The Matthew Thornton House was designated a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The Matthew Thornton House, located at 2 Thornton Street, Derry, New Hampshire (at the intersection with North Main Street (Bypass Route 28), is a two-story square-shaped frame house with two-interior chimneys set behind the ridge. Of the saltbox type, the gable roof slopes steeply to the rear to include a one-story lean-to on the north (rear) elevation. The main house is almost 36-1/2-feet square, and is five-bays wide and two-bays deep. The exterior of the building was probably remodelled in the Greek Revival style during the first portion of the 19th century. The front corners are marked by giant pilasters and a one-bay wide one-story portico shelters the center door of the front (south) facade [since removed]. The walls are covered with clapboards, and first-story windows are topped by cornices. An engraving of the Thornton House appeared on page 65 of William Brotherhead's Book of the Signers (1861).
The Matthew Thornton House, a one-story frame service ell, about 16 by 44-1/2-feet in size, extends at right angles from the northwest (rear) corner of the main house, thus giving the structure its present L-shape. This rear service wing contains the kitchen and work rooms for the servants.
The main house has a central hall plan which divides the four rooms on the first floor into pairs. The center hall, divided into front and rear sections, extends through the house. Each portion has its own stairway and the stair is set against the right (east) wall of the hall. To the right of the hall are the living room and behind this, the "laundry room" (modern use). To the left of the hall are the dining room and in the rear the "family room" (modern use). The two chimneys between these rooms were rebuilt on a smaller scale in the early-19th century for use with Franklin stoves. The fireplaces and mantels are therefore gone in the east rooms; there is still a 19th century mantel in place on the dining room fireplace, and the fireplace in the family room is completely modern. The original wide board floors remain in place throughout the house, except in the family room, where they have been built over. There are three bedrooms and two bathes on the second floor. Traces of wall paper dating from 1811 have been found on the walls of one of these chambers. The Matthew Thornton House is used as a private residence, and is not open to visitors.
A bronze plaque set in a boulder located in front of the house reads: "The homestead of Hon. Matthew Thornton, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Born in Ireland, 1714. A physician in this town, 1740-1778. Died 1803. To his memory, the Molly Reid Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution dedicate this stone, 1909."
The house was the residence of Matthew Thornton, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence for New Hampshire, physician, politician, and jurist from around 1740 to 1779. The frame and floors of the Matthew Thornton House are 18th century but the exterior clapboarding and chimneys are replacements of the originals. In spite of undergoing considerable alteration over the years, this is the finest of the extant houses that have been associated with Matthew Thornton.
Brief Sketch of the Life of Matthew Thornton, c.1714-1803
Matthew Thornton was born in Ireland of Scotch-Irish parents, probably in 1714. Coming to America about 1718, his family settled first in Wiscasset, Maine, and then near Worcester, Massachusetts, where the boy received his education. Studying medicine under a Dr. Grout, Matthew Thornton was admitted to the profession in 1740 and began to practice in Londonderry, New Hampshire, where he was to reside until 1780. In 1745 Matthew Thornton took part in the Louisbourg Expedition to Nova Scotia as an under-surgeon. About 1760 he married Hannah Jack, by whom he had five children.
In 1758 he was elected as representative from Londonderry to the provincial assembly and he held this office until 1775. In the latter year he was elected president of the provincial assembly. He helped prepare a constitution for New Hampshire and in January 1776 was elected speaker of the house of representatives of the new state legislature. In 1776 he was also elected to the Continental Congress, and although he did not take his place until November 19, he was allowed to sign the Declaration of Independence. He served in Congress for about one year and then returned to resume service in state affairs. In 1776 he had been chosen an associate justice of the superior court and he held this office until 1782.
In 1780 Thornton moved from Londonderry and established his home in Merrimack County, New Hampshire. He had given up his medical practice but continued to be active in political affairs for some years serving in the newly organized state senate from 1784 to 1786. His last years were spent on his Merrimack farm. He died on June 24, 1803 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, while visiting his daughter, but his body was interred near his home in Merrimack. Thornton, New Hampshire, was named in his honor.
Elizabeth Fields and Dr. J.E. Fields, "The Signers Lived Here," Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, May 1951, 3.
Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVII, 503-504. Article by William A. Robinson.
New Hampshire, A Guide to the Granite State (American Guide Series) (Boston, 1938), 446.
David C. Whitney, Founders of Freedom in America (Chicago, 1964), 217-18.
‡ Charles W. Snell, National Park Service, Matthew Thornton House, Derry, NH, nomination document, 1971, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.