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Rebecca's signature on one of her husband's probate documents when she was 67.

Rebecca was born and raised on a farm in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, in the vicinity of Apponagansett Friends (Quaker) Meeting House, where the Russells worshipped. Her Russell grandparents moved to a part of Dartmouth that's now New Bedford when she was young, and where another Friends congregation was established. Elisha Thornton of Smithfield, Rhode Island, moved to New Bedford and was admitted to the Monthly Meeting there in June of 1804. It didn't take long for him to meet Rebecca, most likely through their Friends connections. She was 17, he was 24. Although 17 year-olds occasionally married, it wasn't common in New England. People were encouraged to wait. Elisha was given permission to attend meetings in Dartmouth in August, and on 17 September they announced their intentions to marry. This makes me think the Russells and the Dartmouth congregants, who were critical to the marriage happening, wanted to get to know Elisha better.

The Apponegansett Meeting House in Dartmouth, where Elisha and Rebecca were married. Historic American Building Survey (HABS)

There must have been a plan at this point for for big changes in the Russell family, and connected to Elisha. Humphrey and Bethiah bought a lot of land in New Bedford shortly after the marriage and built a house there. They and Rebecca then transferred their Friends membership to the New Bedford Monthly Meeting. A week after her first child was born she fell ill. A letter sent within the Rotch family on 22 August 1805 says: Elisha Thornton Jurs. wife, a young daughr. of Humphry Russell, lays apparently near her close, put to bed I believe about a week since, was finely for several days, when she took a heavy cold wch. will probably end in her dissolution.1
     I don't know where Elisha and Rebecca lived for the first 20 or so years of their marriage. It was likely with her parents, at the house that still stands at the corner of Sixth and Spring Streets. Elisha bought the back part of his father-in-law's lot facing Seventh Street in 1824 and built a house of his own there, which was torn down after many years of neglect.
     Rebecca was visiting her daughter Mary Briggs and her family in Brooklyn when she died, possibly of tuberculosis, but otherwise of old age. A New Bedford obituary says this: DEATH OF A VENERABLE OLD LADY. - Mrs. Rebecca Thornton, widow of the late Elisha Thornton, died at the residence of her daughter, in Brooklyn where she was upon a visit, on Friday evening last, at the age of 82 years and six months. It is a little singular that her husband died at the same place, when upon a visit to his daughter, about fifteen years since. The remains of Mrs. Thornton were brought to this city, Sunday morning.
2 She had, before then, sold the house at 20 Seventh Street in New Bedford and lived at what had been her parents' house at the corner of So. Sixth and Spring Streets. She is buried next to Elisha and in the same plot as several of her children and grandchildren in Rural Cemetery, New Bedford.

Material from Rebecca's estate file:3

Be it remembered that I, Rebecca Thornton of New Bedford, County of Bristol, State of Massachusetts, being of sound disposing mind & memory do make & publish this as my last will & testament

1st It is my wish that all my just debts should be paid

2nd I give & bequeath all my household funriture, plate, wearing apparel & clothing to my five daughters to be equally divided between them

3rd I give & bequeath all my right & interest in the legacy of ten thousand dollars, left me in the will of the late Sylvia Ann Howland,1 as follows (this division will make the amt. equal to be recd. by my daughters from their father & my estate, with the exception of the portion given to Rebecca.

to Mary B. Briggs, twenty two hundred dollars
" Rebecca R. Thornton, twenty two hundred dollars
" Frances M. Ricketson, twenty two hundred dollars
" Virginia R. Gerrish, twenty two hundred dollars
" Catherine R. Hoskin, twenty two hundred dollars

4th all the remainder of my estate both real & personal of every name & nature I give and bequeath to be equally divided between my nine children, namely, John R., Gilbert R., Elisha, Mary, Rebecca, Frances, Daniel, Virginia & Catherine

5th I hereby nominate & appoint my son John R. Thornton, executor to this my last will & testament & it is my wish & direction that no bonds shall be required of him by the Probate Courts

6th all the property bequeathed to my daughters in this my last will is to be held by them in their own names free from the control of their husbands

Signed, sealed & published and declared by the above named Rebecca Thornton as her last will & testament in the presence of us who at her request have subscribed our names as witnesses
[the will isn't dated, but it was after Sylvia Howland's will was presented at court in 1865 and before her son Gilbert died in 1867]

Rebecca Thornton (seal)

Dennis Wood
Fred S. Allen
Walter S. Thornton

I, Rebecca Thornton, make and ordain the following as a codicil to my last will

Where as my son Gilbert R. Thornton has deceased, I give and devise the share of my estate given to him in my said will to his two children, Gilbert E. and Florence Thornton, to them and their heirs to be equally divided between them

Schedule of Personal Estate

household furniture 200
19 shares 1st National Bank New Bedford 2280
14 " Mechanics Nat Bank New Bedford 1610
5 " Wamsutta Mills (new) 375
cash 962.26
interest in S. A. Thornton Est. 500.00
legacy from Sylvia Ann Howland estate 10,000.00

signed, sealed and declared

New Bedford 10 m 9 1868

Rebecca Thornton (seal)

Dennis Wood
Fredk. S. Allen
Walter S. Thornton

children of Rebecca Russell and Elisha Thornton:

i. Joseph Ricketson b. 8 August 1805
ii. Sarah Ann b. 15 November 1806
iii. John Russell b. 8 October 1808
iv. Gilbert Russell b. 31 December 1810
v. Mary Brown b. 15 January 1814
vi. Elisha b. 1 August 1815
vii. Rebecca Russell b. 16 March 1817
viii. Daniel b. 28 April 1819
ix. Virginia R. b. 11 July 1821
x. Frances Moore b. 31 October 1823
xi. Catherine R. b. 28 June 1826

vital records sources: Rebecca's birth is in Vital Records of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, to the year 1850 vol. 1 (Boston:1929), 212. Her marriage is in ibid, vol. 2 (Boston:1930), 408. Her death is from severa sources: NYC death certificate, Brooklyn #8532; MA State Health Department register of deaths, 220:134. There are 2 US census mortality schedule listings for Rebecca, one says she died of old age, the other of consumption. Both were in the enumerations for New Bedford, indicating that was her home and that she didn't move to NYC.

2. New Bedford Mercury, 12 Nov 1869, 3.
3. Bristol County Probate Court file 25674.

all text and photographs © 1998-2020 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted