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Yorkshire, England

Richard Norton
Christopher Norton
Edmund Norton
William & Fletcher Norton

American Colonies

When and where did they emigrate to America? Check these links for maps and dates.
Chart of all Emigrants

New York
North Carolina
South Carolina


We have one
confirmed DNA smaple from this family and we are awaiting a 2nd to establish a DNA signature.


The story of the Norton family from
Yorkshire, England to America.

The first noble Norton family in Yorkshire and Durham was the Norville-Norton family sent by William the Conqueror to put down the rebellion in Durham. The Norton's aggregated a lot of land but the main family line in York ran out of male heirs. The last inheriting Norton was Margaret Norton who married Roger Conyers about 1300 As a result of the inherited lands, Roger assumed the Norton name and their first child was named Adam Norton. This Norton line was established at Norton-Conyers in Yorkshire and married into many royal and noble families. The Y-DNA of the Nortons of Yorkshire will be different from that of the Norville-Nortons of Sharpenhoe.

Seven generations from Adam Norton was Richard Norton, known as "Old Norton" He was the head of his illustrious house, which remained faithful to the Catholic religion even though the Church of England was the official state religion and Catholics were banned and persecuted.

Despite this fact he held positions of influence during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. He was Governor of Norham Castle under Mary, and in 1568-69 was sheriff of Yorkshire. He had been pardoned for joining in the Pilgrimage of Grace, but he and his brother Thomas, his nine sons, of whom Christopher was the seventh, and many of their relatives hastened to take part in the northern uprising of 1569.

In the late autumn of 1569, in the eleventh year of Queen Elizabeth's reign an insurrection, known as the "Rising of the North" took place at the head of which were Percy Earl of Northumberland and Neville, Earl of Westmorland. The aim of this movement was to re-establish the religion of their ancestors, to remove Evil Counsellors, and to restore the Duke of Norfolk and other peers to their liberty and to the Queen's favor. The two Earls published a manifesto in which they declared that they intended to attempt nothing against the Queen to whom they avowed unshaken allegiance but that their only object was as just stated. There can be no doubt whatever however that one of their objects was to carry off Mary Queen of Scots from her prison at Tutbury. Queen Elizabeth received repeated intimations of the Earls' disaffection and summoned them to Court to answer for their conduct, but they dared not trust themselves in her hands and they consequently disobeyed the mandate. The summons sent to the two Earls, however, precipitated the rising before they were fully prepared.

Among the disaffected Richard Norton was one of the most eager for immediate action together with several of his sons, his brother Thomas and other relations. When the uprising failed, Richard Norton, his sons, Christopher and Marmaduke, and his brother Thomas Norton, and about fifty others of noble extraction or of other distinction were tainted of high treason 7th Nov. 1569 and their possessions forfeited.

Richard Norton fled to Flanders where doubtless he rejoined the Earl of Westmorland, and died there in poverty 9th April 1585 (aged 91), the "Patriarch of the Rebellion."

His brother Thomas was hanged and quartered in the presence of his nephew Christopher at Tyburn on 27th May 1570.

The fate on the sons of Richard Norton was as follows:-

  • Francis, the eldest, was a fugitive with his father;
  • John, the second, was of Ripon, was not implicated;
  • Edmund, the third, was ancestor of the Lords Grantly. He was of Clowbeck, Co. York, and died there in 1610. He was not implicated;
  • William, the fourth, was tried with his uncle Thomas and Brother Christopher but was pardoned;
  • George, the fifth, was a fugitive with his father;
  • Thomas, the sixth, died without issue, was not implicated;
  • Christopher, the seventh, was hanged and quartered with his uncle Thomas, at Tyburn, 27 May 1570;
  • Marmaduke, the eighth, pleaded guilty but was pardoned and died at Stranton where he was buried 4th Nov. 1594. He was kept a prisoner in the Tower, however, until 1572.
  • Sampson, the ninth, and youngest son, was a fugitive with his father and was at Mechlin in 1571, then a pensioner of the King of Spain.
    Richard Norton had seven daughters, all well married.

The Nortons were given the choice of renouncing the Catholic faith or being drawn and quartered. Two Nortons were ultimately drawn, quartered and had their heads chopped off. The story is told by Wordsworth in his epic poem, "The Whyte Doe of Rhysdale". Along with their heads, the Norton's lost their lands and power. The Catholic faith defined the family and ultimately it's fate.

Religious freedom is most often taken for granted today but from Queen Elizabeth to the American Revolution being Catholic made you a third class citizen.

With the accession of Queen Elizabeth (1558) commenced the series of legislative enactments, commonly known as the Penal Laws, under which the profession and practice of the Catholic religion were subjected to severe penalties and disabilities. By laws passed in the reign of Elizabeth herself, any English subject receiving Holy Orders of the Church of Rome and coming to England was guilty of high treason, and any one who aided or sheltered him was guilty of capital felony. It was likewise made treason to be reconciled to the Church of Rome, and to procure others to be reconciled. Papists were totally disabled from giving their children any education in their own religion. Should they educate them at home under a schoolmaster who did not attend the parish church, and was not licenced by the bishop of the diocese, the parents were liable to forfeit ten pounds a month, and the schoolmaster himself forty shillings a day. Should the children be sent to Catholic seminaries beyond the seas, their parents were liable to forfeit one hundred pounds, and the children themselves were disabled from inheriting, purchasing, or enjoying any species of property. Saying Mass was punished by a forfeiture of 200 marks; hearing it by one of 100 marks. The statutes of recusancy punished nonconformity with the Established Church by a fine of twenty pounds per lunar month during which the parish church was not attended, there being thirteen of such months in the year. Such non-attendances constituted recusancy in the proper sense of the term, and originally affected all, whether Catholics, or others, who did not conform.
Catholic Encyclopedia

The struggle between Catholics and the Church of England would reach a crescendo with Oliver Cromwell defeating Charles I and executing him for treason to England for attempting to establish Catholicism again.

