Historical Bucks County Woman-Owned Property & Enterprise: Newtown’s Margaret Gale Thornton, Part 1

The Beginnings of Margaret’s entrepreneurial journey:

Margaret Gale Thornton is a Bucks County historical figure of Newtown, Pennsylvania, and former proprietor of the Half-Moon Inn. Her chronological biography has been documented among Bucks County historians for decades, yet little perspective has been given to her accomplishments as a businesswoman during the patriarchal society of the American Revolutionary era. Often, it was the architecture and artifacts of the Half-Moon Inn that became the focus of her story. Yet, she navigated her success during an extremely complex political, religious, and bureaucratic environment, all while mothering 12 children. Margaret’s hidden story is that she employed essential business skills, opportunity, and circumstance to become one of Bucks County’s earliest female entrepreneurs.

There is no recorded information for Margaret Gale’s exact date and place of birth, details of her parents, or specifics about her childhood, though she is presumably of European descent based on the information that is available. We can reason from the description of her as a “spinster” on her “marriage by license” dated December 24, 1729, to Joseph Thornton that Margaret did not marry young. Commonly, “spinster” referred to an unmarried woman of marriageable age, usually between the ages of 23-26. Despite the social pressure to enter marriage, women had more financial independence when they were single or widowed.

Records indicate that Margaret and her husband operated and lived in one of Newtown’s earliest taverns, The Red Lyon Inn (later known as The Bird in Hand), until 1736, while building their own public house and home. In 1733, the Thornton’s Half-Moon Inn was established, offering meals, lodging, and a place to gather for people conducting business at the new Court House. Innkeeping proved to be a complex enterprise and the Thornton’s experienced financial troubles early on. Margaret was mother to four children by then, all under the age of 8 years old.

Sadly in 1752, Margaret’s husband, Joseph, along with five of their children, would all succumb to one of the past virulent epidemics and pass away. Joseph died without a will and in great debt. Through a confluence of acumen, social connection, and persistence, Margaret would become sole proprietor of the Half-Moon Inn in 1755.

Margaret continued to manage the Inn with the help of family, satisfy her debts, and purchase additional properties in Newtown. She even had her own private residence built next door. When the American founders eventually declared that “all men are created equal,” coupled with the prevalence of local Quaker beliefs, Margaret was afforded the chance to be an equal in her desire to pursue enterprise and opportunity among Newtown innkeepers, tavern, and property owners.