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An excerpt from www.HouseOfNames.com archives copyright 2000 - 2014

Origins Available: English, Irish, Scottish

Where did the English Thornton family come from? What is the English Thornton family crest and coat of arms? When did the Thornton family first arrive in the United States? Where did the various branches of the family go? What is the Thornton family history?

The lineage of the name Thornton begins with the Anglo-Saxon tribes in Britain. It is a result of when they lived in the parish of Thornton in the county of Yorkshire. Thornton is a topographic surname, which was given to a person who resided near a physical feature such as a hill, stream, church, or type of tree. During the Middle Ages, as society became more complex, individuals needed a way to be distinguishable from others. Toponymic surnames were developed as a result of this need. Various features in the landscape or area were used to distinguish people from one another. In this case the surname Thornton was originally derived from the Old English terms thorn meaning thorn bushes and tun meaning enclosure or town. Therefore the original bearers of the surname Thornton were named due to their close proximity to the village where the thorn bushes were plentiful.


Only recently has spelling become standardized in the English language. As the English language evolved in the Middle Ages, the spelling of names changed also. The name Thornton has undergone many spelling variations, including Thornton, Thornten and others.

First found in Cheshire where the founder of the family was Peter Thornton, Secretary to the Blundells.


This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Thornton research. Another 233 words(17 lines of text) covering the years 1066, 1204, 1425, 1469, 1615, 1669 and 1660 are included under the topic Early Thornton History in all our PDF Extended History products.


Another 49 words(4 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Thornton Notables in all our PDF Extended History products.


Some of the Thornton family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt. Another 129 words(9 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products.


To escape the unstable social climate in England of this time, many families boarded ships for the New World with the hope of finding land, opportunity, and greater religious and political freedom. Although the voyages were expensive, crowded, and difficult, those families that arrived often found greater opportunities and freedoms than they could have experienced at home. Many of those families went on to make significant contributions to the rapidly developing colonies in which they settled. Early North American records indicate many people bearing the name Thornton were among those contributors:

Thornton Settlers in the United States in the 17th Century

  • James Thornton who arrived in Maryland in 1633
  • Joanna Thornton settled in New England with her husband Walter and Robert her son in 1635
  • Joanna Thornton, aged 44, landed in New England in 1635
  • Robert Thornton, aged 11, landed in New England in 1635
  • Walter Thornton, aged 36, landed in America in 1635

Thornton Settlers in the United States in the 18th Century

  • Mary Thornton settled in New York in 1705
  • Grace Thornton, who landed in Virginia in 1713
  • Ann Thornton, who arrived in New England in 1717
  • Margaret Thornton, aged 19, landed in Pennsylvania in 1775

Thornton Settlers in the United States in the 19th Century

  • Thomas Thornton, aged 66, arrived in New York in 1812
  • Seagood Thornton, aged 30, arrived in Maryland in 1812
  • Nicholas Thornton, who landed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1816
  • John Thornton, who arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1816
  • Mary Thornton, aged 42, arrived in Baltimore, Maryland in 1834


  • William Robert "Billy Bob" Thornton (b. 1955), Academy Award-winning American screenwriter and actor
  • Andre Thornton (b. 1949), nicknamed "Thunder," American Major League Baseball first baseman and designated hitter
  • Kathryn Ryan Cordell Thornton PH.D. (b. 1952), American former NASA astronaut with over 15 days in space
  • John Randolph Thornton (1846-1917), American politician, United States Senator from Louisiana
  • Lawrence A. Thornton (b. 1937), award-winning American author
  • Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton (1926-1984), American blues and R&B singer
  • Charles Bates "Tex" Thornton (1913-1981), American business executive, founder of Litton Industries, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • William Edgar Thornton (b. 1929), American former NASA astronaut with over 313 hours in space
  • Alvin Thornton, American academic, Chair of Howard University's political science department
  • Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton (1926-1984), American rhythm and blues singer and songwriter



  • Scharnhorst, Lynch, Barnett, Thornton by Frances Carter.

The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will; many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: Fideli tuta merces
Motto Translation: To the faithful go rewards


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  1. The Norman People and Their Existing Descendants in the British Dominions and the United States Of America. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1975. Print. (ISBN 0-8063-0636-X).
  2. Sanders, Joanne McRee Edition. English Settlers in Barbados 1637-1800. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Print.
  3. Le Patourel, John. The Norman Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. Print. (ISBN 0-19-822525-3).
  4. Marcharn, Frederick George. A Constitutional History of Modern England 1485 to the Present. London: Harper and Brothers, 1960. Print.
  5. Bardsley, C.W. A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames: With Special American Instances. Wiltshire: Heraldry Today, 1901. Print. (ISBN 0-900455-44-6).
  6. Hinde, Thomas Ed. The Domesday Book England's Heritage Then and Now. Surrey: Colour Library Books, 1995. Print. (ISBN 1-85833-440-3).
  7. Cook, Chris. English Historical Facts 1603-1688. London: MacMillan, 1980. Print.
  8. Foster, Joseph. Dictionary of Heraldry Feudal Coats of Arms and Pedigrees. London: Bracken Books, 1989. Print. (ISBN 1-85170-309-8).
  9. Shaw, William A. Knights of England A Complete Record from the Earliest Time to the Present Day of the Knights of all the Orders of Chivalry in England, Scotland, Ireland and Knights Bachelors 2 Volumes. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Print. (ISBN 080630443X).
  10. Bullock, L.G. Historical Map of England and Wales. Edinburgh: Bartholomew and Son, 1971. Print.
  11. ...

The Thornton Family Crest was acquired from the Houseofnames.com archives. The Thornton Family Crest was drawn according to heraldic standards based on published blazons. We generally include the oldest published family crest once associated with each surname.

This page was last modified on 7 October 2014 at 08:35.

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