Young Thoroughgood was from a prominent family in King's Lynn, Norfolk, England, the ninth son of Rector of Grimston Rev. William Thorowgood, and baptised at St.Botolph's Church on July 14, 1604. Some of Henry Spelman's family lived in Congham, a mile to the north of Grimston and Adam heard about Spelman's exploits in Virginia. At the age of 17, he became an indentured servant to pay for passage to the Virginia Colony, a project of the Virginia Company of London at the time. Around 1622, he settled in an area south of the Chesapeake Bay and a few miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. This area had been passed by when the earlier settlements such as Jamestown were established beginning in 1607 in favour of locations further inland which would be less susceptible to attacks by other European forces, such as the Spanish.
Having served his period of indenture, he returned to England, to return to Virginia with a wife and 105 men. Granted a large landholding, he became a leading citizen of the area. He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1629, 1629–1630 and 1632 and to the Governor's Council, and as a Justice of the Court. He also became a Captain in the local militia and started the first ferry service in Hampton Roads.
The London Company lost its franchise and Virginia became a royal colony in 1624. In 1634, the Colony was divided into shires, soon renamed counties, a term still in use in Virginia 350 years later. He is credited using the name of his home in England when helping name New Norfolk County when it was formed from Elizabeth City County in 1637. From New Norfolk County, there were several additional smaller entities formed including most notable Norfolk County, which existed from 1691 to 1963 and is now the City of Chesapeake and most famously the town which became the modern City of Norfolk.
Despite his widespread and long-lasting influence in South Hampton Roads, his choice of residence was along the Lynnhaven River, also named for his home in England. In 1635, he earned a land patent for over 5,000 acres (20 km²) in this area for having persuaded 105 new residents to settle in Virginia, including Augustine Warner, an ancestor of both President George Washington and General Robert E. Lee.
Thoroughgood appears to have had the foresight to realize earlier than many other leaders that Lower Norfolk County (which encompassed the modern cities of Portsmouth, Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Virginia Beach) was too large for a single site for convenient worship and court affairs. He led the effort to establish a second parish church (now known as Old Donation Episcopal Church), a court, and a glebe house at what was then known as Churches Point on the Lynnhaven River in the eastern portion of the county, which was later subdivided to form Princess Anne County in 1691. The present City of Virginia Beach was incorporated in 1963.
Thoroughgood suddenly became ill and died at the age of only 36 in 1640. This was no doubt a great loss to his community and the colony. However, the story of his life is well known in today’s Virginia Beach, where the Adam Thoroughgood House is now an historic museum.