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Henry Thornton

Henry Thornton


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Henry Thornton, the youngest son of John Thornton (1720–1790) and Lucy Watson (1722–1785), was born in Clapham, on 10th March 1760. His father was a highly successful merchant. After a brief education he joined the family business. In 1780 he became a partner but in 1784 he joined the banking firm of Down and Free which soon became Down, Thornton, and Free. According to his biographer, Christopher Tolley: "Under his management, and with the help of a legacy of about £40,000 inherited from his father, Thornton's bank grew from a smallish concern into one of the largest in London, with an extensive network of country connections."

In September 1782, he was elected to the House of Commons for the seat of Southwark. He held progressive political opinions and was in favour of parliamentary reform and the abolition of the slave trade. Thornton was a poor orator and spoke infrequently in parliament. Thornton was very close to his cousin, William Wilberforce, and like him was converted to Evangelical Christianity. Thornton joined the Clapham Set, a group of evangelical members of the Anglican Church, centered around Henry Venn, rector of Clapham Church in London. As a result of this conversion, Thornton became interested in the subject of social reform. Other members included Wilberforce, Hannah More, Granville Sharp, Zachary Macaulay, James Stephen, Edward James Eliot, Thomas Gisbourne, John Shore and Charles Grant.

In 1787 Thomas Clarkson, William Dillwyn and Granville Sharp formed the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Although Sharp and Clarkson were both Anglicans, nine out of the twelve members on the committee, were Quakers. This included John Barton (1755-1789); George Harrison (1747-1827); Samuel Hoare Jr. (1751-1825); Joseph Hooper (1732-1789); John Lloyd (1750-1811); Joseph Woods (1738-1812); James Phillips (1745-1799) and Richard Phillips (1756-1836). Influential figures such as Thornton, Charles Fox, John Wesley, Josiah Wedgwood, James Ramsay, and William Smith gave their support to the campaign. Clarkson was appointed secretary, Sharp as chairman and Hoare as treasurer.

Thornton played a leading role in opposition to slavery in the House of Commons. In 1787 Granville Sharp came up with the idea that the black community in London should be allowed to to start a colony in Sierra Leone. The country was chosen largely on the strength of evidence from the explorer, Mungo Park and a encouraging report from the botanist, Henry Smeathman, who had recently spent three years in the area. The British government supported Sharp's plan and agreed to give £12 per African towards the cost of transport. Sharp contributed more than £1,700 to the venture. Several supporters of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade invested money into what became known as the Province of Freedom. Sierra Leone Company. This included Henry Thornton, William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Samuel Whitbread and William Smith.

Richard S. Reddie, the author of Abolition! The Struggle to Abolish Slavery in the British Colonies (2007) has argued: "Some detractors have since denounced the Sierra Leone project as repatriation by another name. It has been seen as a high-minded yet hypocritical way of ridding the country of its rising black population... Some in Britain wanted Africans to leave because they feared they were corrupting the virtues of the country's white women, while others were tired of seeing them reduced to begging on London streets."

Granville Sharp was able to persuade a small group of London's poor to travel to Sierra Leone. As Hugh Thomas, the author of The Slave Trade (1997), has pointed out: "A ship was charted, the sloop-of-war Nautilus was commissioned as a convoy, and on 8th April the first 290 free black men and 41 black women, with 70 white women, including 60 prostitutes from London, left for Sierra Leone under the command of Captain Thomas Boulden Thompson of the Royal Navy". When they arrived they purchased a stretch of land between the rivers Sherbo and Sierra Leone.

Soon after arriving the colony suffered from an outbreak of malaria. In the first four months alone, 122 died. One of the white settlers wrote to Sharp: "I am very sorry indeed, to inform you, dear Sir, that... I do not think there will be one of us left at the end of a twelfth month... There is not a thing, which is put into the ground, will grow more than a foot out of it... What is more surprising, the natives die very fast; it is quite a plague seems to reign here among us."

Adam Hochschild has pointed out: "As supplies at Granville Town dwindled and crops failed, the increasingly frustrated settlers turned to the long-time mainstay of the local economy, the slave trade.... Three white doctors from Granville Town ended up at the thriving slave depot... at Bance Island." Granville Sharp was furious when he discovered what was happening and wrote to the settlers: "I could not have conceived that men who were well aware of the wickedness of slave dealing, and had themselves been suffers (or at least many of them) under the galling yoke of bondage to slave-holders... should become so basely depraved as to yield themselves instruments to promote, and extend, the same detestable oppression over their brethren."

Sharp refused to accept the negative reports coming from Sierra Leone. He wrote that he had chosen "the most eligible spot for... settlement on the whole coast of Africa". With the financial support of William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Samuel Whitbread, Sharp dispatched another shipload of black and white settlers and supplies. It was not long before Sharp began receiving reports that many of the new settlers were "wicked enough to go into the service of the slave trade".

In 1789, a Royal Navy warship making its down the coast fired a shot that set a Sierra Leone village on fire. The local chief took revenge by giving the settlers three days to depart, and then burning Granville Town to the ground. The remaining settlers were rescued by the slave traders on Bance Island. Sharp was devastated when he discovered that the last of the men he had sent to Africa were now also involved in the slave trade.

In 1791 the Sierra Leone Company took over from Granville Sharp's failed Province of Freedom. Thornton became the chairman and one of his first actions was to sack Alexander Falconbridge, who had been a disaster as the company's commercial agent. John Clarkson was now sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where there was a community of former American slaves who had fought for the British in the War of Independence, to recruit settlers for the abolitionist colony. With the support of Thomas Peters, the black loyalist leader, he led a fleet of fifteen vessels, carrying 1196 settlers, to Sierra Leone, which they reached on 6th March, 1792. Although sixty-five of the Nova Scotians died during the voyage, they continued to support Clarkson who they called "their Moses".

John Clarkson became governor of the colony that was appropriately named as Freetown. However, as Hugh Brogan has argued: "It was the understanding between Clarkson and the Nova Scotians that got the colony through its very difficult first year. Clarkson's services were at first generally recognized. But great strains arose between him and the company directors, partly religious (he was not sympathetic to the insistent evangelicalism of Henry Thornton, the company chairman), partly because of the usual tension between head office and the man on the spot, and above all because Clarkson insisted on putting the views and interests of the Nova Scotians first, whereas the directors wanted the enterprise to show an early profit, so that they could compete successfully with the slave traders and bring to Africa Christianity."

In 1792 Thornton bought Battersea Rise, a villa on Clapham Common which he shared with William Wilberforce. The library of the house became a meeting-place for the Clapham Set. On 1st March 1796 Thornton married Marianne Sykes (1765–1815), only daughter of Joseph Sykes, a merchant from Kingston upon Hull and an evangelical. They had nine children. His biographer has argued that: "The marriage was affectionate; in his family Thornton was warmer and more spontaneous than he usually appeared to the outside world. He took great care over the education and religious upbringing of his children, insisting on their being useful and aware of public affairs from an early age."

Down, Thornton, and Free became one of the most important banks in London. Thornton also used his business skills to run the Sierra Leone Company. His biographer, Christopher Tolley, has pointed out: "The company aimed to confer on Africa the blessings of European religion and civilization through a trading operation that would be both profitable and free from the taint of slavery. Thornton was the company's most influential director and remained chairman throughout its life, writing virtually all its published reports and administering Sierra Leone from offices alongside his bank in Birchin Lane."

