Gov. Thomas Prence

Gov. Thomas  PRENCE (1599 – 1673) was a co-founder of Eastham, Massachusetts, a political leader in both the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, and governor of Plymouth (1634, 1638, and 1657 – 1673).  He was Alex’s 10th Great Grandfather in two ways, through Mercy and John Freeman and through Sarah and Jeremiah Howes making him  two of 2,048 in this generation of the Shaw line.  In addition, his daughter Elizabeth married the son of our ancestor Arthur Howland.

Gov. Thomas Prence was born in 1599 at Lechlade, Gloucestershire, England a son of  Thomas PRENCE Sr. an English carriage maker, and  Elizabeth TODLERBY.   Thomas emigrated to America in 1621 on the ship Fortune, arriving in Plymouth on 9 Nov 1621, just a few days after the first Thanksgiving.    Prence married four times.  He married Patience BREWSTER on 5 Aug 1624 at Plymouth, (the ninth marriage recorded in the colony).  Their daughter Mercy is our ancestor.   He married a second time to Mary COLLIER on 1 Apr 1635 at Plymouth, Plymouth County. Their daughter Sarah is also our ancestor.  He married a third time to Appia Quicke before 8 Dec 1662 at Plymouth, Mass.  Finally, he married his fourth wife Mary Burr HOWES between Feb 26 1665/66 and Aug 1 1668.  Thomas  died on 29 Mar 1673 at Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts.

Our ancestors or their close relatives had almost half the lots in early Plymouth – (George Soule was the grandfather of John TOMSON’s son-in-law, not close enough to get a #)

Our ancestors or their close relatives had almost half the lots in early Plymouth – (George Soule was the grandfather of John TOMSON’s son-in-law, not close enough to get a #)

Patience Brewster,  a passenger on the Anne which arrived in Plymouth in 1623. She was born circa 1600 probably in Scrooby a small village, where her father was born, in the northern part of the English county of Nottinghamshire.   Her prents were Elder William BREWSTER , the Pilgrim leader and spiritual elder of the Plymouth Colony and a passenger on the Mayflower and Mary LOVE.  Patience died before 12 Dec 1634 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, of a “pestilent fever.”

Mary Collier was baptized in 1612 at St Olave, Southwark, an area of south-east London in the London Borough of Southwark.  Her parents were William COLLIER and Jane CLARKE. Mary died 5 Nov 1688 in Eastham, Barnstable, Mass. in the house of her son-in-law Jeremiah HOWES.

Appia Quicke  was born in 1602 – Kent, England.  Her parents were William Quick (Quicke) and  Elizabeth Hodges. She first married Samuel Freeman on 14 July 1624 at Saint Anne Blackfair, London, England. Appia and Samuel divorced, though the exact date is not known, see discussion below.  She married Gov. Thomas Prence , before 8 Dec 1662 at Plymouth, Mass. Appia died before 1 Aug 1668 at Plymouth, Mass.  I don’t think Thomas Prence’s son-in-law John FREEMAN is closely related to Samuel Freman.

Mary Burr was the widow of our ancestor Thomas HOWES. Her parents and origins are unknown, and though her maiden name of “Burr” is known, her ancestry is largely unproven.Her son Jeremiah married Thomas’ daughter Sarah (see below)  Mary died 9 Dec 1695 Yarmouth, Barnstable County, Mass. and is buried at Howes Burial Ground, Dennis, Barnstable, Massachusetts.

There are marriages all around in this family with many family ancestors instead of the traditional one. To summarize:

  • Thomas’ first wife Patience Brewster is mother of our ancestor Mercy Prence Freeman
  • Thomas’ second wife Mary Collier is mother of our ancestor Sarah Prence Howes
  • Thomas’s fourth wife Martha Burr Howes is our ancestor through her first marriage to Thomas Howes
  • Thomas’ eldest daughter Rebecca married Edmond Freeman Jr, the son of our ancestor Edmond Freeman
  • Thomas’s daughter Hannah was the second wife of our ancestor Jonathan Sparrow
  • Thomas’s daughter Elizabeth married Arthur Howland, son of our ancestor Arthur Howland

Thomas Prence descendants whose genealogy is documented are eligible for membership in the Hereditary Order of Descendants of Colonial Governors.  [Tee Hee!]