When Queen Elizabeth executed two of this Norton family, it forced a division of the family into two factions. Those loyal to the Queen and those who sought to replace the illigetimate daughter of Henry VIII and protestant ruler with a Catholic and legitimate heir to the throne of England.

The family that stayed loyal to Queen Elizabeth rose to high political office during the American Revolution, culminating in Fletcher Norton, speaker of the house of commons and made Lord Grantley, Baron Markensfield.

The family that fell to the queens displeasure, fled to Spanish Flanders and was supported by the King and Queen of Spain while plans were made to secure a legitmate heir to the throne of England. The other families in Yorkshire mostly immigrated to the American colonies. You will be suprised at the number of Norton families and their connections in America.

148 years will pass until Fletcher Norton and Capt William Norton are born. These tow brothers would rise to great prominence in England before and during the Revolutionary War. By 1716 when Fletcher Norton was born, this family was not considered Catholic or there would be little chance of rapid advancement to positions of power both in the British Navy or in political. But that the Catholic heritage and influence was still a factor can not be discounted. There were many Norton families from the other lines and while we don't know their religious history, we can assume that the "Uprising of 1569" left a marytrs mark on the family.

Timeline of Fletcher and Capt William Norton

Fletcher Norton's father was a lawyer and Fletcher, also took up that profession. While hsi brother William was qualifying to command a King's ship, his brother Fletcher Norton was establishing his career as a lawyer and politician. Fletcher married Grace Chapple in 1741, a daughter of William Chapple, Knight and Judge of the King's court. Fletcher was elected a representative to the House of Commons nine years later and retained a position there over 40 years finally becoming Speaker of the House of Commons.

Meanwhile William was at sea. He was appointed Lieutenant in 1742 and served on the H.M.S. Guernsey and H.M.S. Colchester. In 1746 there was quite a long period (eight years) without a posting and it appears William might have married during this time and had a son named Thomas after his father. Certainly he had returned to Yorkshire during this period for he married a 2nd time in 1752 to Margaret Wood, the daughter of a Yorkshire family. They ultimately had four more sons and 2 daughters.

Captain of a King's Ship The 7 Years War (French and Indian War) was the defining moment for William Norton. He was appointed Commander of the H.M.S. Prince in 1755 and Captain of the H.M.S. Cruiser in 1756.

In November of 1756 Captain William was posted to the H.M.S. Amazon. This ship was the French "Subtile" captured in 1746. It was a new and advanced design of what would become a breed of fast and heavily armed frigates. During his voyage in the West Indies, Capt Norton was on the Leeward Islands station where the fleet of 6 frigates was under the command of Commodore John Moore. The Amazon operated out of several ports including: Hidera, Barbados, English Harbour, St John, St Kitts, Montserrat.

This seems to be when Capt Norton earned his later nickname, "the Commodore". While on station in the West Indies, Capt Norton captured 26 pirate ships and over 1,000 prisoners. This seems to be a record as far as I can determine and he must have been in command of a small fleet of captured ships. A Commodore is a Captain who has command of several ships and while this was never an official title, it seems to have stuck with his grandchildren. Here's a link to the H.M.S. Amazon.

The prize money from these captured pirate ships could have totaled around 70,000 pounds, which is a lot of money in 1761. Even if he ended up with just a portion of these spoils Capt William would be a rich man. But it will take years before a payoff could be expected. On hearing the news of Capt William's success and on his return to London in 1760, West India merchants based in the City of London held a dinner in his honour on the 19 June 1760 at the King's Arms tavern, Cornhill (a street in the City which still exists).

William sails to Virginia England was still at war with France and Capt. William's next command was a ship of the line, the H.M.S. Assistance. His orders were to escort a convoy of 37 merchant ships from England to Virginia. The Assistance left Spithead April 27, 1761 and arrived at Hampton Roads in the James River June 22, 1761.

While on station off the Virginia coast, Capt Norton delivered bullion to New York to pay for troops stationed there. He exchanged correspondence with the Governors of Virginia, Maryland and New York. Significantly, he took a letter from Lt. Gov. of Virginia Francis Farquair to the Commission for Trade and Plantations in England. It appears that by this time his brother, Fletcher, was on this commission or soon would be.

The H.M.S. Assistance would be ready to sail for England on October 10, 1761 and this time would escort a convoy of over 100 ships back to England along with the H.M.S. Postillion. They arrived back in England 31 of December 1761.

Command of a King's Yacht While William was away in Virginia, Fletcher was advancing his career. In 1761 he was constituted solicitor general to the king and Knighted. After returning from Virginia, William must have settled with the Admiralty on the payoff for his pirate ship captures and settled down. He would not get another posting for 3 years. During this time Fletcher is appointed Attorney-General of England. But in 1764 Captain William is appointed Captain of the King's yacht, H.M.Y. William & Mary. This ship will be in a major refit for the next two years, but the appointment demonstrates the high esteem that the two brothers were enjoying in London. Commands were scarce after the 7 years War and this was obviously a political appointment. Captain William held the post for the next 15 years. He probably settled near London and in proximity to his brother during this time.

But on April 19, 1779 Captain William Norton and his wife are recorded dead and buried at his wife's family estate in Copmanthorpe, Yorkshire.