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John Prentice of Somers, CT

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John Prentice of Somers, CT
By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Winter 1997 and Revised 22 Mar 2012

This is a reprint of an article which appeared in our Winter 1997 Prentice Newsletter.


Is John really a descendant of Valentine Prentice?

Binney identifies John Prentice of Somers, CT, b. 27 Aug 1734, as a son of Rev. Nathaniel Prentice of Dunstable, MA, a descendant of Henry Prentice of Cambridge, MA. (See pg. 11, #11v.)

In other articles in this Newsletter we have been exploring the idea that maybe Nathaniel Prentice of Preston, CT is the father of Mary Prentice of Windham, CT and Dorothy Prentice of Plainfield, CT.

Now, although only a working hypothesis, there appears to be a chance that John Prentice of Somers, CT might also be a previously unknown son of Nathaniel Prentice of Preston, CT.

Although no original record has yet been located, Rev. NATHANIEL'S Will, mentioned below, mentions a son named JOHN. But the real question is whether John of Somers, CT is the same JOHN or a different JOHN. Although by no means unlikely, it is somewhat unusual for JOHN to be living in CT since Rev. NATHANIEL lived at, and died at, Dunstable, MA.

Where did DWIGHT get his information about JOHN being the son of Rev. NATHANIEL?

One theory: Binney was exchanging information with Dwight; Binney references Dwight's book, both lived in the same time frame, and both were working on the PRENTICE and DWIGHT surnames. Dwight deferred to Binney's purported knowledge about PRENTICE information, and vice-versa. If Binney erred on the roots of John of Somers, than Binney's passing on such misinformation to Dwight could account for its presence in Dwight's book.

It would be fair comment to say that the theory "sounds like a wonderful theory but, one of them must have had some reason to think that John was Nathaniel's son (even if it was bogus information), and if Binney was the source for the information, why would he reference Dwight (since Dwight's info was no more informational than Binney's). Dwight must have had some information that Binney didn't have and that's why Binney referenced Dwight. Binney was the Prentice expert, why would he reference Dwight unless the information came from Dwight."

That is a fair comment. But consider what we DO know so far:

1. Binney's 1852 book lists Rev. Nathaniel and his family on pgs. 86-87. The information is essentially the same in both the 1852 and 1883 editions, with the exception that a JOHN is listed as his son in the earlier 1852 edition, but with no date of birth or any other information about him.

2. The 1852 book references Rev. Nathaniel's 1836 Will which mentions a daughter, MARY, and a son, JOHN (then age 2), so we know he had children of those names, even if we have not yet found a birth record for JOHN.

3. Binney was a descendant of HENRY PRENTICE of Cambridge, MA and the bulk of his genealogy information centered on HENRY. These were primarily Massachusetts Prentices.

4. Binney had relatively little information about the Connecticut Prentices, but such information as he did have was sparse and, in many respects, badly flawed. The worst flaw was that he was totally unaware of the Preston, CT Prentices except for JOSEPH PRENTICE who married MARY WHEELER, and as to JOSEPH, Binney incorrectly connected him to THOMAS rather than VALENTINE'S line.

5. Binney's 1852 book has two interesting footnote references at the bottoms of page 86 and 87. At the bottom of pg. 86 is the following footnote relating to Rev. Nathaniel's son, William Henry, who died 1797: " * Per Wm. H. Prentice, Boston."

At the bottom of pg. 87 is the following footnote which seems to refer to Rev. Nathaniel's daughter, Lucy: " *These two children I have added since numbering, Dec. 1851; as Wm. H. P. does not name them, they probably died young."

Of the 5 children, only William Henry and Lucy, show that asterixed footnote, but they are on different pages. However, the two children not numbered are Lucy and John, although JOHN does not have an asterix after his name.

The reference to died young cannot refer to William Henry, who had an asterix, since Binney said WILLIAM HENRY died in 1797 at the age of 69. It therefore seems likely that the two children not mentioned by Wm. H. Prentice, Boston, were LUCY and JOHN and that JOHN had no asterix either because of an oversight, or because of an error by the book's typesetter.

Two points to consider:

1. Why does Binney's 1883 edition have a footnote reference, placed after John Prentice, referencing Dwight's book? Might it mean that Dwight had some information that Binney didn't have? Maybe, or maybe not. Binney may well have cited Dwight's book because that is where Binney learned that Fanny Prentice married Alpheus Dwight in 1784, and maybe even from Dwight that Fanny's father was JOHN. He may even have obtained the 27 Aug 1734 birth date for Fanny's father, JOHN.

