John Thornhill, "one of the most celebrated mechanicks in this or any other state...particulary distinguished for his abilities as an Architect," was the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Thornhill. In 1741 he married Jane Cook at Christ Church who the next year gave birth to Joseph Thornhill. In 1746 he appears as the witnesses to the will of the carpenter William Russell, in 1748 as the executor of the estate of the painter John Winckles, and in 1753 he preformed the inventory of the estate of the carpenter Andrew Jolley.
A long-time resident of the Mulberry Ward of the city, Thornhill was elected to membership in The Carpenters' Company prior to the date of the earliest surviving records. In 1763 he was elected to the important "Committee to Sett prises" and to a committee to locate a lot for the future Carpenters' Hall. In 1770 he was one of the largest contributors toward the construction of the Hall. In 1776 he was elected Assistant of The Company and as late as 1781 was serving on Company committees.
As so often is the case with colonial master builders--even those of such obvious important as John Thornhill--virtually nothing is known of his work. As a parishioner of Christ Church, Thornhill was asked in 1741 if he would undertake the new steeple then to be erected. According to the building committee, Thornhill "would cheerfully serve the Church," but was unfamiliar with that sort of work and would need the help of other craftsmen. Between 1746 and 1763 Thornhill received payments for work at Christ Church, including the final steeple account in 1759. (See Robert Smith) Thornhill was also asked to measure the work of Jacob Knorr, the builder of Cliveden (1767).
Roger W. Moss.
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- Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia
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