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Capt. Thomas Prentice (1620-1710)

The following can be found on pages 469-475 of "A History of the Early Settlement of Newton, 1639 - 1800," by Francis Jackson, 1854.

See Descendants of Thomas Prentice for genealogical information.

CAPT. THOMAS PRENTICE was born in England, in 1620 or 1621. The earliest record of his being in this country, is the birth of his son Thomas and daughter Elizabeth, (twins,) 22.11.1649. This doubtless means Jan. 22, 1650. The Rev. Jonathan Mitchell's list of Camb. Church members, states that "Thomas Prentice and Grace his wife, and daughter Grace, baptised in England, and about our years old at her parents' joining." This daughter Grace married Capt. Thomas Oliver, in 1667, and died in 1681, ae. 33, therefore born in 1648. At her birth and baptism they were in England. At the birth of Thomas and Grace, they were in this country. They probably came in 1648 or 1649. Mitchell's list also states that their children, Thomas, Elizabeth, Mary and John, were baptised at the Camb. Church. They joined in 1652, and he took the Freeman's oath same year. He settled at the easterly part of Camb. Village. His house was near the spot where the house of Harbach now stands. In 1653, he hired Gov. Haynes' farm, in the s. w. part of Newton; and according to the deeds, he occupied part of it in 1694. In 1656, he was chosen Lieut. of the company of Troopers, in the lower Middlesex division, and in 1662, Capt. He was chosen one of the Deputies (Representative) from Camb. to the General Court, in 1672, '73 and '74; and Chairman of the first board of Selectmen of New Camb., in 1679, and for many years after. He administered on the estate of Robert Prentice, of Rox., who died in 1665; and from his inventory it appears that some of Robert's property was in Capt. Prentice's possession, which facts lead us to believe that they were related to each other.

Capt. Prentice purchased three hundred acres of land in the Pequod country, bounded w. by L. I. Sound, and N. E. by the College land. Two hundred and thirty acres of this tract is probably the same that was appraised in his son Thomas' inventory, (1685,) at £109, and on which Thomas, Jr.'s son, Samuel Prentice, settled, in Stonington, Conn., about 1710. In 1663, he purchased eighty-five acres of land in the easterly part of Camb. Village, adjoining the land of John Ward. This was his homestead for upwards of fifty years. He was a proprietor in the Camb. lands, and also in the Billerica lands, where he had a division of one hundred and fifty acres, in 1652.

In the will of Roger Harlakenden, dated 1638, there are some small bequests to his domestics, among whom was Thomas Prentice. If this was our Capt. Thomas, which is probable, he doubtless came to this country with Harlakenden, and returned after his death, in 1638.

There is a tradition that Capt. Prentice, James Prentice, and Thomas Prentice, 2d, of Camb. Village, were in Cromwell's army, and belonged to his body guard. If Capt. Prentice was in Cromwell's army, it must have been previous to 1648-9. Cromwell turned Parliament out of doors in April, 1653, and died in Sept. 1658. It can be shown from records here, that Capt. Prentice was in this country during all those five and a half years, and onward to the end of his life; and if he were in Harlakenden's family, he probably came over with him in 1635, then fifteen years old. In the same ship came Capt. George Cook, whom we know went back and joined Cromwell's army. Harlakenden was himself a Lieut. Col. In such company it would be very natural to conclude that Prentice imbibed some of the military spirit he so brilliantly developed during 'Philip's war, which broke out in June, 1675. Six companies of troops were raised in Massachusetts to prosecute that war. On the 26th of June, a company of Foot, under Capt. Henchman, of Boston, and a company of Horse, under Capt. Prentice, of Camb. Village, marched towards Mount Hope. On the 28th they arrived at the Rev. Mr. Miles' house, in Swanzey, and within a quarter of a mile of the bridge leading into Philip's lands. Twelve of the troopers immediately rode over the bridge for discovery, within the enemy's territories. They were fired upon by a party of Indians, who were concealed in the bushes, killing William Hammond,[*1] and wounding Corporal Belcher. The troopers returned the fire and the Indians fled. The next day, (29th,) they reconnoitred Mount Hope, and found that Philip and his Indians bad retreated to the east side of Taunton river. The night following Capt. Prentice's troop retired to Rehoboth, about six miles distant, to lodge for the night; as they returned to Swanzey the next morning, Capt. Prentice divided his company, giving half his men to his Lieut. Oakes, and keeping the other half himself, each taking different routes, the more effectually to scour the country and capture the enemy. Capt. Prentice discovered a party of Indians burning a house, to which he gave chase, and they fled into a swamp. Lieut. Oakes' party had a like discovery. They fell in with some Indians upon a plain, gave chase to them, and killed four or five, one of which was known to be Thebe, a sachem of Mount Hope, and another was one of Philip's chiefs. In this affair, Lieut. Oakes lost one man, John Druce, who was mortally wounded, to the great grief of his companions; he was brought home to his house, near the bounds of Camb. Village, and died the next day. Previous to his death he made a will, by word of mouth, in the presence of Joseph Dudley, Esq., and requested that Capt. Prentice should see that his will was executed. John Druce was the son of Vincent Druce, one of the early settlers of Camb. Village.