A close friend of Hannah More, Thornton contributed to her series of pamphlets, Cheap Repository Tracts, (1795-1798) on political issues for the lower classes. It has been claimed that within a year these pamphlets sold over 2 million copies. They were mainly bought by the wealthy to distribute to the poor. The success of these publications paved the way for the establishment of the Religious Tract Society. It has been argued by James Stephen that he "gave away between £2,000 and £9,000 a year, six-sevenths of his income before his marriage and one-third after it."

In 1802 Thornton published An Enquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain. The book provided a complete account of the English monetary system. This included a detailed discussion of how the Bank of England should act to prevent instability. John Stuart Mill described the book as "the clearest exposition that I am acquainted with, in the English language, of the modes in which credit is given and taken in a mercantile community". It has been claimed that Karl Marx was influenced by Thornton's work.

Thornton joined forces with Zachary Macaulay to launch of The Christian Observer in 1802. He contributed over eighty articles to the journal that supported the philosophy of the Clapham Set. Thornton was also treasurer to the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Church Missionary Society. He also purchased church livings to present to suitable clergymen and was for many years president of the Sunday School Society.

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807. Soon afterwards, in July, 1807, members of the Society for the Abolition of Slave Trade established the African Institution, an organization that was committed to watch over the execution of the law, seek a ban on the slave trade by foreign powers and to promote the "civilization and happiness" of Africa. Henry Thornton became treasurer and the Duke of Gloucester took the post of president. Members of the committee included Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, Henry Brougham, James Stephen, Granville Sharp and Zachary Macaulay.

Wayne Ackerson, the author of The African Institution and the Antislavery Movement in Great Britain (2005) has argued: "The African Institution was a pivotal abolitionist and antislavery group in Britain during the early nineteenth century, and its members included royalty, prominent lawyers, Members of Parliament, and noted reformers such as William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, and Zachary Macaulay. Focusing on the spread of Western civilization to Africa, the abolition of the foreign slave trade, and improving the lives of slaves in British colonies, the group's influence extended far into Britain's diplomatic relations in addition to the government's domestic affairs. The African Institution carried the torch for antislavery reform for twenty years and paved the way for later humanitarian efforts in Great Britain."

In 1808 it was decided to transfer the Sierra Leone Company to the crown, the British government accepted Wilberforce's suggestion that Thomas Perronet Thompson would be a suitable governor. He introduced an extensive range of reforms and made serious allegations against the colony's former administrators. Stephen Tomkins, the author of William Wilberforce (2007) has argued: "He (Perronet Thompson) single-handedly abolished apprenticeship and freed the slaves. He filed scandalised reports to the colonial office. Wilberforce told him he was being rash and hasty, and he and his colleagues voted unanimously for his dismissal. Wilberforce advised him to go quietly for the sake of his career."

According to his biographer, Christopher Tolley: "When income tax was introduced he paid more than required, believing that the tax, though just, was not fairly distributed.... He valued a good income, but declined to build up a great fortune for his children, urging the ... to follow his own and his father's example of limited expenses and large liberality."

Henry Thornton became ill in the autumn of 1814 and died of consumption on 16th January 1815 while at the home of William Wilberforce. He was buried in the Thornton vault at the Old Church, Clapham, on 24th January.


Henry Thornton was born on 10 March 1760 in a house on the south side of Clapham Common in Surrey. He was the youngest of four children of the philanthropist, banker and merchant John Thornton (1729-90) and his wife Lucy Watson (1722-85). John Thornton supported the abolition of slavery, and sponsored John Newton, the abolitionist and writer of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’.

Both of Henry Thornton’s grandfathers had been merchants in Hull, and although John Thornton continued the family business in Hull, he also traded as a merchant in London.

The family also had strong banking connections. John Thornton and his father (Henry’s grandfather) Robert Thornton were both directors of the Bank of England. Henry’s brother Samuel Thornton later served as both director and governor of the Bank.

Henry Thornton was educated at schools in Wandsworth.

Business and banking career

Henry Thornton’s working life began in the firm of his second cousin Godfrey Thornton, a merchant trading with Russia and the Baltic, and later governor of the Bank of England.

In 1780 Thornton moved to work with his father, who was also a merchant trading with Russia and the Baltic, and additionally a partner in Hull sugar and soap firms.

In 1784, seeing that his father’s recent ventures had resulted in considerable losses, and against the advice of his parents, Thornton left the family business to join the banking firm that was to dominate his working life. When he joined the partnership the bank’s name became Down, Thornton & Free.

In the next three decades Down, Thornton & Free grew to become one of London’s largest banks, acting as London agent for an increasing number of banks outside London, including many provincial banking firms and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In around 1810 Thornton discovered that one of his fellow partners had allowed a firm with which he was connected to build up an unusually large debit balance with the bank. It soon became apparent to Thornton that the money was unlikely to be repaid in full. Although Thornton intervened repeatedly to try to limit the losses, the affair dragged on for several years and the bank eventually – after Thornton’s death – lost £70,000, a sum nearly equalling the bank’s share capital of £72,000. Thornton reproached himself with having allowed too much of his attention to be diverted from the bank towards his parliamentary, religious and campaigning activities. In 1814 he reflected that he, as elder partner in the bank, was ‘a trustee to our customers’, ‘counted on as a guarantee that all is safe’. Although the bank survived this crisis, it eventually failed in 1825, a decade after Thornton’s death.

Abolitionist and evangelical Christian

Henry Thornton was one of the founders of the ‘Clapham Sect’, a name retrospectively applied to the group of evangelical Christians who met at Battersea Rise, Thornton’s home on the west side of Clapham Common. Its prominent members included Thornton’s friends the campaigner Zachary Macaulay the writer Hannah More and his close friend and cousin, the slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce.

The Clapham Sect instigated numerous campaigns for social reform and also initiated and supported a variety of charitable and religious causes. The Sect, and Thornton in particular, were central to the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade, and in 1799 Thornton introduced the (unsuccessful) Slave Trade Limitation Bill in the House of Commons. Thornton also helped the Sect to publish its own journal, the Christian Observer, for which he wrote many articles.

Thornton was a founder (in 1791) and chairman of the Sierra Leone Company, set up to establish a colony of freed slaves in Africa, intended to demonstrate that profitable trading was not dependent on slavery. He invested his own money in the venture and effectively ran the company from offices in Birchin Lane in the City of London.

After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 Thornton became treasurer of the African Institution.

Thornton was a founder and treasurer of the missionary institutions which exist today as the Church Missionary Society and the Bible Society. He was the first president of the Sunday School Society. He was also a founder and manager of the London Institution for the Promotion of Literature and Useful Knowledge, an organisation which offered scientific education, in part to those excluded from existing universities on grounds of their religious denominational affiliation.

Parliamentarian and political economist

In 1782 Thornton applied to contest one of the two Parliamentary seats for Hull, where his friend and cousin William Wilberforce had held the other seat since 1780. He withdrew, however, upon discovering that he was expected to pay each voter two guineas to obtain their support.

Later the same year he was elected Member of Parliament for Southwark. He held that seat until his death. Although an independent, he generally supported the policies of William Pitt the younger, Henry Addington and the ‘ministry of all the talents’ of Lord Grenville and Charles James Fox. He lent his support to the 1797 campaign of Earl Grey for parliamentary reform and supported measures to counter corruption in public life.

Thornton sat on a number of parliamentary committees, mostly relating to financial affairs. The currency crisis of 1797, prompted by fears of French invasion, led the Bank of England to suspend the payment of gold in exchange for bank notes, and Thornton argued repeatedly for the reversal of this policy. His views on this and other economic matters were in opposition to those of his family, and particularly of his brother Samuel, who became governor of the Bank of England. He was one of three authors of the Bullion Committee report (1810), the timing and circumstances of which led to financial uncertainty, and even put Thornton’s own bank at risk.

