Matthew Thornton (1714-1803)

One of the three men to sign the Declaration of Independence, Matthew Thornton, physician, soldier, patriot, agitated against the Stamp Act of 1765, presided over the Provincial Congress in 1775, served in the State Senate, and as an associate justice of the Superior Court. The nearby monument honors his memory. He is buried in the adjacent cemetery. His homestead stands directly across the highway.

Location:  Northbound side of Route 3 in Merrimack, north of its intersection with Greeley Road (the eastbound road off exit 11, Edward Everett Turnpike).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAALTHOUGH the sign commemorating this national-level notable is located in Merrimack, it was only after his retirement from his many activities that Matthew Thornton moved here to become a gentleman farmer and ferry operator. Presumably, he maintained his wit and humor, as exemplified by the following excerpt from a 1777 letter from John Adams to his wife, Abigail.

We have from New Hampshire a Coll. Thornton, a Physician by Profession, a Man of Humour. He has a large Budget of droll Stories, with which he entertains Company Perpetually.

I heard about Twenty or five and twenty Years ago, a Story of a Physician in Londonderry, who accidentally [met] with one of our new England Enthusiasts, call’d [Exhorters]. The Fanatic soon began to examine the Dr. [concerning] the Articles of his Faith, and what he thought of original Sin?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Why, says the Dr., I satisfy myself about it in this manner. Either original Sin is divisible or indivisible. If it was divisible every descendant of Adam and Eve must have a Part, and the share which falls to each Individual at this Day, is so small a Particle, that I think it is not worth considering. If indivisible, then the whole Quantity must have descended in a right Line, and must now be possessed by one Person only, and the Chances are Millions and Millions to one that that Person is now in Asia or Africa, and that I have nothing to do with it.

I told Thornton the story and that I suspected him to be the Man. He said he was. He belongs to Londonderry.

Thornton’s house is currently a restaurant. The surrounding neighborhood is still called Thornton’s Ferry. And though the ferry is long gone, no bridge has been built to replace it.

Marker #79

Merrimack

1971

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