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Saturday, June 28, 2008

JOHN PRESCOTT

I was having trouble thinking of free spirits and independent
thinkers in my family tree. It's not that there aren't any, it's
just that I really didn't know that any of them have been the
type to stand out.

So I started looking further up the family tree and John
Prescott's name caught my eye. John's already one of my
favorite remote ancestors for reasons I'll talk about later, so
I did a little more Googling on him and found that he fits the
bill for this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.

John Prescott was born in Lancashire, England and came to
the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1640 after trying his hand
as a landholder in Barbadoes. He was married to Mary
Gawkrogers Platt with whom he had a total of seven children,
and he initially lived in Watertown close by Boston. But John
soon found himself embroiled in a dispute between the Puritan
leaders of the colonyand a man named Robert Childe.

Robert Childe was a man of learning, a medical doctor as well
as an alchemist, of all things, in Puritan Massachusetts. But it
wasn't his learning that set him in a collision course with the
colony leaders so much as his protests that the only people
allowed to enjoy religious and political rights were members
of the Puritan Congregationalist establishment. If you weren't
admitted as a freemen, you couldn't vote or hold office and if
you were an Anglican it was difficult to be admitted. Childe
and six others (including my ancestor Samuel Maverick)
petitioned about this injustice to the General Court of
Massachusetts and sent a copy of the petition off to England
where his brother published it. The Puritan reaction was
swift. Dr Childe was arrested and exiled back to England.

John Prescott hadn't signed the petition but he was known
to agree with Dr Childe so he wasn't too popular with the
government. He'd been one of three men to purchase land to
the west from the Indians and while the other two men never
settled there, Prescott took his family and some others and
traveled there to start over. Along the way he nearly lost his
family while crossing the Sudbury River but they finally
arrived safely at their new home. Prescott started a farm
and built a mill as well as a blacksmith shop. At one point the
settlement had to be abandoned after an Indian attack but
Prescott returned and rebuilt it.

When it became a town the inhabitants named it Prescott in
his honor but the colonial government forced it to be changed
and after a few more changes it became Lancaster in memory
of the home he'd left in England.

I mentioned that Prescott was one of my favorite ancestors
and the reason is he's the only recorded early settler of New
England with a set of armor. The full story is told here in this
quote from The Military Annals of Lancaster, Massachusetts.
1740-1865 Including Lists of Soldiers Serving in the Colonial
and Revolutionary Wars, for the Lancastrian Towns: Berlin,
Bolton, Harvard, Leominster, and Sterling By Henry Stedman
Nourse: (W. J. Coulter, Lancaster, Ma. 1889 pp360-361)
which is also the source of most of this article:


"It is related that at his first coming he soon won the respect
of the savages not only by his fearlessness and great strength
but by the power of his eye and his dignity of mien. They soon
learned to stand in awe of his long musket and unerring skill
as a marksman. He had no doubt seen some military service
in England for he came of a soldierly race his great grandfather
having been knighted for gallantry in battle. He had brought
with him from England a suit of mail helmet and cuirass
probably such as were worn by the soldiers of Cromwell"

"Clothed with these his stately figure seemed to the sons of
the
forest something almost superhuman. One day some
Indians having taken away a horse of his he put on his armor,
pursued them alone, and soon overtook them. The chief of the
party seeing him approach unsupported met him menacingly
with uplifted tomahawk. Prescott dared him to strike and was
immediately taken at his word but the rude weapon glanced
harmless from the helmet to the amazement of the red men.
Naturally the Indian desired to try upon his own head so
wonderful a hat and the owner obligingly gratified him
claiming the privilege however of using the tomahawk in
return. The helmet proving a scant fit or its wearer
neglecting to bring it down to its proper bearings Prescott's
vengeful blow not only astounded him but left very little
cuticle on either side of his head and nearly deprived him of
ears. Prescott was permitted to jog home in peace upon his
horse.

After hostilities began it is said that at one time the savages
set fire to his barn but fled when he sallied out clad in armor
with his dreaded gun and thus he was enabled to save his
stock though the building was consumed. More than once
attempts were made to destroy the mill but a sight of the
man in mail with the far reaching gun was enough to send
them to a safe distance and rescue the property.

Many stories have been told of Prescott's prowess but some
bear so close a resemblance to those credibly historic in other
places and of other heroes that there attaches to them some
suspicion of adaptation at least Such undoubtedly is the story
that in the assault upon the town he had several muskets but
no one in the house save his wife to assist him. She loaded the
guns and he discharged them with fatal effect. The contest
continued for nearly half an hour Mr Prescott all the while
giving orders as if to soldiers so loud that the Indians could
hear him to load their muskets though he had no soldiers but
his wife. At length they withdrew carrying off several of their
dead and wounded."

I'm not sure how much of all that is true but it is fun to read.

In 1664 the General court opened the way for admission of
non Puritan believers as freedmen and John took the oath
in 1669. John Prescott died in 1681 a well respected man
and among his descendants are William Prescott the historian
and Col. William Prescott of Bunker Hill fame. I'm decended
from John's son Jonas Prescott, who himself is the subject
of another story, this one of a romantic nature, and which I'll
share in a future post.

This post is written for the 51st edition of the Carnival of
Genealogy.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Stumbled upon this blog when I was searching for info on my ancestor, Col. William Prescott. he's my great-great-great-great-great-great grandpa. the only thing is, I don't really know for sure. It's sort of a prescott family legend that we're direct descendants of him, and I'm trying to put together a family tree. All the dates (I made assumptions on the birthdays of the un-famous guys) fit together perfectly. Just a weird little thing. I suppose we're impossibly distant cousins or something... but then again, there are aLOT of prescotts.