The Thornton Family’s Fredericksburg Mansion – Part I


My Thornton Family History

The Thornton Family is one of Virginia’s distinguished Colonial families. A large branch in my family tree includes Thornton ancestors and spans 24 generations. My Thornton family members date back to 1314 in Bolling Hall, Bradford, Yorkshire, England when Robert DeBolling (my 16th paternal great grandfather–Generation 2) married Elizabeth DeThornton in 1337, before the two surnames were shortened to Bolling and Thornton.

Fall Hill–Home of the Thornton’s

Fall Hill and the Thorntons

Fall Hill is an early 1700s plantation located on an 8,000 acre land established and patented by Francis Thornton I (1657-1727) around 1720.  It is located near the falls on the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Virginia.   Various members of the Thornton family lived at Fall Hill until 2003 (about 300 years). The present house was built in 1790 by Francis Thornton V (1760–1836)when he married Sally Innes and is located within the present-day town of Fredericksburg.  The architectural design supports the 1790 construction.

Fall Hill MansionThe Thornton family ran a grist mill on the Rappahannock River. Stories handed down over generations say that Francis Thornton III (1711–1749) built the house on Fall Hill to escape the heat of the original house that sat in the lower elevations near the river.

Francis Thornton III married Frances Gregory, daughter of Mildred Washington Gregory, aunt and godmother of George Washington. He served as a burgess, a trustee of Fredericksburg, and Colonel of the Spotsylvania Militia. In 1749, Fall Hill was inherited by Colonel Thornton’s son, Francis Thornton IV (1737–1794). However, he and his wife, Ann Thompson, maintained their primary residence at The Falls.

FrancisThorntonV-1767-1836

Francis Thornton V 1767-1836

Francis Thornton V was a Justice of the Peace in Spotsylvania County. Francis V was the last of the direct line of the Thorntons of Fall Hill plantation.  His son, James Innes Thornton, was born at Fall Hill. He moved to Alabama, became its third secretary of state, and established his own plantation, Thornhill. Francis Thornton V died in 1836 without a will. For nine years, until the estate was settled in 1845, Fall Hill was maintained by family slaves. Ultimately, the estate was deeded to Dr. John Roberts Taylor (1803-1884) in 1845. Dr. Taylor was the father-in-law of my 13th cousin, Butler Brayne Thornton.   It was Dr. Taylor who renovated the home in the 1840s.

Its proximity to the Rappahannock River made Fall Hill a strategic point during the Fredericksburg Campaign of the Civil War. Fortifications were built along the river at the house to protect the crossing. The breastworks were built by General Robert E. Lee’s soldiers.  According to long-time resident, Butler Franklin, at one point Lee ordered the mansion destroyed by cannon fire so he could better see the approach of the Union Army across the river. The house survived because the Union Army advance changed its direction.

In 1870 Dr. Taylor’s son, Murray Forbes Taylor, married Butler Brayne Thornton (my 13th cousin), a descendant of Francis Thornton V, which again brought Fall Hill into the Thornton family. Taylor and his wife lived with Doctor Taylor at Fall Hill from 1875 to 1877. In 1877, Murray Thornton and his wife Butler Brayne moved to California where Taylor managed the estate of Mrs. Phoebe Apperson Hearst (mother of William Randolph Hearst) at San Simeon, California. To show her gratitude to Murray Taylor when he retired from his job at San Simeon in 1908, Mrs. Hearst purchased Fall Hill for $25,000 as a gift for him. It was Mrs. Hearst’s wish that Butler Brayne Thornton Robinson Franklin inherit the estate.

Except for that period from 1845–1870, Fall Hill has been in possession of the Thornton family. Butler Franklin, who died in 2003 at the age of 104, was the last of the Thorntons to own the property.  Fall Hill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in June 1973.

Resources:

http://www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/va/Spotsylvania/state.html/
http://www.Virginiadescendants.com/john-roberts-taylor/

5 thoughts on “The Thornton Family’s Fredericksburg Mansion – Part I

    • I have sent out a query to see if I can identify the current owners of Fall Hill Mansion/Plantation. I haven’t been there, but this property sits adjacent to bridge and road construction–Fall Hill Avenue is being widened between the new Rappahannock Canal Bridge and Briscoe Lane just west of I-95. The construction project replaces the Fall Hill Avenue Bridge over I-95, and extends Mary Washington Blvd. to connect with Fall Hill Avenue. A portion of the road was reopened at the end of January 2017. The project is estimated to be completed by end of April 2017. I went to Google maps but was not successful in seeing the property in context to the construction. Fall Hill became part of the properties within the National Register of Historic Places June 18, 1973. Butler Franklin was the owner on this registration. He lived to be 104 and died in 2003. He was the last of the Thorntons to own the property according to to a wikipedia peace I read, but I also have contacted others to confirm Fall Hill’s status and will advise here as soon as I hear something. Thank you for your inquiry.

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  1. I am a researcher who has, for the past 10 years, been studying the portrait artist Matthew Harris Jouett (1788-1827) of Kentucky. He was said to have painted a miniature of “The Misses Thornton of Fredricksburg VA”. I am searching for an image of that miniature – presumably a double portrait (but perhaps it was 2 items) – and/or any information as to whom these ladies might have been. The miniature was supposedly painted c1810, and these ladies were said to be friends of his, which infers that they were born close to Jouett’s birth date.

    Any assistance greatly appreciated. RSVP to my e-mail acct: jonbernard1947@gmail.com

    Thank you,
    JMB

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  2. Pingback: “Katina – Ghost Nanny of Fall Hill Plantation” – Part 2 | Our Heritage: 12th Century & Beyond

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