I have always said that I can’t drive past a historical marker. I managed to miss one in Brunswick, however, quite a few times. A large stone on Rossmore Road claims to mark the homestead of Matthew Thornton, one of the chosen few who signed their names to the Declaration of Independence. You might not have noticed his signature. It is overshadowed by John Hancock’s, like all the others. But it is there and it’s neat to see that the Midcoast is represented on the country’s first important document.

A historical marker on Rossmore Road claims to be the site of the homestead of Matthew Thornton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Zac McDorr / For The Forecaster

Thornton did not live here long, unfortunately. Like a New Yorker coming to Maine to escape COVID-19, he did not receive a warm welcome from the people living here. Thornton was born in Londonderry, Ireland, in 1714, and two years later he was part of the wave of Scots-Irish people who immigrated to America.

There seems to be some debate as to where the Thorntons settled. Several websites list Wiscasset as the place where they built their homestead. Some say it was possibly Brunswick. Some even claim it wasn’t in Maine at all, but down in Williamsburg, Virginia. According to the historical marker in Brunswick, however, the D.A.R. and the Knights of Columbus managed to identify the exact spot in Brunswick where the house once stood. How they figured that out, I can’t say.

Wherever they settled, everyone seems to agree that the local natives were not happy about their presence. They set fire to the Thornton homestead, and the family retreated to a new home in Worcester, Massachusetts, when Matthew was 8 years old. I wonder if he had any fond memories of his childhood in Maine or if the attack was just too traumatic.

After becoming a doctor and marrying Hannah Jack, Thornton moved to New Hampshire and set up practice. Oddly enough, he settled in Londonderry, New Hampshire, named after the city of his birth. He became a physician to the troops and entered politics. First he was elected as town selectman and then he became a member of the provincial assembly. He was asked to draft a plan of government for the state and this became the first new state constitution after the war with Britain began. Then he became the first president of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and a Superior Court justice.

During the Continental Congress, a letter was sent to New Hampshire requesting more delegates. Thornton and a man named William Whipple were chosen to go. By the time Thornton got there, in November of 1776, he had missed all the debates and the vote for independence had already been taken. He was allowed to sign the document, however, months after most everyone else had signed it.

New Hampshire wanted Thornton to represent them in Congress in 1777, but he declined due to poor health. For the rest of his life he served the state and wrote political essays for newspapers. He lived to the age of 89 and died as a member of the most exclusive club in America – those whose names are enshrined on the Declaration of Independence.

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