Thornton’s 1802 book An Enquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain marked him out as a leading economic thinker. In it, he sought to refute the common view that paper credit was the principal cause of the financial difficulties of the time, and to suggest how the Bank of England should act in relation to currency fluctuations. The book was translated into French and German and also issued in America. Although he was soon overshadowed by other contemporary economic thinkers, in the 20th century his contribution to monetary theory was reassessed, and came to be viewed as a precursor to the ideas of John Maynard Keynes.

Family life and character

On 1 March 1796 Thornton married Marianne Sykes (1765-1815), daughter of Joseph Sykes, a Russia merchant of West Ella near Hull. They lived at Battersea Rise, which Thornton had substantially extended, including the addition of an oval library said to be designed by William Pitt.

Although considered cold and diffident in public, his daughter Marianne portrayed him as an affectionate father. He was noted for his generosity, and whilst a bachelor he gave away six-sevenths of his income. It is reported that he stood by insolvent clients whose difficulties arose from third parties and ventures to which he had provided introductions, on one occasion at a personal cost to him of £20,000. On the introduction of income tax in 1799 he privately insisted on paying more than his due, in accordance with the views he had expressed in the parliamentary debates concerning the new tax.

Thornton suffered poor health throughout his life, including insomnia, headaches and digestive complaints. It was said that overwork contributed to these symptoms, and his banking partner Peter Free wrote in 1807 that ‘Mr Thornton is pretty well, but as usual overworking himself with public and private business'. He took the waters at Bath and Buxton to try to relieve his symptoms.

Henry and Marianne had nine children together:

  • Marianne, born 1797 , born 1800
  • Lucy, born 1801
  • Watson, born 1802
  • Isabella, born 1803
  • Sophia, born 1805
  • Henrietta, born 1807
  • Laura, born 1809
  • Charles, born 1810

Death and legacy

By the autumn of 1814 Thornton was seriously ill with tuberculosis. His friend and cousin William Wilberforce moved his family out of their house in Kensington Gore so that Thornton could live there, avoiding the need to travel to Battersea Rise.

On 16 January 1815 Thornton died at Kensington Gore. He was buried on 24 January in the family vault at St Paul’s Church, Clapham.

His wife Marianne died on 15 October 1815, also of tuberculosis.

Thornton is primarily remembered today for his membership of the Clapham Sect his associated involvement in the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade and active support of missionary and charitable causes and for his contribution to monetary theory. In 1979 the Cass Business School, City University, London instituted an annual Thornton lecture ‘in the belief that no student of money and banking should be unfamiliar with the name and work of this 19th century economist and banker’.


The Tragedy of Sir Henry Thornton

The appointment of the Royal Commission on Railways and Transportation in 1931 spelled the end of Thornton. He was bullied into submitting his resignation the following summer by a group of Conservative MPs who became known as the Wrecking Brigade. He was also stripped of his pension in what one Liberal MP called "the rawest deal any man ever received from the Government of Canada." Uncharacteristically timid, he had refused to fight back against the Bennett government at a critical hour. He sought to go quietly. When Liberal MPs called for the handing over of his personal papers, he burned them rather than have them used for political purposes.

On the night of August 1, 1932, Thornton and his wife boarded his radio- equipped private coach and departed Montreal's Bonaventure Station for New York. In a series of final, spiteful moves, the Bennett government had strong-armed a major Canadian bank into removing him from their board and then poisoned his chance to head the Indian State Railways. He died, broke, of cancer in New York on March 14, 1933, the night he was to have been back in Canada for a dinner given by CNR employees. The railway unions were later credited with organizing massive campaigns against every member of the Wrecking Brigade and had the pleasure of watching them all go down to defeat, along with Bennett, in the 1935 federal election.

Ironically, when the Royal Commission released its report on the railways only six weeks after Thornton's departure, it wasn't as critical as had been expected. The CPR was held as culpable in its railway expansion as the CNR. The commissioners criticized some CNR spending, but pointed out that all expenditures had been approved by Parliament and it had not "exercised any appreciable restraint upon railway estimates placed before them." To the CPR's consternation, not a single negative word was written about CNR Radio.

Nor did the Bennett government deliver the fatal blow to Thornton's radio program as the CPR had hoped. Bennett had previously been forced to distance himself from the CPR, largely because the public approved of Thornton's work and was solidly opposed to a transportation monopoly in Canada. Bennett had even felt it necessary during the 1930 election campaign to reiterate the famous statement, "Competition ever: amalgamation never!"


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Jane Austen's World

Nelson Memorial. A slave in chains. Image courtesy @Tony Grant

Inquiring readers, this rather serious topic of British slave ownership plays a role in Jane Austen’s world and her novels. She addressed the issue in an indirect way in Mansfield Park and Emma, with the Bertram fortune resting on slave trade and Mrs. Elton’s merchant father situated in Bristol, one of three major slave-trading centers in Britain. I am sure that her two sailor brothers related vivid tales of their travels in their letters and when they returned home for a visit. Jane, who was well-read and participated in family conversations, was keenly aware of human trafficking and exploitation. Ironically, a few years after her death, Charles actively patrolled the seas against the slave trade. In this post, Tony Grant addresses the legacies of British slave ownership. The British, godbless’em, abolished slavery decades before the U.S. and in a more civilized and peaceful manner. (Tony Grant, who lives in Wimbledon, is a frequent contributor to Jane Austen’s World. Visit his other blogs at London Calling and The Novels of Virginia Woolf. He traces his ancestry to the slave trade. As for me, I was born a Dutch citizen. The shameful actions of the Dutch in transporting slaves from Africa and their role in the slave trade is well documented.)

(Researched at UCL (University College London) by Catherine Hall Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History and her project team.)

The above title is an umbrella title which has been given to two projects, one called, “Tracing the impact of slave ownership on modern Britain,” and the other, “Legacies of British Slave Ownership.” These will lead to a further project entitled, “Structure and significance of British Caribbean slave ownership 1763 -1833.”

Clapham Church, Holy Trinity. Image @Tony Grant

In 1974, I was in my second year of teacher training. I was doing a three year teacher training course at Gypsy Hill teachers training college situated on Kingston Hill, about a mile from the centre of Kingston upon Thames. The college was eventually amalgamated with Kingston University. The new university education department did not retain it’s rather romantic sounding epithet, Gypsy Hill, unfortunately. My teaching practice during that second year was to spend six weeks teaching English at Henry Thornton’s Secondary School situated on the south side of Clapham Common. It was a tough place to go as a young teacher. Although Clapham is not quite classed as inner city the area was home to lot of disadvantaged families some of them ethnic minorities and many of them West Indian in origin. Henry Thornton would have been pleased about the ethnic mix in the school. My first English lesson, reading and discussing, Cider With Rosy,by Laurie Lee, was to be with a class of fifteen-year-olds. As soon as I walked into the classroom a large powerfully built West Indian lad, swaying back in his chair staring at me, trying to stare me out, nonchalantly raised his right fist and smashed it through the pain of glass in the window next to him overlooking the corridor. I think the blood must have drained rather quickly from my face and I asked another pupil to get the head of year who came rushing to my help immediately. Coming from Southampton, on the south coast, this was my first experience of Clapham.

