Ever since Rufus Putnam and the Ohio Company founded the settlement of Marietta, Freemasons have served our great state. Whether local leaders or figures on the national stage, through acts of charity big and small, or community building, Ohio Freemasons always give back to the state that made us.
One such man, Brother Thomas Worthington, was originally a member of Nova Caesarea Harmony Lodge No. 10, chartered by the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. Brother Worthington officially became an Ohio Freemason in 1813 when the lodge became part of the Grand Lodge of Ohio and was renumbered Nova Caesarea Harmony Lodge No. 2.
He lived for three decades in the early days of Ohio, putting together a political career that included time as a United States Senator, a state house representative, and Governor of Ohio. Worthington lived our Masonic principles, advocating against slavery and emphasizing the importance of a robust education system. He understood the value of tolerance and learning to contribute to society. Generations of Brothers have taken their place in history, and Thomas Worthington’s story is one of many that are worth telling.
Family and Childhood
Thomas Worthington was born in Berkeley County near Charles Town in the Colony of Virginia. His grandfather Robert emigrated to the American colonies from Cheshire, England in 1695. Robert’s son, and Thomas’ father, Samuel, moved to the New Jersey colony in 1712, then to Philadelphia, and then further south to the Shenandoah Valley. Robert was a farmer, surveyor, and land dealer who occasionally worked as a chain carrier with George Washington.
The Worthingtons were some of the earliest known Quakers but when Robert married an Irish woman, Margaret Matthews, the Quaker church expelled him for marrying outside the faith. Together, they had six children, and the youngest was a boy named Thomas born on July 16, 1773. In October 1779, Robert died of a sudden illness, and Margaret passed away just a few months later. Only six years old and an orphan, Thomas Worthington inherited an equal share of his father’s estate (approximately $200,000).
At this time, Virginia boasted a sizable upper class that, despite their sizable estate, far exceeded the wealth of the Worthingtons. With many powerful landowners and politicians running the state, young Thomas had limited opportunities for social, economic, or political advancement. He relied on his older brothers to raise him but was largely ignored. Undoubtedly, his lack of childhood schooling helped foster his conviction for accessible education in Ohio.
Thomas Worthington: A Traveling Man
In the 18th century, Virginia state law allowed orphaned minors to select a guardian when they reached 14. When he came of age, Thomas chose Colonel William Darke, an older friend of his father’s. Darke gave Thomas his first stable home in nearly a decade and sent him to school. As he reached adulthood, the young man sought to travel abroad and against Darke’s objections, joined a merchant ship bound for the West Indies and Northern Europe. He sailed under Captain James Taylor, gaining valuable life experience during stops in Jamaica and Scotland.
Worthington returned home after two years and received his full inheritance, which included 1400 acres. Thanks to Darke’s participation in the American Revolution, he had been awarded land warrants (8,661 acres) to be claimed in the Northwestern Territory. Darke asked Thomas to travel and claim his warrants on his behalf. Surveyors were hired to locate the land and, as payment, received 20% of the property. Thomas, who secured warrants from other landowners, amassed a substantial acreage in the Northwest Territory through this work.
Opportunity was knocking. Thomas was opposed to the barbaric practice of slavery and was enticed by the fact that it was illegal in this new territory. He saw this as his chance to further his station, grow wealth, earn a more prominent social and political role, and further social justice in his country. In 1796, he married Eleanor Swearingen, and two years later, they set out together from Virginia for their new home. They journeyed to Ross County, Ohio, where they emancipated their enslaved people. Eleanor and Thomas eventually set up their home in Adena, where they raised ten children together.
Thomas was a talented leader, and soon after arriving in Ohio, he was made a Major in a local militia. In 1799, he was elected to serve in the Territorial House of Representatives until 1803, the first of many elected offices he would hold. In this office, he lobbied for Ohio statehood, despite opposition from General Arthur St. Clair, the Governor of the Northwest Territory. He ventured to Washington, D.C., to fight for Ohio statehood and returned victorious in 1802.
Upon his return, he was elected as a Ross County delegate to the State Constitutional Convention. Worthington helped lead the Chillicothe Junto, a group of Chillicothe Democratic-Republican politicians who led the charge to achieve statehood. The Ohio Constitution was written in November of 1802. Barely six months after returning home, Thomas journeyed to Washington, D.C., to deliver the Ohio Constitution for Congressional approval. It was passed by Congress in February of 1803 and signed by President Thomas Jefferson.
Fittingly, Brother Worthington was elected one of Ohio’s first Senators in 1803, serving until 1807 and again from 1811 until 1814. His duties as a Senator kept him away from home, despite his desire to stay in Ohio with his family. He reluctantly took a second term to help Congress amidst the unrest that led to the War of 1812. Worthington’s second stint in the Senate ended in December 1814 when Governor Return J. Meigs, Jr. resigned. Thomas was elected Governor in his place and won reelection as Governor two years later, moving the state capital from Chillicothe to Columbus.
As Governor, Worthington prioritized education and constantly pushed the legislature to establish a system of public elementary schools. He sought to improve Ohio’s rivers and roads while also championing the establishment of poor houses, prison reform, and temperance. His commitment to serving those in Ohio most in need demonstrates his Masonic spirit. One of his most significant accomplishments while serving as Governor was establishing the State Library of Ohio in 1817. He was incredibly popular as the leading state executive and won both gubernatorial elections with nearly three-fourths of the vote. However, at the end of his second term, he stepped down and did not seek reelection for a third time.
After leaving the Governor’s office, Worthington was also elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. He notably served on a committee to report on the feasibility of a publicly funded canal linking the Ohio River with Lake Erie, providing a significant economic benefit. Funding to build the canal was secured, and the project was green-lighted. Construction lasted 20 years and was among Ohio’s most impactful public works projects in the 19th century.
Death and Legacy
Thomas Worthington’s role in early Ohio politics was crucial. He helped establish the state and invested in critical public infrastructure. Despite all he did as a politician, he was also a farmer and businessman who raised livestock and crops, including flax, wheat, hay, oats, corn, barley, and potatoes. Worthington had a slaughterhouse and manufacturing businesses numbering nine mills, two grist mills in Hocking County, two sawmills in Hocking County, and a cloth mill. In 1811, he joined a group of investors to form the Bank of Chillicothe and sat on the board of directors.
In 1827, Thomas went on a business trip to New Orleans by boat. He took ill while there and returned to New York on a month-long boat trip. He remained sick and was in critical condition when he finally arrived. He died on June 20, 1827, at 54 years old and was initially buried at his estate in Adena. Worthington was later interred at Grandview Cemetery, Chillicothe, Ross County, Ohio.
Creating his extensive portfolio of businesses and achieving so much political success is more impressive because he was orphaned at such a young age. The city of Worthington, Ohio, was named in Worthington’s honor, as was Thomas Worthington High School. Today Worthington is known as the “Father of the Ohio statehood” and is a member of the Ohio Hall of Fame.