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Hi, My name is Vickie and to tell you a little bit about myself, I was born and raised in Kentucky and the majority of my ancestors have been in Kentucky since the 1790’s. I have always loved history, a good mystery and puzzles and that is what Family History Research is all about. As a child we would take day trips on Saturdays and head down some dirt road looking for old cemeteries. A lot of the time we weren't looking for anyone in particular, we just like to read the epitaphs. We would have a picnic lunch packed and have lunch at whatever cemetery we were at. If the weather was bad my Dad and I would go to a court house and dig through old records in musty old basements looking for our ancestors. So as you can see I have had an interest in Family History for quite some time.View my complete profile

Monday, June 15, 2015

John Thornton

The man I am talking about this week is another one from my Mom’s side of the family.  His name was John Thornton and he was born December 24, 1786 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and he is my fifth great-granduncle.  John was the oldest son of William Thornton and Sarah Jane Allison who were natives of County Donegal, Ireland.  John’s parents had left Ireland with their two oldest daughters and come to America sometime around 1783, in the midst of the Revolutionary War and the rest of their children were born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  John’s siblings were the following: Katherine Thornton 1780-1785, Marjorie Thornton 1782-1866 (She never married and kept house for her brother William.), Mary Thornton Treadway 1784-before 1814 (My direct line, she married Joel Treadway.) and William Thornton 1788-1872 (He never married and was a Judge in Ray County, Missouri.)

John along with his parents and siblings left Pennsylvania and were in Clark County, Kentucky by 1794, but apparently they had lived in Virginia for a time before coming to Kentucky.  According to the following deposition given by William Thornton, which was found in some Fayette County, Kentucky records we read: “Deposition taken August 24, 1796 before Philemon Thomas and Thomas Wood at a salt lick in Mason County called Fowler's Lick........ ‘In 1785, I lived within a half a mile of Frederick Fraley's mill in Castlewood (Russell County, Virginia) and moved to Clark County, Kentucky about Christmas of 1794’".   Even though this record says he was in Castlewood in 1785, I believe he hadn’t moved his family down there from Pennsylvania yet, because all the records I have found so far say that Mary, John and William were all born in Pennsylvania.  John’s father owned at least 200 acres in Clark County, Kentucky.  What I find so interesting about this record is that John and his parents lived by Frederick Fraley.  This Thornton line of mine is through my Fraley side of the family, but I have never been able to connect my Fraley’s with Frederick Fraley’s line, but I believe there may be a connection somewhere though.

After 1810 and before 1817, John along with his brother, William left Kentucky and headed to Missouri were they first settled in Howard County, Missouri.   John’s future bride, Elizabeth Trigg, who had also lived in Clark County, Kentucky came with her parents, Gen. Stephen Trigg (old Indian War veteran and also War of 1812 veteran) and his wife Elizabeth Clark to Howard County, Missouri in 1818.  John and Elizabeth were married on February 10, 1820 in Old Franklin in Howard County, Missouri.  Shortly thereafter John and Elizabeth and John’s brother William all moved to Clay County, Missouri.   They also owned land in Ray County, Missouri as well.

John’s mother Sarah Jane Allison Thornton died in Clark County, Kentucky in 1824.  The following year John’s father, William Thornton, left Kentucky along with his daughter Marjorie, and his two orphaned grandchildren, William Thornton Treadway 1806-before 1860 (my direct line) and Marjorie Treadway Adams 1804-1881 and her new husband Elkanah Adams 1806-1865, and headed to Clay County, Missouri to join his sons.  John’s sister, Mary Thornton Treadway had died before 1814 and her husband Joel Treadway had died before November of 1823.  John’s father, William Thornton Sr., died in Richmond, Ray County, Missouri in 1835.

John and Elizabeth settled down in Clay County and in 1829 they built a house which was called the ‘Western Farms Plantation’ and also known as the Thornton Mansion, it was located about 5 miles from the town of Liberty in Clay County.  This home was still standing and was relocated in the 1980's to Shoal Creek, Missouri according to a couple of different sources I have run across.  I need to see if I can find out if it is still standing and get a picture of it if possible.  I didn’t find this info until after I had been to Missouri last year so I wasn’t able to look for it myself at that time.