Interior of Clapham Holy Trinity Church, image @ Tony Grant

However that experience has many connections with Britain’s past history in the slave trade and with what I am going to write about in this essay. Henry Thornton, was born in Clapham on the 10th March 1760. His father had been one of the early founders of the Evangelical movement in Britain. His father and his cousins were bankers. In fact his brother Samuel Thornton became The Governor of the Bank of England. Henry himself was a very successful banker. The bank – Down, Thornton and Free – became the most successful bank in London. Henry Thornton is credited with being the father of the modern central banking system. He was a great theorist and wrote books about banking.

Henry became the Member of Parliament for Southwark, which is situated just across London Bridge from The City. However, he was unlike other bankers of the time. Britain’s wealth was closely tied up with the slave trade, but Henry Thornton was an abolitionist. Henry Thornton was one of the founders of the Clapham Sect of evangelical reformers, who incidentally met and worshiped together at Holy Trinity Church, which nowadays is directly opposite Henry Thornton’s school where I had my momentous teaching experience. He was foremost a campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade. His close friend and cousin was William Wilberforce. The two men lived together with their families at Battersea Rise on the opposite side of Clapham Common to the church and where the school that uses his name is situated. Henry was the financier behind the Clapham Sect in their many campaigns.

William Wilbeforce. Image @Tony Grant

Catherine Hall and her project team are endeavouring to understand the extent and the limits of slavery’s role in shaping the history of Britain and its lasting legacy. They are focussing on various aspects such as commerce, culture, history, the Empire, physical attributes, such as the great houses and estates financed by slavery and also political aspects. How was slavery was involved in national and local politics? In Henry Thornton we see many of these aspects even if his actions and beliefs were contrary to the slave trade. He was a member of parliament who campaigned against slavery. He used his wealth to counteract slavery. I wonder if the West Indian lad who broke the window in my lesson realised that his destiny and the generations of his family before him were connected with the man whose name was on the school he was attending?

There is rather a surprising link and revelation about Henry Thornton in the research and data the UCL team has gathered. Kate Donnington, one of the PHD researchers on the team, has written a thesis about George Hibbert, one of the most influential characters and one of the major figures amongst West Indian merchants.

George Hibbert was a leading member of the pro slavery lobby and so one of the main adversaries of Henry Thornton over the slavery bill. However, Hibbert was a philanthropist and did many good works for charities. In 1824 he helped set up the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. Nowadays that has become the RNLI, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which saves the lives of many around our coasts to this day. He was also involved in creating The Royal Institute. The running and creation of the Royal institute for the arts and science also involved, Henry Thornton and his brother John. It seems that individuals could be absolutely opposed to each other over slavery but work together in other aspects of the nation’s life.

This project by UCL is of national and international importance, but it also has a very personal meaning. Another of the researchers in the project team, James Dawkins, is studying the slave owning presence of his own family, the Dawkins, through the data collected. This inspired me to look up my surname, Grant, to see who amongst the Grant clan from North East Scotland around the Spey Valley, was connected with slavery. I didn’t have any hopes for direct ancestors to myself being involved in slavery unless were crew on the slave ships we were labourers in the fields and workers in the whisky distilleries. We owned no land as such and certainly had no wealth.

Slave Ship. Image @Liverpool Museum

I discovered there were many Grants involved in the slave trade and plantation ownership though. There were various Alexander Grants, not all the same person I am sure. Alexander, must have been a popular name amongst the Grants. In fact my son, Samuel, has Alexander as his second name. There is an Alice Grant, one of my daughters is called Alice, a Betty, and various Anne Grants. It quickly becomes evident that many women, perhaps through inheritances, were investors in and owners of slaves. The list of Grants goes on.There are one hundred and eighty five Grants listed. I have an uncle, John Grant. There are many John Grants in the list and my father is Robert and yes there are many Roberts in the list. My own family’s Christian names are amongst the most prevalent Christian names associated with Grants in the survey. But my surname Grant is one Scottish surname amongst hundreds. If my families name is mirrored in the survey by all the other Scottish clan names there must be an inordinate number of Scottish families connected with the slave trade.

“The abolition of the slave trade Or the inhumanity of dealers in human flesh exemplified in Captn. Kimber’s treatment of a young Negro girl of 15 for her virjen (sic) modesty.”
Shows an incident of an enslaved African girl whipped to death for refusing to dance naked on the deck of the slave ship Recovery, a slaver owned by Bristol merchants. Captain John Kimber was denounced before the House of Commons by William Wilberforce over the incident. In response to outrage by abolitionists, Captain Kimber was brought up on charges before the High Court of Admiralty in June 1792, but acquitted of all charges. Image @Wikimedia

I took one Grant to look at more specifically. Alexander Grant , the survey does not show when he was born but he was born at Abelour, Banffshire. He died on the 7th may 1854 He was a slave owner, planter and merchant on the island of Jamaica. He had Abelour House built for him in 1838. The house still exists today. His will left £300,000. His estates in Jamaica and Scotland were inherited by his niece, Margaret Gordon McPherson Grant.

Slaves in transit, Liverpool

An interesting character I discovered on the UCL website was Ann Katherine Storer (née Hill, 1785-1854) She was born in Jamaica, where she married Anthony Gilbert Storer. She inherited her husband’s estates after his death, which not only included his Jamaican estates but also Purley Park in Berkshire, England. Anthony Gilbert Storer died in June 1818 and Ann Katherine returned to Purley Park with her five surviving children. There were problems with large debts and disputes over recompense. A rather strange and disturbing story is related about Ann Katherine Storer. When she returned to England she brought some slaves with her to work at Purley House.

“In 1824, Ann Katherine Storer was accused of the maltreatment of Philip Thompson, a black servant who was bought as a slave in Jamaica and brought to England by the Storers. According to Philip Thompson’s testimony, “flogging was the usual punishment for any misdemeanour and he was often ill treated… One day in July 1824 Mrs Storer was already up when Philip rose at 6 am. Finding that he had not been up in time to clean the lobby she ordered him to be taken to the “whipping place”. After removing his coat, waistcoat and shirt, he then received about a dozen lashes from a hunting whip wielded by the butler so that the blood ran down his back… Mrs Storer was said to have been present and said [to Robert Stewart, the butler], “Well done, Robert, give him more”…

African slaves in Liverpool

There is an element of sadism in this. She almost seems to take pleasure in the ill treatment of Philip. Ann was born and brought up on a slave plantation and was obviously used to dealing with slaves. This story made me wonder if this was a usual sort of treatment that was commonplace.

I mentioned above that the project team are focusing on aspects such as commerce, culture, history, the Empire, physical attributes such as the great houses and estates financed by slavery and also political aspects. Money from slavery was used to build Abelour House in Scotland as one example and the estate still exist today. George Hibbet was a philanthropist as well as a slave owner and he did many charitable works including setting up the forerunner to the RNLI as well as the London Institution, which was for the diffusion of useful knowledge in the arts and sciences. He acted as both its president and vice president between 1805 and 1830. He was a member of a number of learned societies and clubs including the Freemasons, the Linnean society and the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. Hibbet collected books, prints and art. He also inherited a house with its estate called Munden in Hertfordshire. I am taking George Hibbet as an example, but the point is that this sort of philanthropy and range of interests in the arts, literature, science, charities and so on is replicated throughout the four thousand individuals of wealth and property identified by this research.

Slavery and it’s proceeds were and are bound up with the whole of society, good and bad, and we must still be benefiting from it today. Eric Williams, the historian who wrote, “Capitalism and Slavery,” believes that the slave trade and slavery, “provided not only essential demand for manufactures and supply of raw materials but also vital capital for the early phases of industrialisation. This has been partially substantiated through the histories of particular family firms.”

