Thursday, December 12, 2013



The Quaker series I’ve written have attracted a great deal of interest and as a result  I’ve made contact with a number of fellow descendents from the Browne brothers, William and James who sailed from England to the new American colonies in the late 1600’s with the first influx of Penn’s Quaker brethren.

I enjoy their comments and welcome their input to the ongoing story line of the Brown clan.

The latest letter arrived from a reader, Vanad Vindum, who sent this archive clipping from an Indiana newspaper, dated 1841.

RANAWAY, from the subscriber a resident of Delaware County Indiana, on the 15th of September, 1841 an indented apprentace named LOT THORNBURGH, aged eighteen years, about 5 feet 6 or eight inches high, brown eyes, sandy complected had on when he left brown coat, linen pataloons, and wool Hat, six cents reward will be given for the return of said apprentice, and a suit at law to those that may trade with or harbour said boy.

September , 15th 1841.

Muncietown Telegraph, Oct. 9, 1841

The clipping ties in with my Quakers Chapter 7 and in particular the section concerning the indenture of three orphaned children, Charlotte, Lot and William S. Thornburg Junior. 

To my 21st Century eyes this practice reeked of slavery and was no more than a virtual house and work imprisonment of helpless children.

When I wrote the original story I had been accessing census details about my Browns then resident in and around Cass County Indiana in the early and mid 1800’s.  Both Levi and his father Mercer Brown are listed for instance in the 1860 census with their wives and offspring plus young children carrying different surnames.

So when I chanced upon these details of the three Thornburg youngsters indentured in Indiana I immediately suspected the William Brown involved was one of my ancestors. As it turned out he wasn’t.


The following photographs of young workers were taken some 50 years after the Thornburgh children’s indenture in Indiana.  By then the practice’s description may have ceased, but the use of child labour hadn’t.   In Lot Thornburgh’s case in 1838 his master William Brown operated a brick making business and Lot was indentured to work for Brown and Brown alone.

To view Lot’s indenture details and that of his siblings, glance first at these archived photos then compare the age and the size of these young workers with the virtual indenture sentence of the Thornburg orphans. Considering the youngest, William was only 5 years of age the separation from family and home must have been horrendous.



Held in the Delaware County Archives ‘Kith & Kin’.

10th day of August 1838 between George Turner and Samuel Heaton, overseers of the poor of Monroe township in Delaware county, Indiana, of the first part and John Gipson of the second part doth bind out William Thornburgh, male minor of the age of five years the 22nd day of September until he is twenty-one years of age when he will be given a good freedom suit and a mare or gelding…until that time he must furnish him with good wholesome provision in health and in sickness and  two years schooling, 18 months between the age of eight and eighteen years of age, and the balance of the two years after that he is eighteen.
On that same day Charlotte Thornburgh, aged thirteen years was bound to Henry Taylor who agrees to give her ‘six months schooling, also a good cow and calf and a common good bed and bedding at the time that she becomes of age towit, eighteen years old’:
Again on that same day Lot Thornburgh fifteen years of age ‘who must faithfully serve and obey’, is bound to William Brown who obligates himself to ‘send the boy to school for nine months and doth bind himself to instruct said Thornburgh to mold and lay up brick as far as the said Brown’s own knowledge’.
Some intense research finally proved me wrong; this particular William Brown was of Irish descent and not one of my Cass County ancestors and I left the story there; unable to prove whether or not other youngsters with differing surnames who surfaced in my early Quaker Brown census records were actually kin or indentured servants.

But now I felt an overwhelming sadness for those three young Thornburg’s the youngest only 5 years and wondered had they survived their “apprenticeship” and gone on to marry and create families of their own.

The children’s parents were married about 1819 in Silver Creek, Greene Co. Ohio: father William Stillwell Thornburg was born in Virginia in 1797, and their mother, the former Catherine Murphy born 1800 in Jefferson County Tennessee. At this stage of research I knew nothing more about their Thornburg forebears.

After their marriage the young couple stayed on in Silver Creek, where their first child Elizabeth was born in 1820, Thomas followed in 1821, Lot in 1823, Charlotte in 1825 and Edith in 1827.

William then brought his family to the town of Muncie in Delaware County, Indiana where he was appointed Sheriff of Delaware County in 1832, an appointment he held for the mandatory two years. 

Below is a list of Sheriff's who served the citizens of Delaware County beginning in 1827.  Originally, Sheriff's served two-year terms; after 1954 the terms changed to four years.
 Peter Nolin
William S. Thornburg
William Gilbert
Joseph Thomas
James Howell

Early sheriffs patrolled on horseback, brought criminals to justice, and held criminals at the sheriff's house.  Before a county building was present, the sheriff would hold prisoners awaiting court where the current county building sits now.  The prisoners were told that they had to stay between a couple of trees and rocks and could not cross an imaginary line.  The more dangerous criminal was chained to a tree.  Court was held in an old livery stable which sat on the corner.

While being held at the sheriff's house, the prisoners would be kept in shackles and bolted to the floor.  The sheriff's wife fed and took care of the prisoners until it was time for them to leave.  Where the current Justice Center now stands, there was an old log cabin-style jail that held prisoners.  Through the years, several jails were built at this same site.  The sheriff and his wife used to live at the jail up until the 1950s, when a new jail was built.       (Delaware County History Archives.)