On the 16th of Dec., Capt. Prentice received advice that the Indians had burnt Jeremiah Ball's house, at Narragansett, and killed eighteen persons, men, women and children, who were sheltered within. He immediately marched in pursuit, overtook and killed ten Indians, captured fifty-five, and burnt one hundred and fifty wigwams, with the loss of four men killed and four wounded. On the 21st of Jan., 1676, Capt. Prentice's company of Troop, being in advance of the Infantry, met with a party of Indians, captured two and killed nine. On the 18th of April, 1676, the Indians made a vigorous attack on Sudbury. Capt. Wadsworth's and Capt. Brocklebank's companies fought bravely in defence of the place, but were overpowered; a remnant of their men took refuge in a mill. The alarm was given and reached Capt. Prentice, who started immediately for Sudbury, with as many troopers as could readily be notified. The men in the mill fought the Indians until night, and were rescued by Capt. Prentice, who rode into the town at great speed, having but few troopers that could hold way with him. He was soon reinforced by Capt. Crowell, from Quabog, with thirty Dragoons.[*2]

Capt. Prentice's presence and bravery contributed largely to check the progress of Philip's troops, and he rendered invaluable services throughout the war. He was constantly on the alert, and by his bold and rapid marches, put the enemy to flight wherever he went. His name had become a terror to the hostile Indians. After Philip was slain, terms of peace were offered, in July, 1776, and a pardon to all Indians who would come in and surrender themselves. A Nipnut sachem, called John, with a number of his men, came in, and they were given in charge of Capt. Prentice, who kept them at his house for some time.

Capt. Prentice had been an officer of the company of Troop about twenty years when Philip's war broke out, at which time he was 55 years old. That he was hardy, athletic, and robust, and of unbounded courage, we may safely conclude. It is said that a servant of his was attacked by a bear, in haying time, add kept the animal at bay with a pitchfork, until the old Capt. hastened to his assistance with an axe, and killed the bear outright.[*3]

During Philip's war, the Indian converts discovered unshaken fidelity to the English; neither the persuasions, promises, nor threats of their hostile countrymen could draw them from their allegiance to the English. They suffered much by their peculiar position, both from their own countrymen and from the prejudice entertained against them by many of the English. In consequence of the prevalent excitement and their dangerous position, the General Court passed an order, at the breaking out of the war, for the immediate removal of the Natick Indians to Deer Island, in Boston harbor; and Capt. Prentice was appointed by the Court to superintend their removal, with a party of Horse. He took a few men and five or six carts, to carry away such commodities as would be indispensable for their comfort. When he arrived at Natick, to enter upon that service, he made known to them the order of the General Court, and they sadly but quietly submitted, and were soon ready to follow him. Their number was about two hundred, including men, women and children. They were ordered to the Pines, a place on the southerly bank of Charles river, about one mile above the great Cambridge bridge, where boats were in readiness to take them to the Island. After the war, they were removed from the Island, and landed near the same place where they had embarked, and where a temporary residence was afforded them, on the lands of Thomas Oliver, Esq., where they found convenient employment by fishing. The Winter of 1776-7 being past, they returned to their old settlements at Natick, and other places.

The General Court had early appointed a ruler or magistrate to manage advise and watch over them, and to whom they could appeal to settle their controversies. Maj. Daniel Gooken had acted in that capacity for many years. After his death, the Indians residing at Natick, Punkuppaog, Wamessik, Hassanameskok and Keecummoochoog sent a petition to the General Court, in 1691, requesting that Capt. Thomas Prentice might be appointed their Ruler. This petition was signed by Daniel Takawomplait, Jacob, Deacon, Nathaniel and Thomas Waban, in behalf of the Indians of those places.

Capt. Prentice was a terrible enemy to the hostile Indians, but was ever a friend and, counsellor to the Indian converts.

Capt. Prentice settled his own estate, by deeds of gift, to his grand children, his own children having died before him. He conveyed his homestead in the easterly part of Newton, to his grandson, Capt. Thomas Prentice. Mr. Edward Jackson's will, made in 1681, contains this item: "I bequeath to my honored friend, Capt. Thomas Prentice, one diamond ring."

Capt. Prentice was a most substantial, efficient, and valuable man for the settlement of Camb. Village, and for the country. He continued to ride on horseback to the end of his long life, and his death was occasioned by a fall from his horse. He died on the 6th day of July, 1710, so says the Town Record; but his gravestone has it July 7, 1709, ae. 89. The Hyde MS. states that he was buried under arms, by his old company of Troopers, on the 8th of July, 1710.

  1. He was not of Camb. Village.
  2. These facts were extracted from the History of Indian Wars.
  3. Homer.
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