John and Elizabeth soon became the parents of eight children, seven girls and one boy.  These children were the following: Elizabeth Jane Thornton Doniphan 1820-1873 (wife of Gen. Alexander William Doniphan), Caroline Marjorie Thornton Moss 1823-1904 (wife of Capt. Oliver Perry Moss), Adeliza Tinmouth Thornton Morton 1826-1867 (wife of William M. Morton), Susan Melinda Thornton Baldwin McCurdy 1826-after 1901 (wife of James Harris Baldwin & Dr. James Darwin McCurdy), Mary Dinah Thornton Donnell 1829-1906 (wife of Robert Washington Donnell), Frances Anne Thornton Doniphan 1833-1914 (wife of Col. John Thornton), Col. John Calhoun Caldwell Thornton 1834-1887 (husband of Louisa Clementine Archer) and Theodosia Amanda Trigg Thornton Lawson 1836-1935 (wife of Leonidas Moreau Lawson).

Sometime in 1835, John and his wife Elizabeth, had their portraits painted by the up and coming Missouri artist, George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), who is renowned today as one of the classic artists of the early American West.  George Caleb Bingham painted a lot of landscapes and scenes from the American West, which was what he enjoyed doing the most, but he was also a fine portrait painter, which he said, ‘kept him from starving’.   One of my distant Thornton cousins, who lives in Missouri went and got me copies of these two pictures back in the late 1990’s and 1835 was the year he was told that they had been painted.  The following pictures once hung in the rotunda at William Jewel College in Liberty, Missouri and were on loan from a descendant of John and Elizabeth.  I stopped in at William Jewell College in May of 2014 to see if the portraits were still hanging there, but they had been given back to one of the family members who had originally loaned them to the college.  Unfortunately the lady I talked to at the college did not have access to the names of these relatives.

John Thornton was very prominent in Clay and Ray Counties in Missouri and served as a member of the Missouri State House of Representatives from 1824 to 1832 and again in 1836 and was also Speaker of the Missouri State House of Representatives from 1828 to 1830.  John also served in the militia as a Colonel, commanding the 28th Regiment of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division of the Missouri Militia, from 1824 to 1829 on the extreme western border of Missouri, during the Indian troubles.  He was one of the first county justices in Clay and Ray Counties, serving from April 1821 to March 1822 and had been appointed to this position by Governor McNair.

The area that John and his family lived in is where members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormon’s, had come to settle in the 1830’s.  There was much persecution towards this religious group during the time that they were there.  John, seemed to be fairly helpful to the Mormons during their trials in Missouri, but efforts to keep the Mormons out of Clay County failed, because of the influence of Alexander Doniphan, who was John’s son-in-law and who was also a lawyer for the Prophet Joseph Smith and other just men.  The increasing numbers of Mormon immigrants into the county continued to create a feeling of alarm amongst the Missourian’s.  On June 29, 1836 a citizens meeting was called and Alexander Doniphan and five other men, including Col. John Thornton and David R. Atchison, were chosen to draft a resolution asking the Mormons to leave the county before violence erupted.  The Mormon’s agreed to move at the first opportunity, and accepted an offer to help them select a new location.  John’s oldest daughter Elizabeth was married to Alexander Doniphan.  You can find many pictures of Alexander Doniphan online, but I took a picture of his statue that stands in front of the courthouse in Richmond, Missouri along with the plaque last year and they are the following.

I have been able to find a couple of pictures of two of John and Elizabeth’s’ children and they are the following, first Elizabeth Jane Thornton Doniphan and next, Caroline Marjorie Thornton Moss.  I even have some of their grandchildren and some of their great-grandchildren as well, but I will not be posting them at this time.

John and his family left a lasting footprint in the western frontier of Missouri, they were some of the founding members of the William Jewell College in Liberty, and they owned lots of land around present day Kansas City, Missouri.  John’s son John C. C. Thornton left Missouri and went to Butte, Montana where he found lots of silver and his family became very prominent in NYC and owned a mansion called Villa Memo at St. James on Long Island and had homes on Park Avenue.  Too bad none of that money came this way in my family.  The following is a picture of this mansion which was demolished in the 1950’s.

From the Liberty Tribune the local newspaper in Liberty, Missouri and from the issued dated, Sunday, October 31, 1847 we read the following: “Colonel John Thornton died on Sunday morning, aged nearly 61 years.”  You would think after having lived in the area for over 20 years and being as prominent as he was there would have been more written, but there wasn’t.  Col. John Thornton died in Liberty on Sunday, October 24, 1847 and was buried at the Fairview Cemetery.   The cemetery is in Liberty on the corners of W. Shrader and S. Terrace Avenues.  John’s wife Elizabeth followed him eleven years later when she passed away on February 17, 1858.  Also from the Liberty Tribune from the issued dated, Wednesday, February 10, 1858 we read the following: “Elizabeth Thornton wife of the late Colonel John Thornton, aged 57 years, died in Liberty and the funeral was held at the home of her daughter Mrs. Morton in Liberty.” 

