Obituary of Jesse Q. Thornton
February 7, 1888

The Salem Statesman Journal published this obituary of Jesse Q. Thornton in February 1888, praising him as a "venerable and well-known lawyer-pioneer" who played a crucial role in "shaping [the] destinies" of the "great northwest." 

Death of Judge Thornton

The Noted Pioneer Passes Away Quietly at His Residence, in Salem, Sunday Night, at 11:40

Hon. J. Quinn Thornton, the venerable and well-known lawyer-pioneer, than whom none of the early immigrants to the great northwest was better known and had a greater influence in shaping its destinies, passed away quietly at his residence in South Salem, Sunday at 11:40p.m. Mr. Thornton had been suffering a gradual decline for several years, and a complication of diseases incident to old age, together with a distressing bronchial affliction, were the causes of his decease, after confinement to his bed of a number of weeks.

Mr. Thornton was born on the 24th of March, 1810, near Point Pleasant, Mason county, Virginia. In his infancy, his parents removed to Champaign county, Ohio. He was educated at the University of Virginia, studied law, and was admitted to practice. He removed to Missouri in the year 1835, and settled in Palmyra, Marion county, where he taught school, practiced law, and for a short time edited a political paper. On the 8th of February, 1838, he married Mrs. Nancy M. Logue, at Hannibal, who had come to Missouri as one of the teachers in West Ely college, an institution of learning established by Rev. Dr. Ely, of Philadelphia, and others, of the Presbyterian church. After his marriage, he removed to Quincy, Illinois, and engaged in the practice of law.

In the spring of 1846, Judge Thornton started to Oregon with the immigration of that year, arriving by the “southern route,” after many and great privations and losses, which he has elaborately detailed in his work entitled “Oregon and California.” He held, for a short period, a position on the bench of the old provisional government of Oregon. He served in the legislature of Oregon one term as representative from Benton county, in 1864-5, and occupied a commanding influence in that body. These, it is believed, are the only public offices he ever held. In 1848 he made a visit to Washington in a quasi-public capacity, and was instrumental in forwarding the organization of a territorial government for Oregon, and seeing that the principal of the “Wilmot proviso” was incorporated in the act, which prohibited the extension of slavery into the territory. He was in close consultation with Benton, Douglas, and other leading men of congress, and by his persistent efforts he succeeded (as he always claimed) in obtaining the grant of an additional section of land in each township for school purposes in Oregon, when congress had previously granted only one section to a territory on its organization.

Judge Thornton was a man of great natural ability, and gifted with an unusual facility of expression whenever he committed his thoughts to paper. He was well read in all departments of history and literature, and as a conversationist, in former days, he was rarely excelled, but an unfortunate affliction of late years rendered talking quite difficult and oppressive to him. He possessed great individuality of character, and consequently held strong convictions, which he was not backward in expressing, and which he was always ready to maintain and defend with tongue, pen, or pistol. Of this latter fact many early settlers in Oregon are aware, and although for years he was the “best abused” man in the state, no one ever offered him a personal indignity and escaped instant castigation. As an instance of his determination to defend his opinions and the freedom of speech at all hazards, it may be related that whilst publishing a paper in Missouri, at the time of the murder of Lovejoy, at Alton, Illinois, he commented rather freely in his columns upon the occurrence, and in such a manner as to arouse the hostility of the pro-slavery community, and, as usual on such occasions, a mob surrounded the building with the expressed purpose of demolishing the office and lynching the editor. Mr. Thornton was then a young man, but hearing of the intentions of the mob, he armed himself and barricaded his office, and when the crowd of infuriated men made its appearance in the street opposite, he stepped out on the porch with a loaded musket, and threatened death to the first man who should attempt to enter the office unbidden. His boldness caused the mob to hesitate, and Thornton then made a speech in which he announced his position on the slavery question and the right of free speech so clearly and unequivocally that he mollified his hearers, and when he closed, the crowd quietly dispersed without further molesting him.

For the last sixteen years of his life Judge Thornton was a resident of Salem. Before his removal to this place, he possessed at one time a considerable amount of property, but it gradually slipped out of his hands, and his declining years were clouded with poverty to such a degree that he was compelled to part with his library piecemeal to obtain the means of sustentation. Kind friends, however, ministered to the wants of himself and wife, in many ways, both of whom, to their everlasting honor let it be said, in all their days had never turned the hungry and needy away from their door. Mrs. Thornton still survives, in reasonable health for one of her age, although suffering from the inconvenience of deafness. Both joined the Methodist church in early life, and have been consistent members of that denomination ever since. They had no children.

The funeral will take place from the M.E. church tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock, and it is expected that several of his old pioneer preacher-friends will be present.


Statesman Journal (Salem, OR), 7 February 1888