Documenting the Thorntons of RI, 1600s-1700s, Part 1 – Will of Thomas Thornton

Do you have Thorntons living in Rhode Island in the 1600s and early 1700s? I do and it took very little time for me to realize that not only isn’t there much written about John Thornton of Rhode Island in the 1600s, the small tidbits and online family trees are all a hot mess. That description is actually quite generous!

The sad situation led me to my leave no stone un-turned research process and will be publishing not only facts from the few primary documents created by the family, I will also be sharing the sources of pieces of information that appear accurate but are totally lacking source citations every place they are found.

Because of the non-chronological order of much of the information, I’ve decided to being sharing the easy documents, working back into the more complicated multi-source data and then closing the series with an updated family sketch of the first three Thornton generations in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, our puzzle pieces documenting our ancestors’ lives don’t always fall together neatly. the early Thornton family is an excellent example of this conundrum.

The earliest Thornton probate found in Rhode Island unfortunately is not that of John Thornton, patriarch of this family. It is the will of Thomas Thornton, who died a young married man, in Providence, Providence, Rhode Island in 1711. He was the son of Benjamin Thornton and an unknown wife and the grandson of John Thornton.

The original will recorded by the clerk, along with the inventory of Thomas Thornton’s estate, was transcribed at a later date and published in books which have been filmed by FamilySearch.

The above images are found on FamilySearch Film #7649768, Images 235-236, found in Volume 7:56-59 in the Providence, Rhode Island Probate Records. Most Rhode Island records are locked and must be viewed at the FamilySearch Library or at a FamilySearch Center/Affiliate.

From this, we learn that Thomas Thornton wrote his will on 24 March 1710/11, not long before he died, because the will was proved at the Providence Town Council meeting less than one month later on 20 April 1711.

Thomas chose as overseers of his estate his “loving brother Solomon Thornton” and friend John Sheldon. Witnesses were Thomas Harris, Nicholas Harris and Josiah Westcot. His estate appraisers were Thomas Harris and Resolved Waterman.

Notice that we now have one proven family relationship – Thomas Thornton had a brother named Solomon Thornton.

Family Sketch of Thomas Thornton:

Thomas Thornton was born c1678, place unknown, but possibly Providence, Providence, Rhode Island and died between 24 march 1710/11 and 20 April 1711 in Providence. He married Margaret (Bulman?), whose marriage is found recorded in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts on 29 September 1703.

Although nothing in the record connects our Thomas to this marriage, Thornton is an uncommon name in the area at the time, Thomas in Boston married a Margaret (with wife Margaret named in the will) and a 1703 marriage fits with Thomas of Providence dying as a relatively young married man.

Thomas Thornton left four surviving children, all named in his will: eldest son, Thomas, not of legal age in 1711, daughters Patience and Elizabeth, not of age in 1711, and William, not of age in 1711.

Thomas and William Thornton were each to inherit their father’s real estate when they came of age. Daughters Patience and Elizabeth were each bequeathed £10. If one died before she came of age, then the surviving sister was to inherit £20.

Having married in the latter part of 1703, we can closely estimate the birth years of the children of Thomas and Margaret (Bulman) Thornton, as it seems Thomas named his children in apparent birth order:

  1. Thomas, born c1704
  2. Patience, born c1706
  3. Elizabeth, born c1708
  4. William, born c1710

From this now documented family, we have Thomas Thornton, a good approximation of his birth year, given that many New England men in this time period were about 25 when they married, his marriage record to wife Margaret Bulman, the names of his four children with good estimates of their birth years, and his date of death within a one month period of time. We also have documentation of one of Thomas’s siblings – his brother Solomon Thornton.

Next in this series, we will look at what information can be gleaned from the will of John Thornton, who died just a few years later in 1716.

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