In 1807 the slave trade was abolished in Britain and it’s Empire. In 1833 slavery was abolished by the British Parliament in the British Caribbean, Mauritius and The Cape. These people in the survey have been identified as the recipients of compensation for the loss of wealth when slavery came to an end. However it is important to note that what replaced it was not much better. The great sugar, tea. cotton and coffee plantations were still there. The slaves got their freedom but were then signed up to what was called an apprentice scheme. This meant that they signed up for work on the estate for a minimum number of years. Life did not materially or actually change for them. In many ways, it is interesting to think about what slavery is and means. Slavery is obviously the worst sort of work contract but we all have to work. We all have no choice once we have signed a contract. The conditions of work are very favourable on the whole for us but there are legal and social requirements we have to fulfill. The jobs we have can in no way be compared to the plight of a slave but there are degrees. Is working for someone else and being contracted to work a type of benign slavery?

The research Catherine Hall and her team are doing is fantastic but it has had its critics. There have been concerns both in the United Kingdom and in the Caribbean that the project team is white. One argument in defence is that white people as well as black people were all part of the slave trade. By putting the emphasis in the study on individual slave owners there is a fear that the case for reparations to be made by the state could be weakened. There is also a concern for banks and legal firms founded in the 17th century or before who have continued to this day and who have inherited the benefits derived from slavery in the past. The UCL group has said they are prepared to share their empirical data with these firms but also the contextualisation of that evidence.

Triangular slave trade. Liverpool

Professor Hall and her colleagues suggest that there are some key questions and problems that remain to be addressed:


THORNTON Genealogy

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Henry Thornton

(10 March 1760, London – 16 January 1815,[1] London) was an English economist, banker, philanthropist and parliamentarian.

He was the son of John Thornton (1729�) of Clapham, London, who had been one of the early patrons of the evangelical movement in Britain. At the age of five, Henry attended the school of Mr Davis at Wandsworth Common, and later with Mr Roberts at Point Pleasant, Wandsworth. From 1778 he was employed in the counting house of his cousin Godfrey Thornton, two years later joining his father’s company, where he later became a partner.

In 1784 Thornton joined the banking firm of Down and Free of London, later becoming a partner of the company which became known as Down, Thornton and Free. It was under his direction that this became one of the largest banking firms in London, with regional offices in other British cities.

In 1782 Henry Thornton had been urged to seek a seat in Parliament, and applied to contest one of the two seats for Hull. He soon withdrew on a point of principle, after learning that it was local custom to pay each voter two guineas in order to secure their vote. In September the same year Thornton was elected as member for Southwark, London. Despite lacking popular appeal, and refusing to bribe voters in a similar way to those of Hull, he became respected as a man of morals and integrity.

As an independent MP, Thornton sided with the Pittites, and in 1783 voted for peace with America. In general he tended to support William Pitt, Henry Addington and the Whig administration of William Grenville and Charles Fox. He seldom spoke in the House of Commons, as much of his contribution was in the various parliamentary committees on which he sat. In 1795 he became the treasurer of the committee responsible for the publication of the Cheap Repository Tracts.[2]

He served on committees to examine the public debt (1798), the Irish exchange (1804), public expenditure (1807) and the bullion committee (1810), which scrutinized the high price of gold, foreign exchange, and the state of the British currency. The report of the committee, written by Thornton, argued for the resumption of gold payments in exchange for notes and deposits, which the Bank of England (of which his elder brother, Samuel Thornton, was a director) had suspended in 1797, but the recommendation was not well received at the time, and gold redemption on demand was not restored until 1821. In the next few years he continued to press for these measures to be implemented, publishing two reports in 1811.

This period 1797� was a time of major change and great confusion in the British banking system, and the currency crisis of 1797 led to Thornton’s greatest contribution as an economist, for which he is most remembered today. In 1802 he wrote An Enquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain, in which he set out to correct common misconceptions, such as the view that the increase in paper credit was the principal cause of the economic ills of the day. This was a work of great importance, and gave a detailed account of the British monetary system as well as a detailed examination of the ways in which the Bank of England should act to counteract fluctuations in the value of the pound.

A successful merchant banker, as a monetary theorist Thornton has been described as the father of the modern central bank. An opponent of the real bills doctrine, he was a defender of the bullionist position and a significant figure in monetary theory, his process of monetary expansion anticipating the theories of Knut Wicksell regarding the "cumulative process which restates the Quantity Theory in a theoretically coherent form". His work on 19th century monetary theory has won praise from present-day economists for his forward-thinking ideas, including Friedrich August von Hayek who wrote an introduction to his

An Enquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain

and John Maynard Keynes alike.[3]

Abolitionist and reformer

Henry Thornton was one of the founders of the Clapham Sect of evangelical reformers and a foremost campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade. A close friend and cousin of William Wilberforce, he is credited with being the financial brain behind their many campaigns for social reform and philanthropic causes which the group supported. For some years Thornton and Wilberforce shared a house called Battersea Rise which Thornton had bought in 1792. The cousins spent much time here co-ordinating their activities and entertaining their friends. After their marriages in 1796𠄷 they continued to live and work in close proximity for another decade.

In 1791 Thornton played a major part in the establishment of the Sierra Leone Company, which took over the failed attempt by Granville Sharp to create a colony for the settlement for freed slaves in Africa. As the company’s foremost director, he virtually administered the colony as chairman of the company until responsibility was transferred to the Crown in 1808. It was at this time that he became a friend of Zachary Macaulay, who was governor of the colony 1794�.

In 1802 Thornton was one of the founders of the Christian Observer, the Clapham Sect’s journal edited by Zachary Macaulay, to which he contributed many articles. He was also involved in supporting the spread of Christian missionary work, including the founding of the Society for Missions to Africa and the East (later the Church Missionary Society) in 1799, and the British and Foreign Bible Society (now the Bible Society) in 1804, of which he became the first treasurer. A friend of Hannah More, he assisted in the writing and publication of her Cheap Repository tracts. In 1806, Thornton served as Manager of the newly formed London Institution.

Personal life

In 1796 Thornton married Marianne Sykes (1765�), daughter of Joseph Sykes, a merchant from Hull. They had nine children. Both parents died in 1815 and the children were adopted by a family friend, Sir Robert Inglis.[4] The eldest child, Marianne Thornton, was a bluestocking who lived in Clapham for most of her long life. She was the subject of a biography by her cousin, E.M. Forster (1879�), the novelist, who was one of Henry Thornton's great-grandchildren. The oldest son, Henry Sykes Thornton (1800�), succeeded his father in the banking business, but the firm was merged into Williams Deacon's Bank following the financial crisis of 1825𠄶. One of the younger daughters, Sophia Thornton, married John Leslie-Melville, 9th Earl of Leven). Another daughter, Isabella, in 1841 married the clergyman Benjamin Harrison who became a Canon of Canterbury and Archdeacon of Maidstone.[5]

Henry Thornton was buried at St Paul's Church, Rectory Grove, Clapham, where a commemorative plaque records the fact, with an additional reference to the family vault nearby. (A selection of photographs is displayed on the website of the school named after him: www.oldthorntoniansclapham.org.uk)

David Laidler (1987). "Thornton, Henry (1760�)," The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, v. 4, pp. 633�. John Hicks (1967). "Thornton's Paper Credit'," in Critical Essays in Monetary Theory, pp. 174- 88. Oxford. [ Francis Horner] (1802). Review of Thornton's Paper Credit, Edinburgh Review, 1(1] Art. XXV, (pp. 172�. Extended analytical abstract, sections I-IV. Pollock, John. Wilberforce: God’s Statesman. (Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, 2001). ISBN 0-85476-907-2. Stott, Anne. Hannah More – The First Victorian (Oxford: University Press, 2004) ISBN 978-0-19-927488-8 Tolley, Christopher. Henry Thornton in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: University Press, 2005) ISBN 978-0-19-861411-1. [edit] WorksAn Enquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain, 1802. Introduction by Friedrich Hayek (1938) & chapter links.


