By Trip Wiggins
Rev. Thomas Thornton
Abt. 1717 – 25 March 1792, Dumfries, Va.
Sixth St. George’s Parish Rector
At St. Georges: Jan. 1788 – abt. Aug. 1791
With the end of the Revolutionary War, the beginnings of both the state of Virginia and the United States of America, and the disestablishment of the state-sponsored Anglican Church in Virginia, it is not surprising to note that St. George’s went over seven years without a rector. Finally in December, 1787, the Rev. Thomas Thornton was chosen by St. George’s Parish vestry to be our spiritual leader.
Precious little is known about the Reverend Mr. Thornton.
It is believed, based on his obituary, that he was born between about 1717, but where is unknown – conjecture is Prince William County, Va. or in Maryland.
He was ordained in 1754 in London and accepted the King’s Bounty on 10 Oct. 1754 and a position of rector in Charles County, Md. Where he stayed until 1785 when he crossed the Potomac River to take the position of Rector in Brunswick Parish, King George and Stafford Counties, Va. He remained there until accepting the “one year” position at St. George’s in January, 1788. We would receive a rector with over 33-years experience – that was a first.
The Anglican Church was going through a tough time. Here in the United States we renamed ourselves as the Protestant Episcopal Church. While the United States broke politically with Great Britain, the Episcopal Church remained in the Anglican Communion, but divested itself of some of the more English-leaning traditions – praying for the King, etc.
Rev. Thornton would leave in the summer/fall of 1791.
In his short 3 ½ years here, what was accomplished? At the Fredericksburg Church:
The church wardens, Charles Mortimer and Thomas Colson placed an ad in the Fredericksburg Virginia Herald newspaper asking for subscriptions from parishoners for the support of the church and its minister now that the church, like all other denominations in Virginia, had to be self-supporting. Subscriptions allowed the paying a salary of £140 per year to the rector. (We may have become a new country, but we continued tracking money in our traditional Pounds, Shillings and Pence for many years to come.)
A new church bell was installed.
A new addition was made on the southside giving the church a cross shape. We were still GROWING!
When George Washington was in town to visit his mother, he attended Sunday services and the weight of the overflow crowd caused the joists in the gallery to settle with a slight crash. People rushed out but were calmed by the clerk of the vestry, Mr. John Callender.
Rev. Thornton presided at the funeral and interment of Mary Ball Washington.
Rev. Thornton began attending the annual Protestant Episcopal Conventions in Richmond with one or two members of the laity – normally vestry members.
The door to the pew “opposite the Pulpitt” was painted “Strangers” for visitors to the church.
The vestry & minister started meeting three times a year vice the old one to two times.
In April, 1791, the vestry appointed Rev. John Woodville to represent St. George’s Parish at the annual convention. Perhaps Thornton was ill for he did not leave St. George’s until later that year. In fact Thornton ran an ad in the Virginia Herald on August 15th, announcing the upcoming visit of Bishop James Madison.
Why he left is uncertain. Bishop Meade and Rev. Slaughter says he left and became Rector at Dettingen Parish in Prince William County, Va. Perhaps he was just getting older and had health issues and wished to retire. After all, he was 74. We do know that he moved to Dumfries, Va. and died there on 25 March 1792.
On the personal side:
Thornton married Mary Ann Ewell of Prince William County, Va.; date and location unknown but by a deed we know they were married before March, 1775. They had at least three children as noted in the reverend’s will: Ann, Sarah, and Thomas, Jr. Thomas was under 21 as of March 1791 – date of his will. His two daughters at that time were over 21 (but Sarah won’t marry until 1799) so Rev. Thomas Thornton and Mary Ann Ewell were probably married well before 1775.
Crozier, William A. Virginia County Records, Vol 1: Spotsylvania 1721-1800 (1905)
Fothergill, Gerald. A List of Emigrant Ministers to America, 1690-1811 London (1905)
Quenzel, Carrol. The History and Background of St George’s Episcopal Church Fredericksburg, Virginia (1951)
Slaughter, Rev. Philip. A History of St George’s Parish (1847)
St. George’s Vestry Minutes
Virginia Colonial Records Project (King’s Bounty records) Library of Virginia
Thornton’s Fredericksburg Last Will & Testament (http://www.edhanson.com/thornton/wills/revtt.htm )
1778 Maryland Census; Rev Thornton is living in Port Tobacco, Md. (http://cohee.name/genealogy/Maryland%20Census%201778.pdf)
Prince William, Va. Deed Book I. (https://worldconnect.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=adgedge&id=I50330) 23 Mar 1775: From Bertrand EWELL of Dumfries, Prince William Co., VA, for the affection he beareth unto his son-in-law, the Rev. Thomas THORNTON of Charles County, Md.
Thornton obituary, 19 May 1792, “The Mail” newspaper (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Mary Washington Funeral, “The Century” Nov 1891-Apr 1892
Awaiting word back from Christ Church Wayside, LaPlata and Christ Church, xxx, both in Charles County, MD and extend back to the 1690s.