On this day in 1803, Matthew Thornton, one of New Hampshire’s delegates to the second Continental Congress and an ex post facto signer of the Declaration of Independence, dies at age 89 while visiting his daughter in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Born in Ireland in 1714, Thornton immigrated as a child to Wiscasset, in the Massachusetts territory that is now the state of Maine. He was educated in Worcester, Massachusetts, and began a medical practice in Londonderry, New Hampshire, in 1740. In 1745, Dr. Thornton traveled with the New Hampshire militia in the successful seizure of Fort Louisbourg, in what is now Nova Scotia, from the French. Thornton’s success as a physician allowed him to purchase significant land holdings in Londonderry, and he established himself among the political elite of the community, serving as justice of the peace and a member of the Provincial Assembly. In 1760, he married Hannah Jack, the 18-year-old daughter of fellow Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. The couple had five children, of whom four survived until adulthood.
In 1775, Thornton became the first president of the Provincial Assembly and chairman of the Committee of Safety, as relations between Britain and its American colonies deteriorated. Thornton penned the document that would serve as New Hampshire’s first state constitution. In 1776, he was elected to the second Continental Congress. Because he did not arrive in Philadelphia until September, he missed the debates and initial approval of the Declaration of Independence, but later added his signature to the document.
Upon his return to New Hampshire, Thornton became a high judge and colonel in the militia. In 1779, he moved to Exeter, where he served the new state in the Assembly and Senate, before retiring to a farm in Merrimack 10 years later.