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Robert Prentice of Roxbury, MA

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Robert Prentice of Roxbury, MA
By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Summer 1998 and Revised 8 Oct 2008

Update of 8 Oct 2008: This article first appeared in our Summer 1998 issue. In the 10 years since, no additional evidence has been found to settle the issue one way or another. We are again posting the article in the hope that viewers may be able to provide us with additional information.
Was Binney on solid ground in identifying James and Thomas as sons?

C. J. F. Binney's PRENTICE book discussed Robert Prentice of Roxbury, MA (247/1) and purported to identify James Prentice (249/2) and Thomas Prentice (249/3) as sons. This article examines the validity and strength of such identification.

The first problem in Binney's work is that he says Robert was "b. in 1635." If "b." means "born," (and he used it in that sense in giving the birth dates of James and Thomas) Robert could not be the father of James, b. 1629, and Thomas, b. 1632 or 1633.

It seems more likely Robert was born earlier, but how much earlier? The first specific date Binney mentions is in connection with Robert's giving a year's subscription toward a free school in Roxbury in 1645. If Robert were then an adult (over 21 years of age), that would indicate a birth date of no later than 1624. How much earlier than 1624 he may have been born is unknown.

Binney then mentions a "Robert Prentice" who, with his wife, Elizabeth, baptised a daughter, Elizabeth, at the Nazing, Essex Co., England church on 20 Apr 1635. He says "...possibly this may be the Robert who came to Roxbury" and "...perhaps his wife Elizabeth or that child may have died in England the year he came to America." (Emphasis added)

The use of words, "possibly," "perhaps," and "may," colloquially called "weasel-words," casts doubt on such identification. One wishes that Binney had followed up by telling us whether he had searched but found found no further record that the Nazing Robert was still in England after Robert of Roxbury was known to be in America.

We are left with no information in Binney's book indicating whether Robert was born as early as 1610, probably a minimum age to have been the father of James who was born in 1929.

Also troubling is the fact that nowhere in his discussion of Robert of Roxbury does Binney specifically say that Robert was married. The LDS Ancestral File identifies Robert's wife as Grace, but identifies no primary source, and the printout of Robert's descendants from the Ancestral File is replete with so many clearly demonstrable errors as to make it grossly unreliable.

It is also clear that Binney, himself, was uncertain whether James and Thomas were sons of Robert of Roxbury. He cites no documentary evidence, but, instead, relys on the suppositions of others:

  • At pg. 247, Binney says that since "...James Savage supposed that Robert Prentice of Roxbury, Mass., was the father of the brothers James Prentice, Sr., and Thomas Prentice, the second, of Newton, they are continued as sons of Robert Prentice..." (Emphasis added)

  • At pg. 247, in a footnote, Binneys says that "James Savage thinks they may be sons of Robert, of Roxbury..." (Emphasis added)

From the foregoing, it is clear that Binney, with some reluctance, only tentatively listed James and Thomas as Robert's sons.

Binney also mentions on pg. 247, that "...the name Robert was handed down in several families of the Newton Prentices." Such statement was apparently intended to be supporting evidence for the proposition that James and Thomas are Robert's sons.

In order to determine the timing and frequency of such handing down of the name, "Robert," we have prepared the following table:

Person            Son            Grandson    G-Grandson            GG-Grandson

                                                [ 9-John----------------Samuel
						[                       John
                                                [                       Jonah/Jonas
						[ 			William
						[			Rufus
                                                [                       Ebenezer
                                                [
                                                [ 
				[4-Thomas-------[---Ebenezer (unknown)
				[		[
                                [          	[---Thomas (unknown)
				[
				[5-John  (no sons)
				[
Robert----(?)----Thomas---------[6-Edward-------[---Samuel (unknown)
				[		[---Thomas (unknown)
				[		[---John   (unknown)
				[		[---Edward--------------Samuel
				[		[---William (unknown)   Thomas
                                [               [                       John
			        [               [                       Edward
                                [               [                       William 
                                [
				[7-James--------[11-Robert--------------Robert
				[		[                       Thomas 
				[		[			John
				[		[                       Edward
                                [               [                       William
				[		[---James (Unknown)
				[
				[8-Ebenezer  (unknown)

In the 4 generations following Robert of Roxbury, the name "Robert" appears only twice, and then only in a single line (Thomas, James, Robert, Robert). That name does not appear anywhere else among the other 30 males supposedly descended from Robert of Roxbury.

By way of contrast, among the 32 supposed descendants of Robert of Roxbury:

  • The name "John" appears 6 times.
  • The name "Thomas" appears 5 times.
  • The name "Edward" appears 4 times.
  • The name "Ebenezer" appears 3 times.
  • The name "James" appears 2 times, which is at least as often as "Robert," and, like Robert, is in a single line (Thomas, James, James).

We did not prepare a similar chart for Thomas' brother, James (#2), because Binney showed only one known male descendant, his son, James (#2i).

While naming-frequency is a tool which should be used cautiously, the frequent appearance of "John" suggests that Thomas' father is more likely to have been named "John" rather than "Robert."

One of Thomas' descendants has cited SAR had acceptance of an Application for Membership showing Robert as Thomas' father as evidence of such relationship. That may, or may not, carry weight. Our impression is that they scrutinize lineage only down to the Revolution. The relationship between Robert and Thomas predates the Revolution by about 140 years and would not seem to be an item which would be closely scrutinized in determining eligibility for SAR membership.

Finally, in a footnote on pg. 247, Binney says: "James Savage says Robert Prentice's inventory was presented for probate by his brother, Thomas Prentice, of Newton, Mass." Binney also identifies Robert's supposed son as "Thomas Prentice, the second." Let us assume, for purposes of discussion, that Robert is a brother of the Thomas Prentice of Newton, and let us further assume that Thomas, the second, was so-known in his own lifetime.

What weight would that have in determining whether Robert had a son named Thomas? At best, one might infer that Robert did have a son named after his brother. However, that is not the only inference one could draw. In that time frame, the appellations, "Jr." "the younger," and "the second," meant only that there was another person in town with the same name. It did not necessarily signify that such other person was a blood relative, and, therefore, being called "Thomas, the second" did not necessarily mean his father had a brother named Thomas.

That brings us back to the the question posed at the beginning of this article: was Binney on solid ground in identifying James and Thomas as Robert's sons?

For all of the reasons set forth above, presently available evidence seems to indicate that Binney himself was unsure, and that such evidence is inconclusive in determining whether James and Thomas are the sons of Robert Prentice of Roxbury, MA.

If you have any additional information about Robert Prentice of Roxbury, we would like to hear from you. Please send an email to us at the Prentice Newsletter.

The "Subject" line of your email must contain the full name of the PRENTICE you are writing about, otherwise there is a serious risk that your email will be deleted, unread, as spam by our email filter.


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