Peter J. Thornum was my Great Grandfather.
I began my research into his past in July of 1992 when I took my first trip to Chicago where my early roots originated. Since that time, following his life and times has proved to be an entrancing and irrepressible and joyful voyage into the past..
Some of the substantiated facts I have learned concerning him are as follows:
Born in Ribe Denmark March 10, 1844 reared in the region of his birth until he reached the age of fourteen years and then was employed as a cook on a vessel, leading the life of the average seaman, until seventeen when he was promoted to mate. In 1862, he entered the United States Navy and continued there for four years. He served on the US ships of war the Princton and the
Mohican. In 1866 he sailed the Great Lakes between Buffalo and New York City and in that same year he located in Chicago, still continuing on the Lakes but making this city his home. In 1870, while mate of the vessel “Badger State” he was shipwrecked and the vessel was lost, though all the passengers were rescued. He continued sailing until 1871, when he was again shipwrecked
on the schooner “Levant”* which went down five miles from shore, everyone on board was lost except Peter who was picked up by a passing vessel the next morning. The vessel had left Chicago the day of the never to be forgotten conflagration (great fire) of 1871, the weather at the time being very cold.
He then abandoned life on the Lakes and followed the occupation of a painter doing contracting, and employing many men in his business. He continued to be thus occupied until 1884 when he located in Winslow, Jackson and Talman’s subdivision, erecting a residence on Seymour Street. In 1877 he moved his house to 704 West North Avenue. He was one of the first to locate on that street, and in 1880 while still contracting for painting, he was engaged as an agent for fire insurance. Transacting more insurance business than any other agent in that part of the city, he represented Germans of Freeport and the Milwaukee Mechanic’s Insurance Companies.
In August of 1869 he was married to Christina Jepsen, a resident of Chicago, but a native of Denmark coming to this country at the age of twenty. They had four children: Frederick, Emma, Selma, Thyra.
He always favored the Democratic Party with his influence, and had been the water and building inspector, besides holding various offices. In 1882 he was nominated for the office of State Senator as the opponent of William E Mason. He was an active member of The Danish Brotherhood, Wicker Park Lodge N0. 281, Independent Order of the Odd Fellows and went through all the chairs. He was vice president representing the West Side of the Democratic Central Committee at the same time that Charles Thornton was vice president from the South Side. He served on the executive committee of the Carter Harrison League in 1902.
In 1906 he died in his adopted country at the age of 66 years. Having resided in Chicago 40 years he now rests in Mt. Olive Cemetery surrounded by family.
* “Steaming Through Smoke and Fire 1871”, by James L. Donahue, published in 1990, page 91.
Contributed 17 Jan 1999 by Joyce Daugherty