Children of Thomas and Patience

  Name Born Married Departed
1. Rebecca Prence c. 1625 Plymouth before the Cattle division
22 May 1627
Edmond Freeman Jr.
(son of Edmond FREEMAN)
22 Apr 1646 at Plymouth
18 Jul 1651 Sandwich, Mass.
2. Thomas Prence c. 1627 Plymouth, before the Cattle division May 22 1627   before
13 Mar 1672 at Probably, England; date of father’s will.
3. Hannah Prence c. 1629 Plymouth Nathaniel Mayo
14 Feb 1648/49 at Eastham

Jonathan SPARROW

Jun 1667 at Eastham [Jonathan’s first wife Rebecca BANGS is our ancestor]
23 Nov 1698 Eastham
4. Mercy PRENCE c. 1631 John FREEMAN
(brother of Edmund)
13 Feb 1649/50 at Eastham
28 Sep 1711 Eastham

Children of Gov. Thomas Prence and Mary Collier:

  Name Born Married Departed
5. Jane Prence 1 Nov 1637
Mark Snow (Son of our ancestor Nicholas SNOW)
9 Jan 1659/60
Jun 1712
6. Mary Prence 1639
John Tracy 28 Sep 1711
7. Sarah PRENCE ca. 1643
Duxbury, Mass.
Jeremiah HOWES
Eastham, Mass
31 Mar 1707
Yarmouth, MA
8. Elizabeth Prence ca. 1645
Arthur Howland
(Son of our ancestor Arthur HOWLAND)
9 Dec 1667
9. Judith Prence ca. 1647
Isaac Barker
28 Dec 1665

Thomas Prence (1599 – March 29, 1673) was a co-founder of Eastham, Massachusetts, a political leader in both the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, and governor of Plymouth (1634, 1638, and 1657 – 1673).4

Thomas Prence House – 1880’s   Built 1646 Eastham, Barnstable, Mass. Demolished.

Thomas Prence – House Diagram

Thomas Prence was not part of those religious dissenters who sought religious freedom in America, but he apparently sympathized with them. Perhaps not knowingly, he took two steps that led to his leadership role. He married Patience Brewster, daughter of the community’s religious leader, Elder William Brewster, and in 1627 he became one of eight colony members who assumed the pilgrims’ debt to the London merchants who had backed establishment of the colony.

A chair belonging to Thomas Prence which now resides in the Pilgrim Hall Museum.  Note that the back spindles on the Prence chair are flat for comfort.

He was allowed to join with Bradford, Isaac ALLERTON  and Standish as a member of the Trade Monopoly.

Eastham, Barnstable, Mass

Later, in 1644, he and several other prominent families left Plymouth for better land and founded the community of Eastham, Massachusetts.  Eastham was the site where in 1621 a hunting expedition comprised from the crew of the sailing vessel Mayflower, which had stopped in Provincetown harbor on Cape Cod Bay after a rough crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, which led to the first encounter of the Pilgrims and the local Nauset Indians at First Encounter Beach. The area would not be settled by Europeans, however, until 1644.  Today, Eastham is mostly known as the “Gate” to the Cape Cod National Seashore,

He became governor of Plymouth, for the first time, in 1634; he was elected again in 1638 and served from 1657 to 1673. After the death of Governor Bradford in 1653, he became the leader of the Plymouth Colony serving in that capacity until his death.

1659 – Thomas Prence and Edward BANGS each promised to furnish a man and horse at his own expense for two years. ” As their contribution to the militia

He was distinguished for his religious zeal, and opposed those that he believed to be heretics, particularly the Quakers. He became infamous for the banishment of those who would not conform to his specific church law, including Samuel Gorton, the first governor of Rhode Island. He restructured the local government to secure his position and led the persecution of numerous people for offenses such as smiling in church, harboring non-church members, and tending garden during the Sabbath.

He also procured revenue for the colony’s grammar schools so future generations would be better educated.

George Willison in Saints and Strangers noted that in 1646, Thomas Prence was opposed to religious tolerance and, in 1657, was a leader in Quaker and Baptist persecutions. In Duxbury, the policy of Gov. Prence “met stiff opposition led by Henry and Arthur HOWLAND [our ancestors] and others. Henry Howland was up on the malicious charge of ‘improperlie entertaining’ a neighbor’s wife, and his young son, Zoeth, was put in the stocks for saying that he ‘would not goe to meeting to hear lyes, and that the Divill could preach as good a sermon as the ministers,’ with which many townspeople seemed to agree, choosing to pay a fine rather than attend public worship.”