THORNTON, Henry (1760-1815), of Battersea Rise, Clapham Common, Surr.

b. 10 Mar. 1760, 3rd s. of John Thornton, Russia merchant and dir. Bank of England, of Clapham by 2nd w. Lucy, da. and h. of Samuel Watson, Russia merchant, of Kingston-upon-Hull Yorks. bro. of Robert Thornton* and Samuel Thornton*. educ. Dr Davis’s sch. Wandsworth Common 1765-73 Mr Roberts’s sch. Point Pleasant, Wandsworth 1773-8. m. 1 Mar. 1796, Mary Anne, da. of Joseph Sykes, Russia merchant, of West Ella, Yorks., 3s. 6da.

Offices Held

Asst. Russia Co. 1789-1811 chairman, Sierra Leone Co. 1791-1811.

Capt. Battersea and Streatham vols. 1798.

Biography

Of the Thornton brothers, ‘all City people and connected with merchants, and nothing but merchants on every side’, Henry was the most obvious heir to his father’s evangelical and philanthropic endeavours. Inheriting £40,000 from him in 1790, in addition to his partnership in the London bank of Down, Thornton and Free and a share in the family business interests at Hull, he devoted six-sevenths of his income to charity until his marriage in 1796 (when he was worth £7,000 p.a.) and one-third thereafter. A sharp critic of his father’s rough and ready approach to life, he aspired to the suaviter in modo of his cousin William Wilberforce* who described him in 1789 as ‘a most excellent, upright, pure, and generous young man: may it please God long to continue him a blessing to the public, and to amend his health’. Wilberforce saved him from ‘a sort of infidelity’ and set up house with him from 1792 until his marriage their enthusiasm for the abolition of the slave trade secured him the chairmanship of the Sierra Leone Company founded in July 1791 to promote African commerce and civilization. He had championed the Company in the House that session and by the end of the year it kept him busy ‘from morning till night’, so that ‘at present, business, politics, friendship, seem all suspended for the sake of it’. He informed the House, 2 Apr. 1792, that he was proud to be the only merchant supporting abolition of the slave trade that day. Around him and Wilberforce gathered the Clapham Sect, or the ‘Saints’ as they were dubbed, including Charles Grant I* and Edward James Eliot*. The King remarked that he hated ‘such canting Methodists’ as Thornton.1

On his unopposed election in 1790, Thornton had combined the profession of ‘just support to administration’ with his perennial claim to independence of party: ‘he never gave one party vote’. He favoured relief for religious dissenters, and abstained from voting with Pitt on the Russian armament and on 30 Dec. 1794, 26 Jan., 6 Feb. and 27 May 1795 joined Wilberforce in voting on principle for a negotiated peace with France. He admitted (26 Jan.) that the moment was not propitious and, having presented a petition from Southwark in favour of peace on 6 Feb., scrupulously presented a counter-petition on 20 Feb. He was satisfied that the majority of his constituents were in favour of legislation against sedition, 1 Dec. 1795, and next day signed the London merchants’ declaration of support for Pitt. At his re-election in 1796, when he headed the poll, he was still a ‘general friend of administration’, having at first supported the war with France and then waived his objections to it on discovering that government could not honourably negotiate peace. He was prepared to support a temperate and seasonable reform of Parliament and voted for it, 26 May 1797. That session he was a respected spokesman before the secret committee on the Bank of England and a member of the finance committee he then investigated the Ordnance accounts and, in the following session, the victualling office. He claimed his constituents’ pressure for his opposition to Pitt’s triple tax assessment, 14 and 18 Dec. 1797, but apart from a proposal to improve commercial assessment, he approved the income tax as the only way to continue war finance, 27 Dec. 1798, and silently raised his own contribution in accordance with the proposal he had made in the House. In 1798 and 1799 he assisted Wilberforce by promoting a bill to limit the African slave trade, which was eventually defeated in the Lords, 5 July 1799. He was a champion of paper money, 27 Nov., 5 Dec. 1800, 23 Mar. 1801, denying that it adversely affected the price of provisions, and in 1802 published his views in an authoritative Enquiry into the nature and effects of the paper credit of Great Britain.2

Thornton welcomed the purity of the Southwark election of 1802, in which he again headed the poll he had complained in the House, 20 Feb. 1797, of the abuses prevalent under a system of electoral treating. He admitted that he had gone far in supporting government and was well disposed to Addington, who had made peace with France.3 He disliked his tampering with Pitt’s sinking fund scheme, 3 June 1802, but assisted in the defence of the continued restriction of cash payments, 11 Feb. 1803. It was the resumption of hostilities that alienated him he joined the minority on it, 24 May 1803, and probably also voted with Pitt for the orders of the day on 3 June. He joined the minorities against Addington on defence, 10 and 25 Apr. 1804, and was listed a supporter of Pitt by then and during his second ministry, until constituency pressure dictated his votes in the majorities against Melville, 8 Apr. and 12 June 1805. He was preoccupied with the defence of the Sierra Leone Company against its critics in debate, and with the presentation of the case against Burdett in the Middlesex elections, which displeased some of his constituents. He was ‘cool’ about the payment of Pitt’s debts after his death. He voted for the Grenville ministry’s repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and was not an opponent of theirs in the ensuing election. He was trying to interest them in taking over the management of the Sierra Leone Company, to save him having to apply (as he had done since 1800) for annual grants which never sufficed, 20 Jan. 1807. He approved Windham’s military plans, apart from their neglect of the volunteers, though he feared they would not meet immediate requirements, 23 Jan. 1807. Having been named to the finance committee on 10 Feb., he also gave credit to the ministry’s new plan of finance, 19 Feb. He was among the staunch supporters of their abolition of the slave trade. It looked, when he opposed the grant of the duchy of Lancaster to Perceval on 25 Mar., as if he would go into opposition with the Grenville ministry but it was as an advocate of retrenchment that he spoke. He informed his electors in May that he disapproved the late ministry’s handling of the Catholic bill and upheld the royal prerogative.4

Thornton tried to interest the Portland ministry, too, in taking over the Sierra Leone Company, 29 July 1807, and in the following year succeeded. After the abolition of the slave trade, a jubilant Wilberforce had asked him ‘well, Henry, what shall we abolish next?’ The reply was, ‘The lottery I think’. In fact it was economical reform that preoccupied Thornton in the Parliament of 1807.

