Valentine PrenticeClick Here to return to Thomas Prentice, "The Trooper"
John Eliot, the "Apostle to the Indians" - noted friend of Valentine and Thomas
Prentice and our other ancestors, the Denisons
William and Margaret Chandler Denison
Col. George Denison Sr. - connects the families of Valentine and Thomas Prentice
Henry Prentice, "The Planter"
The first four Prentices known to have arrived in North America from England were Valentine, Henry, Thomas (our ancestor), and Robert, all in the 1600’s. Valentine was the first to come to the Colonies. He arrived in Roxbury, Massachusetts about 1631 from Nazing, Essex County, England. As of this writing (August 2000), it is unclear what the exact relationship between Valentine and Thomas was. They may have been cousins, uncle and nephew, or the like. However, it seems certain that they were fairly close relatives, because:
Valentine’s home town in England was not far from Earls Colne, Essex County, where Thomas was born and raised. Valentine came to Massachusetts with the family of Col. Roger Harlakanden, who later mentioned Thomas in his will. Valentine came over in the company of John Eliot, the “Apostle to the Indians,” who became his pastor and whose son later pastored the church Thomas and his family attended. (See "The Eliot Connection" below.)
One of Valentine’s most famous descendants was General Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss, a Union officer at the battle of Shiloh during the Civil War. General Prentiss was forced to surrender, but only after he had delayed the Confederate advance long enough to allow the rest of the Union army to escape almost certain annihilation.
Many other Prentices and Prentisses also trace their ancestry to Valentine. Most are in the Northeast, but some range from Florida to California.
Even though Valentine and Thomas’s relationship is uncertain, their descendants are connected by the Denisons, another early New England family also associated with John Eliot. Since Eliot seems to have served as a magnet to bring together several branches of our family, let’s look at a little background about his life and times.
On the maternal side, each of us comes from many families besides the Prentices. One of our earliest non-Prentice ancestors yet known was William Denison, a close personal friend of John Eliot, the “Apostle to the Indians.” (You can find Eliot mentioned in many encyclopedias, as well as biographies available in the public library.)
England in the early 1600’s was a dangerous place for those who disagreed in any way with the Church of England. Those who dared to speak out were in danger of losing their freedom and, in many cases, their lives. Many brave men and women found this situation intolerable and decided to leave the comfort and security of home for the wilderness across the Atlantic. They knew that in the New World their lives might be in danger from Indians, animals, and natural disaster, but at least they would be able to worship God in the way they wished.
Among the leaders of these religious pioneers was John Eliot, who narrowly escaped England in 1631 with the conspiratorial aid of his close friend, our ancestor William Denison (see below), who helped smuggle him out of the country. Eliot settled in the town of Roxbury, Mass., near present-day Boston. He became the founding pastor of the Congregational church (similar to Presbyterian) there.
In addition to his pastoral duties, Eliot felt a burning desire to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Indians. Throughout his life, he devoted much of his time and effort toward this end. He was one of the first English to learn to speak the Indians’ language and soon gained their trust and respect. He was able to convert thousands of them to Christianity and helped establish and build several towns for the Indian Christians to live in. (These were not reservations where they were forced to live; those who moved into them did so voluntarily, finding that living in houses was much more comfortable than the nomadic life they had lived previously.)
With the rise of “political correctness,” we tend to think of all the English colonists as villains. This was not the case. Just as there were some Indians friendly and others hostile toward the English, so also there were some English friendly and others hostile toward the Indians. Eliot and his followers were among the “good guys.” They never took land from the Indians, but bought it at whatever price was asked. They furnished tools and expertise to help the Indian Christians build their homes and towns. They often served as advocates before the territorial government on behalf of the Indians.
Unfortunately, the “bad guys” often had their way. Over the protests of Eliot and his followers, some of the English settlers persecuted all the Indians, both friendly and unfriendly. This ultimately led to King Philip’s War in the late 1600’s (the setting for the novel The Last of the Mohicans), in which all the Indian Christian towns were destroyed and many English lost their lives. Nevertheless, Eliot and his friends, such as Massachusetts military commander Daniel Gookin, did their best to protect the friendly Indians from the hostile English immigrants.
Eliot furnishes a significant connection between Valentine and Thomas Prentice and William Denison.
He was Valentine’s and Denison’s pastor, and his son was Thomas’s just a few miles away. His friend Daniel Gookin was Thomas’s superior officer in the Massachusetts militia, as was George Denison (see below).
So, while the relationship between Valentine and Thomas is not yet known, they certainly knew each other through their mutual association with Eliot. Their families later became connected through the Denison family, our direct ancestors.
William Denison, one of our earliest known ancestors, was born about 1570 and lived in a village called Bishops-Stortford in Herts County, England. He was a “maltster,” presumably a brewer of ale and malt beverages. In 1603 he became the second husband of Margaret Chandler (b. 1577), the daughter of John and Joan Chandler of Bishops-Stortford. (She was the widow of a man named Monck.) Their first son, George Denison Sr., was born in England; the birthdate of their second son Edward is uncertain.
To escape religious persecution, they emigrated to Roxbury, Mass. aboard a ship called the Lion in 1631, just eleven years after the Mayflower. William was a highly respected member of the colony, becoming a “freeman” (in full communion with the church) the next year and serving as a representative on the Massachusetts General Court from 1635 to 1637. Margaret died on Feb. 2, 1646; William died January 25, 1654. Their son George became our next ancestor.