Amos Thornburg was born in the town of Liberty in 1828, followed by Catherine in 1830, William Stillwell Jnr in 1833 and the youngest and last child Miles Thornburgh was born in Muncie in 1837:  Their mother Catherine didn’t survive the birth of Miles, and in 1837 the nine Thornburg children were left motherless.  

But worse was to come; the following year their father William Stillwell Thornburg Senior died in Muncie, Delaware County at the age of 40, leaving his nine children orphaned.  Elizabeth, the eldest was 17, baby Miles a newborn.

Within the year three of those children would be processed through the Delaware County overseers of the Poor of Monroe Township – 5 year old William Stillwell Thornburg, 13 year old Charlotte and their 15 year old brother Lot Thornburgh.



By now I was becoming curious about the Thornburg ancestry.  I knew the surname had been around for some time, but like the Brown’s there were just as many apparently unrelated Thornburg families peppering America’s history.
After a few false starts I found the family of William Stillwell Thornburg derived from a long line of pioneers dating back to the early 1730 Quaker settlements in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

The family saga began in 1730 with the marriage of Richard Beeson to Ann Brown in the Quaker Meeting House on the Nottingham Lots.  The witness to the marriage was the bride’s father Mercer Brown. Their first child Charity was born in 1730 and eighteen years later married Benjamin Thornbrough in Virginia. (The name was later contracted to Thornburg.)

Ann Brown was the grand-daughter of my Quaker patriarch William Browne, her daughter Charity his grand-daughter.
Benjamin was the son of Irish immigrants Thomas and Sarah Hamman Thornbrough.

As was the practice in those days with many young mothers dying in childbirth, Benjamin would marry in succession three wives and have numerous children.

One of these was Thomas Thornburgh who in time married Rebecca Stillwell with whom he had seven children including William Stillwell Thornburg who went on to marry Catherine Murphy in Silver Creek Ohio.
Much the same way our William Brown’s Quaker family carefully picked their way through the French and Indian wars of those early years, always searching for that elusive part of the country where they could finally sink their roots, so too did the Thornburg’s:  The family moving from Pennsylvania to Frederick County, Virginia, traversing the Carolina’s, Georgia and Tennessee before the subsequent 1771 exodus across the Appalachians onto Ohio before finally settling in Indiana.

And so it came to pass that by 1838 the orphaned children of Sheriff Thornburg, struggling to exist in the small Indiana town of Liberty, may not have been aware that their father could, if he only had access to copious records, trace his lineage back to Richard Beeson and Ann Brown whose father Mercer Brown signed their marriage certificate in the meeting house on the Nottingham Lots.
In another of my Quaker chapters I included a letter written in 1758 by Charity Grubb Beeson to her sister.  Charity was the mother of Richard Beeson who married my Quaker Ann Brown in the Nottingham Lots and subsequently produced a daughter they named Charity who married Benjamin Thornbrough.

"Roan County, North Carolina."
"Loving Sister:--This is to let thee know that we have received three letters from ye and three presents therein I sent to the no letters; I had not freedom last winter was a year, I had a long time of sickness which brought me very loe in body, and mind and now I am troubled with short breath so that I think I am going home softly. I thought it would trouble thee more to let thee know my condition, then send no letters.

"I goes to meeting sometimes; we have a meting every other fifth day at our house, my husband gose weakly; the Lord who lifted ou candles hath not put them out. Our children remember their loves to you all. I have sent two presents to the as a toacon of love and youenity. We donte know that thear heath bene any mischif done in this government as yet by the Indians, but dont know how soon thear may be for some is doubtful thear may be before the truble come time be over. I desire the to remember our kind loves to all oure  neare relation and friends. We understand that oure brother John Grubb is decesed, but we have no certunty of it. I desire thee to let me know what is become of Peter Grubb's widow. Remember my love to brother Henry Grubb in particular. So we ad no more at present but remembering our kind loves to thee and thy family the 28th of the fifth month, 1758.

Richard Beeson,
Charity Beeson." (nee Grubb)



Of the three indentured youngsters I could trace only two, Lot and William Junior. 

William Stillwell Jnr indentured aged 5 years married Rachel Thompson and died in Muncie at the age of 72.  He served four years in the Civil War before returning to Muncie and his shoe repair business.  He and Rachel parented 7 children.

Lot married Louise Kessler, while his sister…

Edith, only ten years old when her mother died, married Joseph Kessler the pair raising 14 children before Edith passed away in Tippecanoe, Indiana.

Charlotte simply vanished from sight.  I have been unable to find either her marriage or death. 

Elizabeth, the eldest child married John Conaway in 1836 and by the time of the indentures was living in La Porte County Indiana.

Thomas married Nanne West.

Catherine aged 18 married the Rev Charles Bonner Marsters in 1848 and moved to Oregon.  They produced a family of 12 children before she died at the age of 53.

Miles Thornburg, the youngest of the family married Elizabeth Lovett.

Amos Thornburg was another of the children who vanished from sight.

I’m sure there are a multitude of modern day Thornburg’s in America who probably know a lot more about their ancestors than I have uncovered.  I would love to hear from you.


The Thornburg saga just goes to show how convoluted and entwined our family histories are.  No doubt there are other inter-related stories hidden in the mists of time and just waiting to be revealed.

Many thanks to Vanad Vindum for spotting the clipping and sending it on…

Robyn Mortimer ©2013.