Imagine Gov. Prence’s feelings when he discovered that “one of his chief enemy’s sons, young Arthur Howland [also our ancestor], was surreptitiously courting his daughter Elizabeth. As the law forbade ‘making motion of marriage’ to a girl without her parents’ consent, the irascible old governor promptly hauled the ‘impudent’ youth into court and fined him five pounds for ‘inveigeling’ his daughter. The young lovers were not discouraged and remained constant, for seven years later Arthur was again in court, was fined and put under bond of 50 pounds ‘to refrain and desist.’ The couple continued to behave ‘disorderlie and unrighteously,’ finally breaking the iron will of the old governor.” They were married and, “in good time the names of their children, Thomas Howland and Prence (Prince) Howland, were inscribed on the baptismal roll of the church.”

Prence gave Metacomet the nickname King Philip and thus indirrectly named King Philip’s War

Governor Prence gave to Wamsutta and Metacomet, the sons of Massasoit, the names Alexander and Philip as a compliment to their warlike character.  While governor, Prence developed an important relationship with the powerful Wampanoag sachem Metacomet. On the death of the governor in 1673, Metacomet, known to the English as King Philip, was left to work with the new governor, Josiah Winslow, who he hated. The Wampanoag-English relationship soon broke down and the bloody King Philip’s War followed in 1675.

1657 –  Arthur Howland Jr., an ardent Quaker, was brought before the court.   Elizabeth Prence, daughter of Gov. Thomas Prence  and Arthur Howland Jr., fell in love. The relationship blossomed and matrimony seemed inevitable. However, it was illegal and punishable by court sanction for couples to marry without parental consent. Thomas Prence urged Elizabeth to break off the relationship, but to no avail. He then used powers available to him as Governor. Arthur Howland, Jr., was brought before the General Court and fined five pounds for

inveigling of Mistris Elizabeth Prence and making motion of marriage to her, and prosecuting the same contrary to her parents likeing, and without theire mind and will…[and] in speciall that hee desist from the use of any meanes to obtaine or retaine her affections as aforesaid.”

2 Jul 1667 – Arthur Howland, Jr., was brought before the General Court again where he “did sollemly and seriously engage before the Court, that he will wholly desist and never apply himself for the future as formerly he hath done, to Mistris Elizabeth Prence in reference unto marriage.” Guess what happened! They were married on December 9, 1667 and in time had a daughter and four sons. Thus a reluctant Thomas Prence acquired a Quaker son-in-law, Quaker grandchildren and innumerable Quaker in-laws of Henry Howland.

5 Jun 1673 – Thomas’ estate was probated. He was buried on 8-Apr-1673 at Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts  He left a will on 13-Mar-1672/73. The Inventory of Gov. Thomas Prence was taken Totalled £422 10s. 7d. On 23-Apr-1673

Appia Quicke Freeman Prence

Apphia Quick and Samuel Freeman immigrated, arriving 1630. Their son Henry traveled with them

From The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 1943, vol. 97, p. 393 by Ella F. Elliot, Somerville, Mass.

The fact that Samuel and Apphia (Quicke) Freeman were divorced has, apparently, escaped the attention of historians of this interesting Watertown couple. The proof, conclusive though indirect, was seen by this contributor many years ago while preparing an article on the marriages of Governor Thomas Prence of Plymouth and Eastham, Mass., who became Apphia’s second husband. (Mayflower Descendant, 6: 230-235.) The long cherished hope of finding the direct evidence has not been realized; possibly the records no longer exist.

Among the files of the Supreme Court of Suffolk County, Mass., is the case of Jane (also called Joane) Halsall vs. George Halsall for divorce. (File No. 257.) The papers in this case bear dates in 1655 and 1656; and the case of “Mrs. Freeman sometimes of Watertown” is cited as a precedent.

Up to 1656 only two Freeman couples are known to have lived in Watertown: Samuel and Apphia (Quicke) Freeman and their son Henry and Hannah (Stearns) Freeman, his first wife. The latter couple is readily eliminated. They were married in Watertown 25 Dec. 1650, the town clerk erroneously calling him “Samuel” on the records at a time when his father Samuel had been dead four years and his brother Samuel was but twelve years old. That Hannah was not divorced is clear from the following entry in the Town Records (1:5): “Hannah wife of Henry Freeman was buried June 17, 1656.”