No place or pension ere he got
For self or for connection
We shall not tax the Treasury
By Thornton’s re-election

was the verse sung by his Southwark supporters.5 On being re-elected to the finance committee, 30 June 1807, he sought to carry out the reductions proposed by its predecessor, collaborating with Henry Bankes and sometimes taking the chair. The committee’s report on the Bank, which aimed to save the public £240,000 p.a. was supervised and defended by him in the House, 10 Feb. 1808, in defiance of the views of his family and City connexions. At the same time he concurred with Wilberforce’s line of judging ministerial measures by their merits, which palliated opposition fears that he had gone over to ministers.6 He voted with opposition on the Copenhagen expedition, 3 Feb. 1808, on the mutiny bill, 14 Mar., and on the admission of Catholics to the Bank of Ireland, 30 May. He regretted the amendment secured by the ministerial members of the finance committee to their report on sinecures, 29 June 1808. While he objected to the wilder allegations made by Col. Wardle in the House on corruption in the army administration, 31 Jan. 1809, he thought the Duke of York had connived at it and accordingly voted for Bankes’s amendment of 15 Mar. and opposed Perceval’s exoneratory resolution, 17 Mar. On 20 Mar. he supported the opposition amendment to proceed no further against the duke, following his resignation from the command. This line of conduct did not go far enough to please many of his constituents, as he discovered at a Southwark meeting on the subject, 12 Apr., but they applauded his promise to support parliamentary reform and the abolition of sinecures.7 On 20 Apr. he advocated making the purchase of seats in the House an offence under the sale of offices prevention bill. He voted with opposition on allegations of ministerial corruption, 25 Apr. and 11 May. He was chairman of the committee which exposed the peculation of £44,000 by the Dutch commissioners, debated on 1 May. He was as good as his word in supporting sinecure regulation, 8 May, 2 and 8 June, and parliamentary reform. He complained that Curwen’s reform bill did not go far enough, penalizing voters but not those who bought them, and he voted for Burdett’s reform motion on 15 June. On the other hand, he assured Col. Wardle that there was no more scope for retrenchment than that already sketched by the finance committee, 19 June.

On 31 Jan. 1810, having seconded Bankes’s motion to abolish offices in reversion in perpetuity, he was renamed to the finance committee. He had voted with ministers on the address, 23 Jan., but joined opposition throughout on the Scheldt inquiry, so that they listed him ‘hopeful’. He supported Bankes’s amendment to the army estimates, 1 Mar. He voted against Burdett’s imprisonment and for the release of Gale Jones, 5, 16 Apr., and on 15 June presented his constituents’ petition for Burdett’s release. He voted for Romilly’s bid to limit the imposition of capital punishment for theft, 1 May, spoke and voted for sinecure reform, 3 and 17 May, and voted for parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810: he was circularized, unavailingly it seems, by the Friends of Constitutional Reform in 1811. He joined opposition on the Regency questions of 1 and 21 Jan. 1811 and voted for the election treating bill, 25 Mar. He opposed the reinstatement of the Duke of York as commander-in-chief of the army, 6 June. That session he spoke as a member of two committees: that on commercial credit, appointed 1 Mar., supporting their findings, and as a member (sometimes chairman) of the bullion committee appointed the previous session.

Thornton, with Francis Horner and William Huskisson, had prepared the report of the bullion committee which he defended on 6 May 1811. He set out to prove that if the shortage of specie had its origin in an unfavourable balance of trade, it was exacerbated by the quantity of paper money in circulation, which must be restricted. These views he further defended against his critics on 13 May and published. He went on to express reservations about the bank-note bill, 15 July 1811, 26 Mar., 10 Apr. 1812, but admitted, 8 Dec. 1812, that the time was not ripe for the resumption of cash payments by the Bank, which led Robert Peel to suppose that he had made a ‘complete recantation’. He could scarcely have concurred.8 On 13 Feb. 1812 Thornton opposed Whitbread’s motion blaming the orders in council for the imminence of war with the USA, but he joined opposition to the orders, 3 Mar., and supported investigation into abuses of them, 16 Apr. He voted steadily for sinecure reform and retrenchment that session, describing the grant to the royal princesses as a burden to the people, 23 Mar. He also voted for Catholic relief, 24 Apr., but was in the government minority against a more comprehensive administration, 21 May.

Thornton was listed ‘doubtful’ by the Treasury after his re-election in 1812. As if to confirm this, he opposed Vansittart not only on his bank-note bill but also on his plan of finance, which damaged the sinking fund, 3 Mar., 25 Mar., 7 Apr. 1813. He supported Catholic relief throughout the session and defended the sinecure regulation bill, 29 Mar. He gave a qualified support to the East India Company commercial monopoly, 3 June, suggesting that it be extended, for the time being, to free London merchants. Like his two brothers in the House, he held East India Company stock. He supported Christian missions in India, one of his own interests, and was an advocate (like his father) of relief of prisoners for debt, 8 Apr., and of a resident clergy, 8 July. His attendance fell with declining health in 1814, when he voted for Romilly’s bill against attaintment, 25 Apr. supported the election expenses bill, 9 May, the London prisons bill, 14 June, and the relief grant to German war victims, 14 July. He had been added to the select committee on the corn trade on 7 Apr. 1813 a year later he advocated the postponement of measures for agricultural protection, 6 May, and was named to the new select committee of 6 June. He died 16 Jan. 1815, an outstanding philanthropist, the intellectual mainstay of the Clapham evangelical group and a most scrupulous Member of Parliament.9


Henry Thornton - History

The Brewery: History and Timeline

1836: Don Carlos Berry brewed beer in a log cabin that was located on the site of the present 400 Margaret Street.

1857-1897: John S. Bielfeldt Brewing:

John S. Bielfeldt was born January 27, 1834, in the town of Hemme, Holstein, Germany. He emigrated with his parents in 1851 and settled in Blue Island, IL, where they remained one year. On January 26, 1858, he married Miss Crescentia Ladoux, born September 13, 1835, in Canton Berne, Switzerland.

In 1857, John Simon Bielfeldt relocated to Thornton and erected a brewery with a ten barrel kettle. In 1876, he constructed the building with a residence which is on the site at the present time and began a 20 barrel business.

In 1895, he placed a 50 barrel kettle, and in 1896 put up an ice plant. The beer he brewed was known as &ldquoJ.S. Bielfeldt Lager Beer.&rdquo Thornton&rsquos clear spring water was a great infuence in starting the business. A few years later a well was drilled. The grain was ground by horses on a small scale grist mill. His market was the surrounding towns, mostly in Blue Island, Lansing, Thornton and Hegewisch, but Bielfeldt also delivered the beer by horse and wagon as far as Beecher and Eagle Lake, Illinois, and Crown Point, Hessville and Dyer, Indiana.

Mr. Bielfeldt was a Republican, and served one term in the Legislature, the Thirtieth General Assembly of the State of Illinois, but finding it took too much of his time, he declined to serve another term. This was in 1877, and he was on the Committees on Roads, Bridges and License. He later served in many local Township positions.

Bielfeldt's wife gave birth to 10 children. Her death occurred August 14, 1895. Bielfeldt died on December 31, 1899 and is buried along with his family in Homewood Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Homewood, IL.

1897-1920: John S. Bielfeldt Brewing Company:

Upon J.S. Bielfeldt&rsquos death in 1899, the business was turned over to his children. Bottles bearing the name Bielfeldt Brewing Co. have been found in nearby Thorn Creek.

1902: Thorn Creek food, brewery partially damaged.


1902: The brewery was the site of the first whistle for the Volunteer Fire Department.


1904: The brewery was partially destroyed by tornado.

1910: A truck was acquired in 1910 for delivering beer.


1915: No longer needed, the brewery barn was bought and moved to the northeast corner of Williams and Ridge Road.

1918: The brewery was partially destroyed by fire. Carl Ebner, Sr., was added to the management of the Bielfeldt Brewery, and was made its president and manager on December 1, 1918. In the earlier part of his career, Ebner was Brewmaster at Jung Brewery, and later superintendent at Chicago Brewery and North Western Brewing Company. Carl Ebner added a modernly equipped bottling department to the general establishment of the Bielfeldt Brewery.

Officers of the Bielfeldt Brewery were president and manager Carl Ebner Sr., vice president John B. Bielfeldt, vice president & treasurer Paul J. Mueller Jr. and secretary Carl Ebner Jr.

