William Thornton, a.k.a. “Willy T”: The Man vs. the Myth

Dr. William Thornton (May 20, 1759 – March 28, 1828) was an British_American physician, inventor, painter and architect who designed the United States Capitol building. He also served as the first Architect of the Capitol and first Superintendent of the United States Patent Office. Born into a Quaker community on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands where he was heir to large sugar plantations, he was sent to England at age five to be educated. Once in England, there was never any question of his pursuing the fine arts professionally—he was to be trained for a useful life, according to the Quaker ways.
By the time he returned to the British Virgin Islands in 1786, Thornton was a gifted Practical Physician, accomplished Writer and very talented Architect. Once there, he came face to face with the source of his income—half interest in a sugar plantation and ownership of some 70 slaves, the possession of which had begun to trouble him. Late that same year he immigrated to the United States, in large part to pursue the cause of anti-slavery. During a visit to Tortola between 1790 and 1792, Thornton submitted plans to the design competitions for the U.S. Capitol Building. By April of 1793, his design was named winner. Thornton went on to design many now famous buildings in the Young Capitol.
Thornton was buried in Congressional Cemetary on Capitol Hill.

In life, William Thornton’s accomplishments were many. While he is probably most famous for being the designer of the U.S. Capitol building, among the local boaters of the British Virgin Islands he is known for something else altogether. Of course, just about anyone who has been to the British Virgin Islands has heard of the floating pirate bar called “The Willy T”. Many even know who the bar was named after… Few however, have heard the myth that ties the two together.
Many believe that the The Willy T is in fact haunted by the rebellious spirit of Dr. William Thornton himself.
For some, the irony of this might be too much to swallow— Why would William Thornton; a man of so many great accomplishment’s in his life, a man with a strict Quaker upbringing, a valuable member of society throughout his life, haunt (arguably) the most infamous watering hole in all of the Virgin Islands?
Believers will tell you that this is precisely why he has taken up residence. They will say that it is because of William Thornton’s staunch Quaker beliefs and strict adherence to a proper and honorable life, and that after his death in 1828, his rebellious soul returned to his native land of the Virgin Islands to let loose and leave the rules and regulations of his life behind.
Believers will tell you that to board the The Willy T, is to momentarily hand yourself over to Thornton and leave inhibition behind. They will tell you that even the most reserved are no match for the ghost of Willy T.
Some may argue that the Soul of William Thornton does not haunt the Willy T. They might argue that it is not Willy T’s spirit that holds some inexplicable power over the inhibitions of it’s guests but rather some other “unknown” spirit (no pun intended).
Some might say what they will. You will have to decide for yourself. Myself, I believe in the rebellious spirit. I believe in William Thornton.

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