Lunenburg County, Virginia

Sometime in the first half of the eighteenth century the three Thornton brothers and families [Mark and Elizabeth (Dozier), John and Jemimah (Longworth), and Thomas and Martha (Rogers), migrated south, past the city of Richmond to an area called Lunenburg Parish. It took up much of the southern, central part of Virginia and was made up of several Parishes. Between 1752 to 1765 Lunenburg Parish was divided into five counties, Halifax, Bedford, Charlotte, and Mecklenburg. The town of Lunenburg is in the south-center of the state about 20 miles above the North Carolina line. John and Jemimah's first born Luke, was born in 1745 in Henry Parish, the far west section of Lunenburg Parish. John with his son Luke are first listed in Lunenburg court records in 1761.
The terrain in Lunenburg is somewhat hospitable for agriculture with some level areas for fairly good farmland. Much of the land has creeks and rivers that have created fairly steep hills and valleys.
It is here, in the Lunenburg Court House, we found several records on the Thornton families. Court records provide some interesting history on the Thornton families. Land Deeds show that Mark Thornton, John’s older brother, bought land from Margaret Baker on April 2, 1751. In 1755 Mark was busy in court, first surveying a road and later bound to good behavior and fined 5£ for swearing. When he had his court hearing in November his temper again cost him money. He was fined an additional 10£ for swearing in court and ordered to be on good behavior for one year and a day.
In 1741 and 1742 records show that John sued his stepfather-in-law, Luke Thornton, for part of the Longworth estate. If you remember, Jemimah’s father, William Longworth, died in 1724, the same year she was born. In 1727, her mother, Millicent, married Luke Thornton, son of Luke Thornton (1676-1718) the oldest son of Luke who migrated from London. Apparently Millicent died around 1741, at age 38.  At that time Luke was around 35 years old. When the suit was filed against his stepfather-in-law, John was 26 years old and had been married one year. No further records on the suit have been found.
John and Jemimah other children, all born in Lunenburg County: Henry in 1742, William in 1747, Jane in 1752, Randolph in 1759, and Josiah in 1761.
In the List of Tithes for 1764, Cumberland Parish, Lunenburg County taken on June 10, 1764 shows that there were two Thornton families living in the Cumberland Parish: Mark with sons Thos. and John [3 tithes and 150 acres], and John with son Luke [2 tithes and 337 acres]. The list of tithes included only sons who were between 16 and 21 years old.

Luke Thornton and Martha Rogers

Around 1763, John and Jemimah’s oldest son, Luke, married Martha Rogers. There is no record of her where they were married or information on her family. She is listed as being born about 1747 in Orange County, Virginia. Luke would have been about 20 years old and Martha at least 15 years old.  According to the June 1769 List of Tithes for Lunenburg County, Luke had 100 acres and his father John had 200 acres.
It is at this point where my research is incomplete. Information on the Luke Thornton who migrated from London in 1660 and three generations of his families has been found in several sources. But there is some fuzziness in the information on Luke and Martha’s children. We know there were John and William but we do not know if there were other children in the family.
There is a stone erected in the Thornton Cemetery in Clarksdale, Missouri for “Betsy Thornton”, sister of William. Years after it was installed Artie said there was an error by someone doing family research and read a census report of William and his family. At that time they may have thought William’s wife’s name was “Ann” and misread the handwriting “Patsy” as “Betsy” and, because of her age, they assumed she was a sister traveling with William Thornton.
Of all the information gathered on our Thornton families, records on William are the most complete because when he died at 76 years old in 1843; he had five children and at least 60 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, many of whom still lived close to him in Missouri.
Not all the information gathered on William and his family has proved correct. Early Thornton family members said William was a bodyguard to General George Washington in the Revolutionary War. In their research they found a William Thornton who was a Private in the 4th Virginia Troops, First Regiment Light Dragoon, commanded by Col. Theodorick Bland. It was reported that our 16-year-old William fought with Washington in the battle of Yorktown in 1781. Early editions of Daughter’s of the American Revolution Patriot Index listed about 50 William Thorntons. The one chosen as our William had dates of birth and death close to our William but the name of his wife was “Ann.” This was enough proof and a special commemorative stone designating William as participating in the Revolutionary War was placed in the Thornton Cemetery in Clarksdale, MO. When the 1990 edition of Patriot Index was published that particular William was no longer included. In 1996 I wrote to the DAR to question the deleted reference. The DAR wrote that the earlier entry was incorrect; an error was made on that Thornton entry. There are no William Thorntons listed as Patriots that match the birth and death records and wife’s name of our William.
There are other more reliable records for the Thornton families in Lunenburg Virginia. In the Lunenburg Order Book Number 12, it records that John gave Luke a woman slave. Mark and his wife Elizabeth sold land in 1767. On November 10, 1769, John sold 100 acres of land adjacent to School House Brook to Luke. The price was 12£. There are additional records of various land sales by the Thornton families during the next 15 years. One listing is the sale of 100 acres of land in 1772 to Barnett Owen.

The Owen Family

Another early settler of Lunenburg County was the Owen family. On May 5, 1746, it was recorded that John Owen bought land in Lunenburg County from King George II. John had two sons, Walter and David, both listed in the June 10, 1764 List of Tithes for Cumberland Parish. Future listings had Walter with two sons, Barnett and William, and owner of 395 acres. His acres were patented on Jun 1, 1750 in the lower branches of Dry Creek in Lunenburg.
Around 1764 Barnett married Frances Whitlow. A year later, Barnett’s father, Walter, died and left an estate valued at 28£ and 7 pence. A record of his estate was filed in the Lunenburg court records. In the list of items left to his wife, Joyce, are 2 water pails, bed and furniture, items of clothing, 1 bowl, 1 mug, 1 “earthin dish,” 1 “chamber pott,” a “passel of books,” and other farm and household items. The items valued the most are 5 head of cattle, hives of bees, and 1 old bay horse. Barnett, as the oldest son, is listed as the executor of his father’s estate.
A year after his father’s death, on October 18, 1765, Barnett and Frances had their first child, Martha Patsy Owen. Her birth might have occurred in the same year William Thornton was born on a nearby farm. As the two youngsters grew up they probably played together. The first recorded Owen connection with the Thornton family was on November 9, 1772 when Barnett Owen bought 100 acres of land for 25£ from Luke and Martha Thornton. This also is an early record that identifies Martha as Luke’s wife.
One story that is passed on by the Owen family is that during the Revolutionary War the Owen men went to fight the Indians and Tories. Martha Patsy, the oldest remaining child and barely a teenager at that time, is said to have plowed the fields and planted the crops to provide food for the family. Of Walter Owen’s sons —Barnett, William, David and Joseph—only David is listed in the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Patriots List. Apparently Barnett did not have extensive participation in the War and was able to make frequent return visits to spend evenings with his wife, Frances.
He and his wife continue to have four more children during the span of the Revolutionary War: Sally “Sarah” in 1766, Frances in 1773, Jemima in 1775, and John in 1777. After the war additional children born in Lunenburg were Walter in 1779, Joicy in 1781, Barnett Jr. in 1784 and William in 1785.
Sometime in the 1770s Barnett also had free time to visit North Carolina and explore land in Wilkes County. He could have been assigned to rout some Cherokee Indians remaining in their home area and, while there, he found land he liked. In 1778 he was asked to survey the road from Deep Ford on the Reddis River to Benajah Remmington’s Mill in Wilkes County. A few months later he sold 200 acres in Lunenburg County. By 1782, Barnett, his brothers William and David are listed with John, William Jr. and Thomas Owen on the Wilkes County, NC tax list. Barnett still owned land in Virginia because he was also listed on the Lunenburg County tax roll in 1783.
Between the 1780 and 1790 there are records of land sales in both Wilkes County, NC and Lunenburg County, VA by the Owen family. It is not clear at which location Barnett and Frances lived after William was born in Lunenburg, VA. They had two more children —Polly in 1787 and Elizabeth in 1790. Elizabeth, the youngest of the eleven, would appear again in this narrative when she marries into the Todd family in Kentucky. During this time of transition their oldest child, Martha Patsy, was married in Lunenburg in 1786.


William and Patsy Thornton

One of the definitive records of our families is the marriage of William Thornton and Martha Patsy Owen. In the Lunenburg County records are the list of dates and couples married by a local Baptist Evangelist minister, Rev. James Shelburne. Rev. Shelburne was a millwright and preacher for 45 years at the Reddy Creek Church in Lunenburg. In his records is: “William Thornton and Martha Patsy Owen married in Lunenburg on May 5, 1786.” This event was later recorded in the book Marriages of Lunenburg County, Virginia, 1746—1853. Some researching the Thornton family give William a middle initial, but this in error. There are no official records that show a middle initial.
Because of the selection of a William in early editions of Patriot Index that was close to the birth and death dates of our William, there was a problem with the wife’s name. The listing in the early editions (The one the DAR says is “in error.”) lists William’s wife as “Ann.” This myth was perpetuated in the headstone for William’s wife in Clarksdale, Missouri, that showed her name incorrectly as “Ann Martha” to match the name in the Patriot Index. Several Thornton relatives have repeated the name “Ann” in listing William’s wife in their history of the Thornton family. Official records are very clear: The marriage record says “Martha Patsy,” census records list her name as “Patsy,” and her name in her father’s last will says: “Patsy Thornton.” She named one daughter “Patsy Martha.” I will use “Patsy” in this narrative.
William was not completely above politics during his formative years. Relatives remember seeing scars on his head when he was quite old and they received this explanation: William said he suffered great hardships by being a Whig. Once the Tories caught him and beat him with pine knots so severely they left him for dead.
While in Lunenburg, William and Patsy lived next to the Barnett Owen farm. On April 6, 1787 Barnett is visited by the tax assessor in Lunenburg County and is listed for personal property tax for 2 horses and 3 slaves. That same day the newly married, close neighbors, William and Patsy Thornton, were also visited and taxed for one horse. The tax assessor probably arrived when the two families were packing to move south to North Carolina.


Next Page: Migration to North Carolina