However, Dwight was researching the DWIGHT family, not PRENTICE. While it would not be unusual for an author to research and identify the other spouse's parents, since marriage records often give the name of the parents, it would be pretty unusual for an author to take the trouble to do his own investigation of original records to learn the names of the spouse's grandparents. This writer knows it to be true of himself; I have enough work to do without trying to carry back the line of some spouse of one of my Prentices. Human nature being what it is, Dwight probably put the information down only because it was already available from another person rather than from an original record.

And who is the person most likely to have given Dwight that information? It seems to me the likely answer is that Dwight got that information from Binney. Now, at this point, we are only talking about where the information came from, not the accuracy of the information.

2. Did Dwight have some reason to think that John was Nathaniel's son, even if it was bogus information? Well, imagine the following hypothetical conversation (or exchange of letters) between Dwight and Binney:

    Dwight: Say, I found a Fanny Prentice in my Dwight line and her father's John. Know anything about John's roots?

    Binney: Gosh, let me check and I'll get back to you.

    Binney: I checked, and I know of only one JOHN unaccounted for. He was born about 1734 and is the son of Rev. Nathaniel. It's quite likely the same person.

    Dwight: Sounds good to me. I put that in my book.

It would appear that the answer lies in the an apparent attempt by Binney to link a JOHN, b. 1734, to somebody...anybody...

If one looks at the index to our new PRENTICE book, there is a listing of all the JOHNS born in the time frame 1730 to 1740. There were only the following:

  • (1) JOHN, 1730; an erroneous listing refering to pg. 355 in the 1882 edition.
  • (2) JOHN, c. 1730; he lived in NY and is accounted for.
  • (3) JOHN, 1733; he is accounted for.
  • (4) JOHN, 1736. He is accounted for as living in MA.
  • (5) JOHN, 1736; he is accounted for as dying in 1801 in Richmond, VA.
  • (6) JOHN, 1739; he is accounted for also.

That leaves Binney with only one available JOHN known to Binney in that time frame: the son of Rev. NATHANIEL who Binney mentioned in his 1852 book footnote as "probably died young" since that JOHN was not mentioned by Wm. H Prentice of Boston.

One could reasonably infer that Binney concluded, solely through a process of logic (see next paragraph) and not documentation (and despite his earlier view that John died young), that the Dunstable JOHN and the Somers, CT JOHN were the same person. And, having so deduced, he then conveyed that "information" to Dwight who then put it in the DWIGHT book.

Children's names:It is sometimes helpful to look at the names of a person's children, and grandchildren, in tracing roots. Parents often gave a child the name of a grandparent, aunt or uncle. Here we have a mixed bag:

  • Tyng surname: John's son, also named John, had a son named Alonzo Tyng Prentice. The use of the somewhat unusual middle name, Tyng, gives some weight to Binney's conclusion that the John in question was in fact a son of Rev. Nathaniel Prentice and his wife, Mary Tyng. On the other hand, maybe it was the middle name alone, well known to Binney as a descendant of HENRY PRENTICE of Cambridge, which caused Binney to err, if he did err, since we know Binney was totally unaware of Nathaniel Prentice of Preston, CT.

  • John's children: John's naming a son as "Nathaniel" is inconclusive since it could refer either to Rev. Nathaniel or to Nathaniel Prentice of Preston, CT. John did name two daughters "Mary" and "Polly," but those were common names found in many families.

Is there an alternative, feasible, set of parents for JOHN? That then ties into the need to identify Mary Prentice of Windham, CT who married Nathaniel Luce and whose father was identified as Nathaniel Prentice.

For reasons set out in the Mary Prentice article, it appears that Mary may be the daughter of Nathaniel Prentice of Preston, CT by an unknown prior marriage, he being the only one known to be living in CT at that time. And if he had a prior marriage, than one could infer, with some justification, that he may have had a previously unknown son named JOHN who was named after NATHANIEL's grandfather and great-grandfather, both named JOHN.

In any event, we need to find our more about NATHANIEL PRENTICE of Windham, CT since, in all likelihood, he and his wife had other sons and daughters, not yet known to us, who could be ancestors of other PRENTICES for whom we've not yet found roots.

Late Update:There us also a possibility he might be a son of Commander John Prentis, discussed in another Prentice Newsletter article. He is shown in Binney's 1883 book, pg. 284, #11(iv), as b. 23 Nov 1740 in New London, CT. However, he is not listed in Binney's earlier 1852 book, pg. 8, #19, as a member of the family, perhaps because he was not then known.

Correspondence:   If you have any information about the folks mentioned in this article, please send your information to us at the Prentice Newsletter. Be sure to give the full title and date of this article in the Subject line of the email.

Caution: If you don't use the above email link, your email to us may be deleted as spam by our email filter.


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