Thomas Prence
Governor of Plymouth Colony
Thomas Prence
Thomas Prence was a co-founder of Eastham, Massachusetts, a political leader in both the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, and governor of Plymouth.
Thomas Prence's personal information overview.
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  • 1673
    Age 73
    He held the post until his own death in 1673.
    More Details Hide Details He was described as being fairly friendly in informal situations, but when he presided over the colonial court he was strict and authoritarian. He was described by a contemporary as the "Terrour to evill doers", and he was quick to consider his opposition in any matter as "evill".
    Thomas Prence died March 29, 1673.
    More Details Hide Details He is buried at Burial Hill, a historic cemetery in Plymouth, Massachusetts where many Pilgrims are buried. Thomas Prence's descendants number in the thousands today. Some of his notable descendants include;
    That policy would soon change after his death in 1673.
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  • 1672
    Age 72
    Prence's will was dated March 13, 1672/73, proved June 5, 1673.
    More Details Hide Details He named his wife Mary, seven surviving daughters, Jane, the wife of Mark Snow; Mary Tracy; Sarah Howes; Elizabeth Howland; Judith Barker; Hannah; and Mercy; his grandson Theophilus Mayo; his granddaughter Susanna Prence, the daughter of his deceased son Thomas; his son-in-law John Freeman; Lydia Sturtevant; and his brother Thomas Clarke. The mention in his will of his deceased son Thomas's daughter Susanna Prence would indicate that he died without a surviving male heir in the Prence line. Prence engaged in many land transactions and died a wealthy man, leaving a personal estate in excess of £400 and some eleven tracts of land, with at least two of the holding 100 acres each.
  • 1668
    Age 68
    In 1668, at his request, the court sold that house to him for £150.
    More Details Hide Details On April 2, 1667 the Council of War assembled at Plymouth to prepare for possible war with the Dutch and French. The Council consisted of Governor Prence, John Alden, Major Josiah Winslow, Captains Thomas Southworth and William Bradford (son of the late governor), and other prominent persons. It was decided that every military commissioned officer should have a formal commission with a draft of commissions to all officer ranks. Towns were ordered to maintain a military watch with the alarm given by firing three muskets. Arms and ammunition were to be checked be of a state of readiness and with plans made to evacuate women and children. Although it was stated that the Dutch and French were the common enemy, the Indian situation was also in mind, with King Philip's War coming in 1675. Prence was fair and humane in his dealings with the Indians. Missionary Thomas Mayhew described him as "gentle and kind" with them and during his time as governor, Prence agreed to a seven-year embargo on the sale of Indian land.
  • 1665
    Age 65
    In 1665, in payment for having Governor Prence, in his official capacity, reside in Plymouth, the court ordered that he be paid £50 during his term as governor, with a house provided for him in Plymouth's Plain Dealing area.
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  • 1661
    Age 61
    In 1661 Prence presided over the court during Plymouth's first witchcraft trial and it was reported that he handled the situation in a reasonable way.
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  • 1657
    Age 57
    The matter of the Quakers came before Plymouth's general court shortly after Prence took office in 1657, and in June of that year it passed a series of laws designed to punish or drive them out.
    More Details Hide Details Since they refused to swear oaths, one law called for a £5 fine or whipping for anyone refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the King. Ships bringing Quakers into the colony would be charged 20 shillings per day as long as the offensive individuals remained, and voting was restricted to exclude them. They were subject to banishment, and punishments for repeated violations of a ban were escalated. Individuals seen to be harboring them in their homes were also subject to fines and other penalties. Plymouth, like Massachusetts, eventually passed a death penalty for returning Quakers, but it was never applied. Plymouth was neither the harshest of the Puritan colonies in its treatment of the Quakers, nor was it the most lenient. Although Prence is often characterized as being less tolerant than Governor Bradford, Bradford never had to face a threat of the sort presented by the Quakers. Historian Eugene Aubrey Stratton believes Bradford might well have approved of the measures taken by Prence.
  • 1656
    Age 56
    In 1656, not long before Prence became governor, Quakers began to arrive in New England in substantial numbers.
    More Details Hide Details The conservative leaders of the Puritan colonies were alarmed by what they saw as their heretical religious views. Massachusetts issued a call to the United Colonies for concerted action against them, and would ultimately take the hardest line against them, hanging four of them for repeated violations of banishment.
  • 1650
    Age 50
    Prence was sometimes one of the commissioners who represented Plymouth in the organization's meetings. As commissioner of the United Colonies, Prence helped negotiate boundaries between Connecticut and New Netherland in the 1650 Treaty of Hartford.
    More Details Hide Details Dutch claims to the Connecticut River were coming under increasing pressure from the rapid growth of the English colonies, and both sides sought to avoid military conflict on the matter. Meeting at Hartford, the commission and Dutch Governor-General Peter Stuyvesant negotiated a formal boundary line that essentially confirmed, to English benefit, English claims to what is now the state of Connecticut as well as eastern Long Island. In 1658 Prence was appointed to a special commission to mediate a border dispute between Massachusetts and Connecticut. The matter concerned Massachusetts territory in what is now Stonington, Connecticut that it had taken as part of the spoils of the Pequot War. The commission decided that the boundary should be on the Mystic River, with Connecticut to the west and Massachusetts to the east. After Governor Bradford's death in 1657, Prence became the most important person in Plymouth, winning unanimous election to succeed Bradford as governor.
  • 1644
    Age 44
    His third wife was Apphia (Quicke) Freeman, whom he married sometime between 1644 and the 1660s.The couple had a daughter Judith Prence born May 1645, AGBI
    More Details Hide Details Sometime in the 1660s (before either 1662 or 1668) Prence married for the fourth and final time. His wife was Mary, widow of Thomas Howes. He had three more children: Judith, Elizabeth and Sarah but it is not certain which wife was the mother.