National Prohibition of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine and distilled spirits) existed in the U.S. between 1920 and 1933. The Bielfeldt family sold the brewery at the onset of Prohibition, probably to Carl Ebner. Ebner is listed in the 1920 Illinois Census as a manufacturer of soda pop.

1922: The brewery was partially destroyed by fire. Some beer making continued in the 1920s despite Prohibition. Revenue agents came in with axes and smashed the vats. It was about this time that the Chicago crime syndicate took control. It was not uncommon to see the notorious Prohibition beer runner and gangster, Joseph &ldquoPolack Joe&rdquo Soltis, aka &ldquoPublic Enemy Number 9,&rdquo roll up in a black sedan to check on his bootlegging operation. Trucks would pick up the beer during the night for deliveries to Chicago&rsquos speakeasy customers.

Roadhouses (Dutch&rsquos Place, Blue Lantern, Rose Bowl, Red Lantern) were built east of Thornton on Ridge Road. They were disreputable and were raided frequently by federal officers due to suspicions of violating the 18th amendment.

1933-1936: Thornton Brewing Company:

When Prohibition ended in 1933, it was reported that installation of new brewing equipment had begun in the old brewery. Owner John M. Kubina stated that although former &ldquoBeer Baron of the South Side&rdquo Joe Soltis wanted to own a piece of the brewery he was denied. President and treasurer was John M. Kubina, along with a partner named Henry Detmer. Vice president was Edward B. Kenny, secretary R.W. Bielfeldt and brewmaster was Andrew Marra. Chief engineer was G. Swanson and they had an annual capacity of 25,000 barrels of old Thornton Special beer.

By October 1936 Thornton Brewing Co. filed for bankruptcy listing debts of $20,000. An auction of the property was held in December of 1936, with the two leading bidders being Jacob Silver and Dominick Frederick. Offers went as high as $8100, plus the amount necessary to pay the creditors. Joe Soltis, one-time beer runner of Prohibition days, warned Frederick that if he persisted in his bidding there wouldn&rsquot be any brewery left. Frederick withdrew his bid. Bankruptcy Court Referee Wallace Streeter had Soltis cited for contempt and the brewery property went to Frederick.

1937-1940: Illinois Brewing Company:

In 1937, Dominick Frederick and his brothers joined Mr. J. Capodice to incorporate the Illinois Brewing Company in Thornton, Illinois. Among their many brands were &ldquoOld Fashion&rdquo Lager Beer, Pennant, Queensville, Export Pale and Muenchener Bohemian Beer. In mid 1940, the brewery contracted with Crown Cork and Seal to produce J spout cans of Pilsner and Frederick&rsquos beer. Later that year, the company name was officially changed to Frederick&rsquos Brewing Co.

1940-1948: Frederick&rsquos Brewing Company:

Frederick&rsquos Brewing was a partnership of James, Frank, Joseph and Dominick Frederick. Brewmaster was Henry Scholl and assistant brewer Ernest Buehler. They operated two bottling lines and had a 75,000 barrel capacity and manufactured Frederick&rsquos Four Crown Special Beer. The beer was shipped by railroad car to army camps throughout the U.S. Boys from Thornton were always surprised to get beer from home. The empty bottles would be shipped back to Thornton to be refilled. Over $400,000 was spent to modernize the one-time log cabin. In the late 1940&rsquos, the brewery employed approximately 65 men but Frederick&rsquos Brewing went bankrupt.

1948-1950: McAvoy Brewing Company:

McAvoy Brewing was originally located on Brewers Row in Chicago but it did not survive Prohibition. The Frederick Brothers acquired the name in 1948. They brewed McAvoy Malt Marrow, American Club Pilsner Beer, and Van Nestor. McAvoy had a 100,000 barrel capacity. The Fredericks were apparently poor businessmen and the brewery again filed for bankruptcy in 1943 but remained in operation until 1949 when they went bankrupt from race track gambling debts.

1951-1957 White Bear Brewing Co., Inc.:

In 1951, the brewery was sold to Ildefonsas &ldquoJoe&rdquo Sadauskas, an immigrant from Lithuania who was sponsored by Thornton families after the war. The first stock certificate for 200 shares was issued Nov. 8, 1951. Sadauskus produced White Bear Beer from a Lithuanian recipe. It was not very popular with the people of the town.

Sadauskas advertised in Lithuanian newspapers in Chicago. He made his own barrels in a small cooper shop attached to the brewery complex.

In 1957, Sadauskas allegedly refused to pay the crime syndicate for protection and they tried to run him out of business. It was said that they came over and dumped about 140,000 gallons of beer from bottles and kegs into the creek. Other state that he just hadn't paid his taxes. At that point Sadauskas and partner Anthony Stakanas brought in small industrial companies. It was called Thornton Industrial Complex. Beer was never again brewed on the site.

1970s: After his partner died, Sadauskas sold the brewery to a syndicated group. Ed Huelat was one of three owners.

1977: Brewery gutted by fire. Owners were Frank Halagiere of Dolton, Robert Ried of Dolton, and Joseph Genovese of Riverdale.

1980s: Building bought by Gierczyk Development Co.

1980s: Bambino&rsquos Hideaway Restaurant, owners Frank and Debbie Elton.

1980s: Two Dolton businessmen, Butch Sikora and Greg Cooper purchased the brewery from Gierczyk Development Company.

1990-92: Became restaurant/bar called The Brewery. It was shut down in August of 1992 in a raid by the Metropolitan Enforcement Group.

1993 : Reopened as Dan D Jac&rsquos.

1997: Sold to Warren Salihar who named it Widow McCleary&rsquos Bar & Restaurant which had a fictitious history.

2000: Still called Widow McCleary&rsquos Bar & Restaurant, new owners.

2014: Steve Soltis, Andrew Howell and business partner Jake Weiss, the building&rsquos owner, got to work changing the former brewery into a distillery. It was called Soltis Family Spirits.

2017: Soltis Family Spirits open for business in December of 2017.

2018: Soltis Family Spirits was short-lived, with Steve Soltis pulling out of the business in early 2018. Andrew Howell, his brother Jon, and Jake Weiss continued distilling whiskey, rum and gin with plans to add additional brands of spirits to their product lineup. Their tasting room cocktail bar is called &ldquoThe Well,&rdquo after the natural spring water used for their products.


Family history through the alphabet – F is for Fecund Forebears

F is for Fecund Forebears

My tree has many branches because large numbers of offspring appear to have been the norm among the mining, fishing and farming families of North-East England and Scotland. Three of my grandparents are from large families. Grandmother Ellenor Turner was the seventh child of ten. Grandmother Margaret Jane Henderson was the third child of seven. Grandfather George Crackett was the eighth child of ten. (Shown in the banner of my blog).

Taking it back one generation further the big families include: Cracket 8, Parkinson 5, Carr 5, Henderson 7, Thornton 11. Similar trends can be seen in the earlier generations too with most of the couples having somewhere between 5 and 10 children.

F is for findmypast

F is also for findmypast which is one of the resources I find most useful for my genealogy research. I find their transcriptions among the most reliable, although Cracket has on occasion been twisted to Crackel. So far I have just used the UK site, but expect I am soon going to have to take a look at both Ireland and Australia. I have not managed to figure out yet whether having a subscription for one country gives any discount opportunities for the other countries.

If you would like to know more about this alphabet challenge take a look at Family History through the Alphabet.


Watch the video: Meet the Rookies 201617 - Henry Thornton (December 2022).

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