George Denison was born and baptized in Bishops-Stortford, England, in 1620. At the age of eleven he crossed the Atlantic with his parents aboard the Lion. He later joined the militia in Massachusetts, rising to the rank of colonel. He moved around quite a bit, living in Roxbury, then New London and Stonington, Conn., and finally in Hartford, where he was buried Oct. 23, 1694. He was married at least twice. His descendants by the two marriages furnish a connection between the families of Valentine and Thomas Prentice.
Through his first wife, then, George Denison became the ancestor of many who also trace their lineage to Valentine Prentice. Through his second wife, he became the ancestor of many of us who also trace our lineage to Thomas Prentice.
- Col. George Denison’s first wife was Bridget Thompson (b. 5/1/1640), the daughter of John Thompson and Alice Freeman. Through this marriage, the Denison family became connected with Valentine Prentice’s descendants, as follows.
a. Bridget and George’s daughter Hannah married Nathaniel Cheesbrough;
they had a daughter, also named Hannah.
b. The younger Hannah, George’s granddaughter, married Joseph Prentice,
Valentine’s great-great-grandson, thus becoming the ancestor of many of
Valentine's later descendants.
- Col. Denison married again in about 1645, this time to Ann Borrodell. Little is known about her except that she is supposed to have been descended from Irish nobility. Through this marriage, the Denison family became connected with Thomas Prentice’s descendants.
a. Ann and George’s son John was born June 14, 1646 in Stonington, Conn. and
later moved to Roxbury, where in 1667 he married Phoebe Lay (b. 1/5/1651
in Lynn, Mass.), the daughter of Robert and Sarah Lay. John and Phoebe had
at least two children, Daniel (3/28/1680 - 10/13/1747) and Phoebe Lay
Daniel was not directly connected with the Prentice family, but in 1703
he married Mary Stanton, who may have been related to Thomas Prentice’s
daughter-in-law Sarah Stanton.
b. Phoebe married Ebenezer Billings (b. 1/1/1684 in Stonington, Conn.). They
had a daughter Abigail (3/1/1707 - 10/30/1789).
c. Abigail, the great-granddaughter of George Denison, married Samuel Prentice
Jr., the great-grandson of Thomas Prentice, thus becoming the ancestor of
many of Thomas' later descendants.
Denison's descendants who connected the families, Hannah and Abigail, were first cousins once removed. Thus, it is likely that many of Valentine and Thomas’s descendants are more closely related through the Denison line than through their Prentice ancestry.
Now, more of our early relatives.
Henry, who became known as “The Planter” because of the occupation he took up after his immigration, arrived at Cambridge, Mass. about 1640 with his first wife Elizabeth. Binney lists her death as 5/13/1653, but this is probably a misprint: he married his second wife Joan or Joane early enough for her to have their first of six children in November of 1644. Since divorce was almost unheard of in those days, his first wife Elizabeth probably died in 1643, not 1653.
Henry was one of the first landowners (1650) in Sudbury, Mass., but lived in Cambridge. He was a member of the First Church there, and was made a freeman (in full communion with the church, and able to vote in civil matters) on May 22, 1653. He died June 9, 1654. His wife remarried and outlived him by several years.
The last will and testament of Mrs. Francis Prentice Perkins of Abbots Salforde, parish of Priors Salford, County Warwick, England, reveals that Henry and Thomas (the Trooper) were probably related. Her will was probated in April, 1636, so she must have died three or four years prior to Henry’s departure for America and about thirteen before Thomas’s. In her will she left:
Ten British pounds to her cousin Henrie Prentice. (This was quite possibly Henry. Spelling was largely a matter of the writer’s opinion in those days.) Five pounds to Elizabeth, the daughter of her sister Joyce Prentice. Forty shillings each to her two cousins Thomas and Edward Prentice, and the same amount to an unnamed cousin who was the daughter of William Prentice.
(The will is found in English Origins of New England Families, from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, 1984, Vol. 1.)
If the Henry and Thomas of this will are the same as those who came to the Colonies, we have a clue as to how they were related. The phrasing of the will implies that William was either the uncle or father of Thomas. If William was Thomas’s father, then he, too, is our ancestor. The will also leads us to conclude that Edward was Thomas’s brother and implies that Thomas and Henry were both Mrs. Perkins’s cousins but were not brothers. Thus, they were probably cousins to each other. (Of course, there is always the possibility that these were not the same men who came to North America.)
Hundreds of Henry and Joan’s descendants - probably our 9th, 10th, or 11th cousins - are still found in New York and Pennsylvania. I had the privilege of meeting sixty-three of them at the annual family reunion in July of 1991.
Henry’s most famous descendant is his great-grandson John Hancock, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. If you are descended from Thomas, this famous patriot was probably your fifth cousin four, five, or six times removed (depending on the generation to which you belong). If you came from Henry, the relationship is even closer.
Robert Prentice came to Roxbury, Mass. about 1635, possibly from Nazing, Essex County, England (Valentine’s home town). The Nazing parish register lists an Elizabeth Prentice, daughter of Robert and Elizabeth, who was baptized there April 20, 1635. There is no further mention of her in the record; she may have died the same year.
Robert is mentioned in a number of early Massachusetts legal documents such as wills and petitions, but his exact relationship to Valentine, Henry, and Thomas has not been proven. Binney cites a Mr. James Savage (pp. 247 & 248) who says that Robert was Thomas’s brother. This seems likely, since Thomas was the executor of his estate. Whether the two were brothers or not, Robert’s was the smallest branch of the family. Before his burial on Feb. 12, 1665, he and his wife only had two sons, James and Thomas. Most of their offspring were female, so the Prentice name did not spread very widely through this branch of the family.
Most of Robert’s known descendants clustered in the Northeast, around Massachusetts and Connecticut. Though they seem to have been solid citizens, none of them are famous.