This being February and the week of Saint Valentine’s Day, I decided to post about an ancestor who I love to think about: John Norton (1756-1835). He is my maternal 5th great-grandfather.
I love researching John Norton because he led such a long, active life during the most critical period of our country’s history. He seems a man with much love in his heart: for his country, for his family, and for his community.
The Norton family were among the earliest established in New England. John Norton’s 4th great-grandfather, George Norton, a carpenter and innkeeper, arrived in Salem aboard the ship Talbot in 1629. The Talbot was among the six ships of John Winthrop’s fleet which sailed for the New World in 1629.
The Norton family had prospered in Ipswich for over 100 years before John was born there on Sept. 10, 1756, and baptized two days later (last entry in this cropped section of page).
He was the 2nd son of Thomas and Hepzibah Norton; one of five children. He grew up in the Ipswich home originally owned by his grandfather. The town of Ipswich lies on the banks of a river which runs inward from the Atlantic coast. Farming, fishing, shipbuilding and trading were the primary occupations of the Colonial townspeople. Thomas Norton was a tanner and his tannery was located along the river, while the home was in the village. The population of the town during John’s youth was about 4000.
John Norton was raised in a community which placed a high value on education. His grandfather, the Deacon Thomas Norton (1705-1750), was a graduate of Harvard University and taught at the Grammar School in Ipswich. Deacon Norton became a rather well-to-do man in town and when he died, most of his estate passed to his oldest son, Thomas Norton (1732-1777) — John’s father. (Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony) It is certain that John received an education at the Ipswich Grammar School, for his literacy was demonstrated in later serving as a town clerk at Royalston; also, we have many examples of his fine handwriting. Finally, a library of books were listed among his possessions when his will was probated.
Along with the virtue of education, the people of Ipswich held a strong sense of individual excellence going back to John Wise (1652-1725), the clergyman and political activist who earned Ipswich renown as “The Birthplace of American Independence.” (Guide to Ipswich, Massachusetts, birthplace of American independence) In the years leading to the outbreak of the Rebellion, the citizens of Ipswich actively protested the Crown’s increasing attempts to “secure the colonies” through taxation and other oppressive enactments. On the occasion of the Boston Tea Party, December 1773, the town passed a series of resolutions in support of the action. The people of Ipswich were warned that if caught selling tea, they would be “deemed an Enemy of the Town”. The British closed the port of Boston in May 1774, and the Colonists banned together. Representatives were sent to the Ipswich Convention in early September 1774. They voted unanimously to stand together in opposition to the Crown. Soon after, the training and arming of the Minutemen began.
News of the “shot heard ’round the world” on April 19, 1775, reached Ipswich within hours of the conflict at Lexington and Concord. The Minutemen of Ipswich marched off to assist. John was not among them, as he did not enlist until 12 days later. He was 18 at the time. He would become an 8-year veteran of the American Revolution.
John’s war service took him from Massachusetts to New York and New Jersey. All on foot, of course, being an enlisted man. He served under many different officers, for every time the company in which he was enlisted was discharged, he would enlist with another at the soonest opportunity. John fought at many significant battles during the long war. He was at the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Battle of Harlem Heights, the Battle of Trenton, the Battle of Princeton, and countless others. It wasn’t until October of 1783 that John’s long, hard military service came to end when he was discharged at West Point with the rank of sergeant.
Below are accounts of John’s service as reported in his pension application. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.
John may have remained in New York for a time, as it was in Albany that he married Margaret “Peggy” Bachellor 12 months later (October 14, 1784). John was a battled-hardened veteran of 28 when he married Peggy. She was a fair maiden of just 17.
Peggy was the eldest daughter of Capt. John Bachellor (1745-1817) and Margaret Swain (1747-1810). Capt. Bachellor was from Haverill, some 100 miles west of Ipswich. He settled in Reading, where he married and began a family. When the alarm was raised at Lexington & Concord, John Bachellor marched in response with Col. Ebenezer Bridge’s regiment. Bachellor served in the Continental Army under the 27th Regiment of Foot. He retired from service after a short period of service (perhaps he was injured?) and removed to Royalston, Worcester County, in 1776.
Perhaps due to the upheaval caused by the war, John’s parents had also relocated to Royalston during the war years. Thomas Norton died there in October, 1777. Likely, it is during one of the periods between enlistments, while visiting his family in Royalston, that John became acquainted with Peggy. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Capt. Bachellor asking the young soldier to visit his home and relate details of recent battles.
The romantic in me imagines John and Peggy falling in love during his visits to Royalston, and of him sending for her after his discharge at West Point. His service and pension records indicate he received a disabling war injury, so perhaps she came to him in New York during his convalescence?
In any case, with the long war over, John and Peggy made their home in Royalston. John settled into life as a farmer and town official. Nine daughters and one son were born to John and Peggy in Royalston. Sadly, their 7th child, Sally, died in infancy.
In Royalston, John answered the call to serve his community just as he had answered his country’s call to arms in its fight for independence. From 1793 through 1818, he was elected and/or appointed to a number of offices, including:
- 1793–1803 > Board of Selectmen
- 1795 > Committee to determine school districts
- 1799 > Assessor
- 1800 > Representative to the General Court of Massachusetts
- 1801 > Assessor
- 1808 > Appointed to committee by town govt to draft a petition to Pres. Jefferson to suspend/repeal Embargo Act of 1807
- 1809–1811 > Board of Selectmen
- 1811 > Town Clerk
- 1813–1814 > Representative to the General Court of Massachusetts
- 1813–1817 > Board of Selectmen
- 1814–1817 > Town Clerk
- 1818 > School board/committtee
During his term as town clerk, John recorded his own family in the town record book:
Isn’t that wonderful? It sure appears that he recorded the details of his family with sincerest love. And, if you think about it, to have that many children demonstrates that John and Peggy were clearly quite enamored of one another!
As John began to age, and his only son, Thomas, setting off to establish a life of his own in Portland, Maine, the old veteran began to feel his age. With only daughters at home, he found himself needing to sell off land on easy terms to raise some needed cash.
In 1820, John applied for and was granted a military pension for his war service. After a few years, his pension was revoked because the Pension Board deemed that his net worth was excessive. But they were looking only at his land holdings, and as he was elderly and infirm, unable to work the land, and with an elderly wife and two of his daughters (one of them “feeble”) at home, he had to appeal. With his own testimony and that of his friends and neighbors, his pension was restored.
John passed away on January 4, 1835. He was 78 years old. Three days later, his beloved wife Peggy, aged 67, also died. John and Peggy, married for 51 years, were buried in the same grave.
The house which John Norton built in Royalston in the year 1810 is still standing. How I would love to visit it one day!
I have been wanting to relate the story of John Norton for a long time, and this is but a cursory sketch of his wonderful, loving life. A future goal is to complete the story of his family, both his siblings and his children. And, to explore in detail his military service, accounting for every conflict in which he was engaged and discover details of his war time injury. That will require ordering his complete service record from the National Archives.
I am so very fond of my 5th great grandfather! He was truly an American Patriot!