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Friday, August 13, 2010

Gravesite plaque honors Revolutionary hero

MERRIMACK – Throughout town, Matthew Thornton has a school, a monument and a neighborhood all in his name.

After Saturday, he’ll have a new plaque as well.

The Merrimack Historical Society will welcome residents, officials and Thornton descendents from across the country Saturday to dedicate a plaque in honor of the town’s favorite son.

Thornton, a Revolutionary doctor, judge and New Hampshire lawmaker who lived in Merrimack the latter part of his life, was one of three New Hampshire residents to sign the Declaration of Independence.

The ceremony, to feature speakers and historical re-enactments, will be held at his grave site in the Thornton graveyard on the Daniel Webster Highway.

“Matthew Thornton is such a big part of our background, our history,” Anita Creager, president of the historical society, said last week. “To bring back the history of our town, the whole fight for freedom ... it means a lot to (this town).”

The plaque, and the idea for the ceremony, come courtesy of Descendents of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, a century-old society for direct descendents of the 56 signers.

The group, which is working to get a plaque placed at each grave site, contacted the historical society this spring, offering to donate the plaque.

“We try to honor (the signers) in any way we can, and we’ve found this is a good way to do it,” said Grace Staller, chairman of the Descendents group’s plaque and restoration committee, which has placed plaques at 36 graves to date.

“They pledged their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor for us. Especially young people, they should all know what they did,” said Staller, a descendent of John Hart, a delegate to the Continental Congress from New Jersey.

After receiving the call, Staller and Creager started contacting Thornton’s descendents throughout New Hampshire and beyond. Nearly a dozen relatives, from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York, among other places, have committed to the event.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” said Matthew Betton, of East Hartford, Conn., a descendent of Silas Betton who married Matthew Thornton’s granddaughter. “I take a lot of pride in my family history.”

Gov. John Lynch declined an invitation to the event due to a scheduling conflict, but Merrimack Town Councilors Tom Koenig and Jackie Flood are scheduled to speak, among others. And historical re-enactors Cort Maughn and Kitty Tyler will perform as Thornton and his wife, Hannah Jack, respectively.

Jack is the namesake of the former Hannah Jack Tavern, which closed several years ago, on the Daniel Webster Highway.

“It’ll be a lot of fun,” said Tyler, a Merrimack resident, who usually does living history performances rather than individual re-enactments. “To do somebody specific, from my hometown no less, it’ll certainly be different. ... I’m looking forward to it.”

The ceremony, set to start at 10 a.m., will likely last about 90 minutes, Creager said.

By contrast, the 1892 dedication of the Thornton monument, adjacent to the graveyard, lasted more than seven hours, she said.

“People were long-winded then. We’ll try to keep it a little shorter,” Creager said with a laugh.

“We’ll have fun with it,” she said. “It’s just another piece of our town history.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or at