The following are pictures of their tombstones that I took when I was there in May of 2014, the sun was really bright that day so it was hard to get really clear pictures.  Also here are a couple of pictures of the old cemetery gate entrance and to the left in the one that says Fairview Cemetery, you can see John and Elizabeth’s markers in the background.  Our grandson Elijah, who was 4 years old, was with me and it was pretty warm with lots of humidity, so he and I were really sweating a lot.   My husband, Roy, was in Kansas City for meetings so Elijah and I had been going every day and looking for ancestors, while Roy was in his meetings.  Before we left the area my husband wanted to go and see some of the things that Elijah and I had been seeing.  Anyway, as we were leaving Kansas City and heading out into the Missouri countryside we passed a cemetery, it wasn’t one that we had stopped at, but as soon as Elijah saw the cemetery, he said, “Hey Pop, look, that’s the cemetery me and Memaw sweated in yesterday.”  I will never forget that and how much we still laugh to this day about what Elijah said.   I was worried about taking a four year old across the country and how much family history I could get done, but he was wonderful company.  That’s Elijah in the picture behind the stone.

The following children and grandchildren of John and Elizabeth are all buried at Fairview Cemetery as well and they are: Elizabeth and her husband Alexander and their two sons, John & Alexander; Caroline and her husband Oliver; Adeliza and her husband William and their two sons John & Thomas; Susan’s first husband James Baldwin; Theodosia and her husband Leonidas and their son Robbie.  I took pictures of all of their graves when I was there last year.  Some of Elizabeth Trigg Thornton’s family are buried in this cemetery too.  Just a side note at this time, but Elizabeth Trigg Thornton’s mother is a relative of mine from my Dad’s side of the family.

It took a long time before I was able to find anything about this family.  My third great-grandmother Elizabeth Susan Treadway McDaniel, was as far back as I had for a very long time.  Elizabeth was the grandniece to John Thornton, but finally, after a lot of searching, I was able to piece together one very interesting family.  I still don’t know anything about Elizabeth Susan’s parents other than their names, but I will keep digging and one day hopefully I will know more about William Thornton Treadway and his wife Charlotte.


  1. OK, this is my favorite story of your family history so far. I may of missed it, but how did they make their money to be able to build that mansion. I may need to go back and re-read. I've been to Liberty many times. really enjoyed this story. Do you supposed the libraries in Liberty or the place in Montana where he found the silver would have any old stories about this?

  2. What great history in this chapter. Great pic of people and cemeteries from many years ago. Great pic of Elizabeth Trigg. For some reason her name reminds me of reading it in a history book. She looked like a really strong lady. And what a Beautiful pic of the Mansion. I look forward to these glimpses back into the past. Almost like "Gone With the Wind" A time in history that was so important, that leaves impressions and can never come again. Leave an imprint on time and people. You make these times and people come alive. (And they live again)

  3. The pictures are amazing - love them, they are exquisite.

  4. Photo of their son, John Caldwell Calhoun Thornton, can be found here -

    He was a Confederate raider in western Missouri between 1863 and 1865, who moved to Montana after the war. A bio of him family can be found on pg 891 in the "Progressive men of the state of Montana".

    1. Thanks so much for the link to 'Coon's' portrait, I really do appreciate it. I have never seen one of him before, thank you.

  5. Thanks so much for the link to 'Coon's' portrait, I really do appreciate it. I have never seen one of him before, thank you.

  6. The house is still standing!!! It was re-located to the Shoal Creek Living History Museum just outside of Liberty, MO. If you go to their website and scroll down, it's the red brick 2-story on their homepage! It's fully furnished and open for tours (along with all of the other historic buildings in the park) on the first Sat of each month, June-Sept. The basement is also used as office space for Shoal Creek Staff.

  7. You may already know that there is an elementary school in Liberty, Mo named after Alexander Doniphan.

  8. The Clay County Historical Library at 210 E. Franklin in Liberty has info on the Thorntons and other early residents of the county. The library is manned by volunteers who are very helpful in getting info for visitors. You can call them at 816-781-3611. The grand piano bought for the youngest Thornton daughter, Theodosia, (bought in NY and transported to Clay County by steamboat) is displayed at the Clay County Historical Museum, also in Liberty. Their number is 816-550-1460.