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date: 04 March 2021

Thornton, Williamlocked

(20 May 1759–28 March 1828)
  • Daniel Preston


Thornton, William (20 May 1759–28 March 1828), architect, civil servant, and essayist, was born on the island of Tortola in the West Indies, the son of William Thornton, a planter, and Dorcas Zeagers. The senior Thornton died when his son was five years old, and the boy went to live with relatives in Lancashire, England. He served a medical apprenticeship in Lancashire, studied at the University of Edinburgh, and received a medical degree from the University of Aberdeen in 1784. After his graduation he traveled in France and the British Isles before returning to Tortola in 1786. Enamored of the republican ideals of the American Revolution, he emigrated to Philadelphia in 1786 and became a citizen of the United States in 1788. He established a medical practice in Philadelphia but soon abandoned it, finding the practice boring and the fees unsatisfactory. Thornton enjoyed a creditable income from his West Indies plantation, which allowed him to pursue his intellectual and artistic interests. His education and European background won him admittance to intellectual circles in Philadelphia, including election to the American Philosophical Society. Thornton married Anna Marie Brodeau, a well-educated and cultured girl of fifteen, in 1790. They spent two years on Thornton’s plantation on Tortola, returned to Philadelphia, and in 1794 made their home in the new city of Washington, where they resided for the remainder of their lives. They had no children....

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