  • 1643
    Age 43
    On the 1643 Able to Bear Arms List, Mr. Thomas Prence is listed with those men of Plymouth.
    More Details Hide Details In 1645 a petition was presented to the colonial council asking for religious tolerance. It was the work of William Vassall, who was also supposedly behind a similar petition that was introduced in 1646 in Massachusetts. The petition had broad support within the colony, but was opposed by the conservative leadership, including Prence, Governor Bradford, and Edward Winslow. The colonial assembly would have approved the petition, except those three used parliamentary maneuvers to prevent its consideration. Plymouth was a member of the United Colonies of New England, an organization formed in 1643 to facilitate the common defense of most of the English colonies of New England (non-Puritan Rhode Island was not invited to join but joined later).
  • 1638
    Age 38
    During his 1638 term, Prence presided over a significant criminal case over the murder of an Indian.
    More Details Hide Details The matter involved all of the neighboring jurisdictions, because the Indian, a Narragansett, was attacked on the path between Plymouth and the tribal lands, and the perpetrators were captured by the Narragansett. Their leaders appealed for justice to Rhode Island leader Roger Williams, and the victim also survived long enough to make a statement to the Rhode Islanders. Massachusetts Bay authorities were also notified, but recommended the case be sent to Plymouth since the attack took place on Plymouth territory. Four white men were involved in the attack, but one managed to escape before the trial and was never recaptured. The other three were tried, convicted and hanged. Narragansetts who attended the trial were satisfied that justice was served.
    Prence was elected governor for the second time in 1638.
    More Details Hide Details New England was then dealing with the aftereffects of the Antinomian Controversy, a religious dispute that resulted in the banishment of several people (notably Anne Hutchinson and John Wheelwright) from the neighboring Massachusetts Bay Colony, and occasioned significant debate in Plymouth as well. Prence's hardline Puritan views on the matter may have played a role in his election that year. Another persona non grata in Massachusetts was Samuel Gorton, who arrived in Boston, and not finding its religious practices to his liking, settled in Plymouth. Prence objected to Gorton's religious practices as well, and saw to it that he was banished from Plymouth. The charges he used to achieve this stemmed from a violation by Gorton of a law against harboring strangers without permission, which had until then been only weakly enforced. Prence's action was unpopular, but those protesting Gorton's conviction were themselves fined by the magistrates.
    Prence was reelected in 1638 after Bradford again refused to run.
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  • 1637
    Age 37
    Prence negotiated the agreement that in 1637 resolved the dispute: most of the land was purchased by the Massachusetts arrivals, and Plymouth retained the trading post and several smaller plots of land.
    More Details Hide Details Prence was also involved in an unsuccessful attempt to gain Massachusetts assistance in the recovery of the Pentagoet trading post in Maine.
  • 1635
    Age 35
    He next married Mary Collier, daughter of William Collier, on April 1, 1635.
    More Details Hide Details They had at least two children before her death, circa 1644. Their names were Jane and Mary.
  • 1634
    Age 34
    In 1634 Prence was elected governor, and for the rest of his life he played a role in the colony's governance, serving as either governor or on the council of assistants.
    More Details Hide Details He also served, at various times, as colonial treasurer, president of the Council of War, and in a variety of other positions. His first election came after longtime former governor William Bradford refused to stand for the office, and the outgoing governor, Edward Winslow, was preparing to travel to England.
  • 1632
    Age 32
    Prence was part of this migration, joining his father-in-law William Brewster in moving to nearby Duxbury in 1632.
    More Details Hide Details In 1644 the Prence family was one of seven to found a new settlement at Eastham on Cape Cod. The area of the Outer Cape (roughly from Brewster to Provincetown) had been reserved to the Undertakers, and Prence became one of the largest landowners in the area. His holdings included land in what is now Brewster, Harwich, Wellfleet, and all of Truro. The land there was fertile, and the town prospered under his guidance. Prence lived there until 1663, when he moved back to Plymouth.
  • 1624
    Age 24
    He married his first wife, Patience, on August 5, 1624.
    More Details Hide Details Patience was the daughter of William Brewster. They had four children before she died of a "pestilent fever" in 1634. The children were named Rebecca, Thomas, Hannah and Mercy.
  • 1623
    Age 23
    In the 1623 division of land, Thomas Prence is named as "holder of one akre of land".
    More Details Hide Details The Plymouth Colony had been founded as a joint venture between Separatists religious separatists and a group of "Merchant Adventurers", who underwrote much of the cost of the colony's establishment in exchange for a share of its profit-making activities. By 1626, however, it was clear that the colony was unlikely to yield significant profits, and the Merchant Adventurers sought to divest themselves of their obligations. Prence was one of eight leaders of the colony (known collectively as the "Undertakers") who agreed to assume all of the colony's debts to the merchants, in exchange for which the other colonists granted them a monopoly on the local fur trade. In a 1633 tax assessment Prence's wealth was such that he was one of a few men required to pay more than £1. The Undertakers established a number of trading posts around New England, where they traded with the natives for furs, which were shipped to England to pay off their debts. The business was risky for a variety of reasons: there was competition from Dutch and French traders (the latter seizing the Plymouth post at Pentagoet, present-day Castine, Maine), and their first shipment to England was taken by French privateers. The group's agent, Isaac Allerton, also casually mixed personal business with the group's, apparently to his own advantage. As a result, debts to English merchants continued to mount until the late 1630s, when Allerton deserted them and the Undertakers sought to dissolve their agreement with the London merchants.
  • 1621
    Age 21
    Thomas Prence came to Plymouth Colony on the ship Fortune in November 1621 as a single man.
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  • 1600
    Age 0
    Born in 1600.
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