Israel Thornton of Rhode Island: A Thorny Problem


I have a thorny problem and his name is Israel Thornton. Israel is my 5X great grandfather. Although he lived in Rhode Island, one of those great record keeping New England states, there is a dearth of documentation about Israel Thornton, reportedly born in 1728 in Glocester, Providence, Rhode Island.

I began researching this branch of my family many years ago, having been able to piece together a lineage for Israel’s parents, Titus Thornton and Mercy/Mary (MNU). I will be writing about the Thornton line back several generations to the immigrant within the next few days, albeit they are almost as much of a problem as Israel.

The dearth of information about Israel was that he was born about 1728 and married a woman named Joanna. Somewhere I found a clue that her maiden name might be Wilkinson. This was before the internet age and I duly noted her surname in my paperwork as Wilkinson?, which was my code for NO PROOF.

I’ve been revisiting some of my early colonial lines hoping that others have extended some of the lines with documented research. Woe to me, though, as my search turned up no vital records, but quite a few XXX public member trees with no sources except someone else’s public member tree, which, of course, had no sources either.

Today’s search shows that Israel Thornton has been given the birth date of 18 April 1728 in Glocester, Providence County, Rhode Island. There is just one problem with that:

Rhode Island Vital Record Extracts

Not only is there no Israel Thornton listed, or even a family for Titus and Mercy Thornton, but John and Abigail Thornton had a son, John, born on 14 April 1728. I have a question here – has some researcher taken John’s birth date, adjusted it a bit, and created a birth for Israel or is there a record somewhere that Israel was really born on 18 April 1728?

I have an even bigger question than Israel’s birth date. Was his wife, reportedly Joanna, really Joanna Wilkinson? Looking online, my possible maiden name with a ? has multiplied like rabbits online. Almost every record I found attributes her name as Joanna Wilkinson WITH NO PROOF.

I have nothing to indicate that she was NOT Joanna Wilkinson, but nothing to prove she was.

Israel and Joanna are a bit difficult to research because they became part of a group known as Pre-Loyalists. There was an active effort to recruit Rhode Islanders to the wonderful lands of Canada about the time of the French and Indian War. Several of my Rhode Island ancestors accepted the offer, removed to New Brunswick before 1770 and settled their families in their new homes.

Israel Thornton is one such man who decided to make his way northward. No records indicate his exact year of arrival, but he appears in Sackville Township, Westmorland County, New Brunswick, Canada by 1770. There are several early land deeds in his name, along with three “et. al.” deeds, along with probate films, that have been added to my “to do” list on my next trip (RootsTech 2018) to Salt Lake City.

One other big issue with online information is that both Israel and his son, Titus, are given a death date of 10 March 1815. It’s certainly possible, especially if there was an epidemic of some kind, but Israel would have been in his late 80s by 1815. I am hoping that New Brunswick probate records or land deeds will solve this mystery.

Israel and Joanna, who probably married c1754, were the parents of four known children, although the source/proof of this list is also UNKNOWN:

  1. Miriam, born c1755; died 15 April 1839, Dorchester, New Brunswick, Canada; married (1) William Ayer (2) William Estabrooks. He was born 18 November 1752, Warren, Bristol, Rhode Island (documented) and died 21 December 1838.
  2. Titus, born c1758; died 10 March 1815; married Mary Hicks, 18 April 1782, Sackville, Westmorland, New Brunswick, Canada.
  3. Daniel, born c1761
  4. Sarah, born c1763;  died after June 1830, when her husband’s estate was probated; married Ira Hicks, c1785. Ira was born 30 March 1761, Warren, Bristol, Rhode Island; died about June 1830, probably in Sackville, Westmorland, New Brunswick, Canada.
  5. Mercy, born c1765; married Mr. Harper

So, what help am I looking for? I would love to locate two documents:
1. Some record that proves the birth date of Israel Thornton
2. A record that proves his wife was Joanna Wilkinson. If I can prove who she is, her lines go back to original proprietors of Rhode Island.

If you are related to the Thorntons and/or the Wilkinsons and can provide sources that answer either of my questions, I would gratefully LOVE to hear from you.

My line of descent from Israel Thornton and Joanna (Wilkinson?):

  1. Israel Thornton and Joanna
    2. Ira Hicks and Sarah Thornton
    3. Israel Hicks and Abigail Carlisle
    4. Elida Ann Hicks and Charles Augustus Stewart
    5. Annie Maude Stewart/Stuart and Charles Edwin Adams
    6. Vernon Tarbox Adams and Hazel Ethel Coleman
    7. Doris Priscilla Adams and George Michael Sabo
    8. Linda Anne Sabo Stufflebean – me!



7 thoughts on “Israel Thornton of Rhode Island: A Thorny Problem”

  1. Hi Linda,

    I just found your blog on September 25, 2018. What fantastic work you do.
    I am also a descendant of Israel Thornton. My line is:
    1. Israel Thornton and Joanna
    2. Titus Thornton (1758-) and May Hicks (1759-)
    3. Israel Thornton (1787-1885) and Ruth Tower (1786-1869)
    4. Ann Thornton (1822-) and Stephen Reed
    5. Milton C Reed and Caroline S. Worcester
    6. John Reed and Lucretia Bagley
    7. Wilmer Cummings and Lillian Reed

    Lillian Reed is my paternal grandmother. I have been working on the Stephen Reed line for at least a decade with very poor results. All I’ve located was his marriage information in Lubec, Washington Co., Maine. That location seems to be were Ann’s father Israel settled after moving from New Brunswick as I’ve located him in some censuses. I’ve just begun looking at Ann Thornton. I’m sorry I cannot help your research currently. If I discover anything new, I’ll be sure to send it along to you. It’s fantastic to meet a cousin.

  2. Hi Linda,

    I am a descendant of Israel Thornton, as well, through his daughter Miriam. Have you been able to find out any more information on him and Joanna? Very interested to find out more. Thanks. Richard

  3. Hello,

    Not sure if you are still researching this topic, but I can confirm Joanna’s maiden name was Wilkinson. Page 121 of the Rhode Island Vital Extracts from 1636-1899 lists her as the daughter of John Wilkinson and Rebecca Scott, date of birth 12 Sep 1732. You can also refer to the book “Memoirs of the Wilkinson Family in America” by Israel Wilkinson, published 1869.

    I am a descendant of the Wilkinson’s with Israel Thornton and Joanna Wilkinson being my 7th great grandparents, with their daughter Sarah Thornton being my 6th great grandmother.

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