and later was raised to the bench of New Hampshire's Supreme Court. In 1778 he moved to Merrimack, where he petitioned the State to run the ferry confiscated from Col. Edward Goldstone Lutwyche, a Loyalist who had fled the area to support the British efforts during the American Revolution. It was renamed Thornton's Ferry, and that area is now our village of the same name. Matthew Thornton remained active in state politics up until his death in 1803 while visiting at the home of his daughter in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He is buried in the so-called "Signer's Cemetery, what we call Thornton's Cemetery on the Daniel Webster Highway not far from where he lived. His tombstone reads, “An Honest Man."