John Thornton Brodhead was born in 1851 at Grosse Ile, Michigan, to Thornton F. Brodhead (1820-1862) and Archange Macomb (1818-1891), granddaughter of William Macomb, the original owner of Grosse Ile. Her father was William Macomb Jr.
Thornton Brodhead served as a lieutenant in the Mexican War in 1847. He was also owner of the Detroit Free Press. He organized the First Michigan Cavalry at the outbreak of the Civil War. He was appointed colonel.
At the battle of Harpers Ferry, Thornton Brodhead gave his son a taste of fighting by guiding him through the engagement at a safe distance.
Col. Brodhead was fatally wounded on Aug. 28, 1862, at the Second Bull Run. He died on Sept. 2. Archange sent John Thornton to Washington, D.C. to live with his uncle, John M. Brodhead. John Thornton had attended local schools and Polytechnic School.
In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed John Thornton to the US Marine Corps. He was assigned to the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.
He later served in Pensacola, Florida and at Annapolis. As a second lieutenant, he served with the Mediterranean Fleet under Admiral Worden. While stationed at Nice, France, he met Jessie Willis, daughter of composer Richard Storrs Willis and niece of poet Nathaniel P. Willis. They married on March 12, 1877, in New York City.
John Thornton was responsible for bringing home from Spain fugitive Tammany chief "Boss" Tweed to New York. He also led a regiment to break the strike of railroad workers in Pennsylvania.
By 1878, he and Jessie had started a family. He turned down an assignment to China and resigned his commission to remain with his family, which was living in Washington, D.C. By 1881, the family returned to Detroit and John established a business in real estate.
John Thornton and Jessie had six children. The first child was Jessie Willis (1878-1906). She married Rob Leicester Wagner (1872-1942), an artist, journalist and filmmaker. She died in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The second child was a son. Thornton (m. Elsie Moran) was a commander in the Michigan Naval Militia and saw action at San Juan during the Spanish-American War. Daughter Archange Macomb was unmarried. A second son, John "Jack" (m. Dorothy Farrish), owned a Ford dealership in St. Louis. Daughter Alexandrine Cairns married Duncan McNabb. The youngest child was Willis, who joined Jack in St. Louis to help run the car dealership.
John Thornton died of pneumonia at his home at 597 Jefferson Ave.
Jessie Willis Brodhead
1857–1929 (m. 1877)
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