Thomas Prence came to Plymouth on the ship Fortune in 1621. He was about age 21 and was born in England ca 1600. He grew to be a successful and powerful man in the Colony, eventually becoming Governor. He served as Governor from 1634 to 1635, 1638 to 1639 and again from 1657 until his death in 1673. He was Assistant Governor for a time as well. He was even given special permission to live at Duxbury and then at Eastham while serving as the Governor of Plymouth. He was also one of the “Undertakers,” a group of the Colony’s leaders who took on the debt owed to the Adventurers in England.
Thomas also served as President of the Council of War during the time of the Pequot Indian War and was sometimes referred to as “Captain” and was involved in foreign trade with England.
He was the son of Thomas Prence, carriage-maker, of Lechdale, Gloucestershire. In the will of Thomas (Senior), dated 31 July 1630 and proved 14 Aug 1630, Thomas Prence, carriage-maker, of Lechdale, Gloucestershire, left a legacy (a silver bowl and a seal ring of gold) to his son Thomas Prence "now remaining in New England in the parts beyond the seas."
His last name is sometimes seen as Prince and that was a fairly common first name among his descendants.
In 1624 he married first Patience Brewster, daughter of the Pilgrim William Brewster. They had four children, three daughters and a son. I descend from their daughter Mercy Prence who married John Freeman.
Patience died before April 1635 of a “pestilent fever” that gripped the Colony. Thomas married second Mary Collier and they had two daughters. Thomas married third Apphia Quick and they had three daughters together. When Thomas was well into his 60s he married fourth Mary (?Burr) Howes, the widow of Thomas Howes. Thomas and Mary Howes are also in my direct line.
Thomas, along with Jonathan Brewster, John Alden, Thomas Prence, and Miles Standish had moved across the bay to what would become Duxbury. In a 2 April 1632 document, these men were asked to come to live in towne (Plymouth) in the winter "that they better repair to the worship of God." It was a losing battle for Bradford, as a Church was established at Duxbury ca 1634 and it became a township in 1637. Thomas was one of the first settlers of Eastham ca 1644.
He lived near Fort Hill and on his property was a stream that ran from Cedar Swamp. A pear tree he planted lived for several hundred years. From Henry David Thoreau’s 19th century book, Cape Cod: There was recently standing, on what was once his [Prence's] farm, in this town, a pear tree which is said to have been brought from England, and planted there by him, about two hundred years ago. It was blown down a few months before we were there. A late account says that it was recently in a vigorous state; the fruit small, but excellent; and it yielded on an average fifteen bushels. Legend has it that a shoot was taken from this tree and it was planted next to the ruined tree and flourished.
The stone doorstep was taken from Thomas Prence’s Eastham home and used at the base of the Pilgrim Memorial at Provincetown.
|Thomas Prence Chair at Pilgrim Hall Museum|
The Great Migration Begins, by Robert Charles Anderson, states he was from All Saints Barking, London. He was an educated man as his inventory included a long list of books including two great bibles and 100 books of Psalms.
In RA Lovell Jr’s Sandwich, A Cape Cod Town, he states that Thomas was known for his intolerance of the Quakers and was a terror to evil doers. Much is made about his treatment of the Quakers but Eugene Stratton in Plymouth Colony, Its History and People 1620-1691, mentions some of his more positive contributions: He presided over the court in the very reasonable handling of Plymouth's first witchcraft trial in 1661; he dealt in a humane way with the Indians (Missionary Thomas Mayhew wrote of his "gentle and kind dealing" with them); he presided over the court as governor in 1638 when the momentous decision was made to execute the white men who had murdered an Indian; he showed wisdom in 1637 when he negotiated with the Massachusetts men who unjustly demanded much of the land on the Connecticut River that Plymouth had purchased from the Indians; he advocated and brought about a free school system. He gave to Wamsutta and Pometacom, the sons of Massasoit, the names Alexander and Philip as a compliment to their warlike character. The relationship between the Indians and the English settlers disintegrated, leading to King Philip’s War.
|I see this captioned as the Prence Homestead all over the internet; would love to know the source|
After many years at Eastham, he returned to Plymouth circa 1665, which is where he died in 1673 in his 73rd year.
Thomas had amassed a large amount of land in Plymouth and the Cape (some 11 tracts of land with at least two being of 100 acres; he was said to own the best land in Eastham) during his lifetime and he left a large estate. His inventory totaled 422 pounds 10s 7d. His will was written 13 March 1672/3. He was generous to his wife Mary, leaving her many things including “the court cupboard that now stands in the new parlor with the cloth and cushion that is on it.” This cupboard was purchased by Wallace Nutting and is now owned by the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. It was unusual for a woman to keep the things she brought into a marriage. You can see a drawing of the cupboard and additional information here.
The Wadsworth Atheneum also has a photograph of the cupboard on its website here.
He left land at Middleborough to grandson Theophilus Mayo and granddaughter Susannah Prence (daughter of his deceased son Thomas). The rest of his estate was divided equally between his seven daughters Hannah, Marcy, Jane, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, and Judith and to granddaughter Susanna Prence. His fourth wife Mary was named executrix. His estate included part ownership of a mill at Satucket (present day Brewster) and many pieces of silver.
On 10 June 1673, five days after his will was probated seven of his sons-in-law signed a receipt to Mary Prence for the legacies given to their respective wives. The original receipt and agreement are at Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth. The seven were: John Freeman husband of Mercy Prence; Jonathan Sparrow, whose second wife was Hannah Prence Mayo widow of Nathaniel Mayo; John Tracy who married Mary Prence; Mark Snow whose second wife was Jane Prence; Jeremiah Howes who married Sarah Prence; Arthur Howland who m. Elizabeth Prence; Isaac Barker who m. Judith Prence (who m. William Tubbs after Isaac’s death). The receipt says that each received 21 pounds, 16 shillings.
From Plymouth Court Records, 8:34: Thomas Prence, Esquire, Governor of the jurisdiction of New Plymouth, died the 29th of March, 1673, and was interred the 8th of April following. After he had served God in the office of Governor sixteen years, or near thereunto, he finished his course in the 73 years of his life. He was a worthy gentleman, very pious, and very able for his office, and faithful in the discharge thereof, studious of peace, a wellwiller to all that feared God, and a terror to the wicked. His death was much lamented, and his body honorably buried at Plymouth the day and year above mentioned."
He is buried at Burial Hill in Plymouth.