Lacking the trial records, the time of the divorce of Samuel and Apphia cannot be stated; but it can be approximated, rather roughly. Samuel Freeman made a business trip to England, a full account of which appears in the valuable contribution of Mr. Willis Freeman in American Genealogist (vol. 11, pp. 174-9.) That he returned to Watertown by July 1637 may be deduced from the birth record there of “Samuel Freeman son of Samuel and Apphia,” 11 May, 1638. The date of his death is unknown; but it was between 22 July 1640, when as “Samuel Freeman now of Watertown in New England,” he gave a Letter of Attorney to Andrew Walker of London, Eng. (Thomas Lechford’s Note-Book: 155), and 12 Dec. 1646, when “Henry Freeman son of Samuel Freeman late of Watertown deceased,” gave Power of Attorney to John Newgate of Boston to receive a legacy left him by his grandmother Priscilla Freeman of Blackfriars in London. (Boston Records, 32:68.)

From mentions of his name in the Watertown Land Grants, it seems likely that he was alive in 1644, or later.

William Freeman of Portland, Maine, whose grandfather Enoch Freeman, after graduating from Harvard in 1729, removed to Portland, then Falmouth, Maine, in 1741, becoming one of the foremost citizens of the town and county, published a Freeman Genealogy, which, although undated, bears evidence of being written later than 1831. In this he made this statement regarding his early ancestors: “After the death of Samuel Freeman, his widow married Thomas Prince Governor of Plymouth, who carried her and her youngest son, Samuel, then a boy, with him to Eastham. As Mr. Prince began settlement of Eastham in the year 1644, it is probable that about that time he was married to Mrs. Freeman.”

William Willis, in his History of Portland (pp. 1805-6), seems to have accepted this supposition as a fact, stating that Samuel Freeman’s “widow in 1644 married Governor Thomas Prince and settled at Eastham.”

If this surmise of her descendant, which seems very reasonable, could be proved to be a verity, we should then know that the Prence-Freeman marriage took place between 1 July 1644 and the end of that year; for on 1 July 1644, as “Apphia Freeman,” she signed as a witness to the will of Rev. George Phillips of Watertown. (N.E. Hist. & Gen. Reg., 3:78.)

Note: A resume of the Halsall divorce case may be seen in Whitmore’s Colonial Laws, 1890 edition, pp. 99-100.

The late Dr. C.E. Banks, in his “The Winthrop Fleet,” 1930, in his list of passengers, made this brief statement: “Freeman, Apphia, wife of Samuel. Daughter of William Quicke of London. She divorced him and married (2) Gov. Thomas Prence.”

Children of Appia and Samuel

i. Henry Freeman b. 1625 in London, England; d. 12 Nov 1672 Watertown, Middlesex, Mass. m. 25 Dec 1650 in Watertown, Middlesex, Mass to Hannah Stearns ( b. 5 Oct 1628 in Stoke-Nayland, Suffolk, England – d. 17 Jun 1656 in Watertown, Mass.)

ii. Apphia Freeman b. abt 1632 in Watertown, Mass. d. 1692

iii. Samuel Freeman b. 11 May 1638 in Watertown, Mass; d. 25 Nov 1712; m. 12 May 1658 in Plymouth, Plymouth, Mass to Mercy Southworth (b. 11 May 1638 in Druxbury, Mass – d. 25 Nov 1712)

iv. Abigail Freeman b. Abt 1640 in Watertown, Mass.; m1. 1659 to John Niles (1638 – 1683); m2. 11 Jun 1701 to John Banning


1. Rebecca Prence

Rebecca’s husband Edmond Freeman Jr. was born 26 Nov 1620 in Billingshurst, Sussex, England.  His parents were Edmond FREEMAN and Bennet  HODSOLL.  Edmond died before 5 Jan 1703/04.

3. Hannah Prence (See Jonathan SPARROW‘s page)

4. Mercy PRENCE (See John FREEMAN‘s page)

5. Jane Prence

Jane’s husband Mark Snow was born 9 May 1628 in Plymouth. His parents were our ancestors Nicholas SNOW and Constance HOPKINS.  Nicholas arrived on the Ann & Little James in 1623. Constance was a 14 year old Mayflower passenger traveling with her father and stepmother.  Mark first married 18 Jan 1654 Eastham to Anna Cooke and had one daughter Anne Snow (b. 1656), three weeks before Anna’s death.  Mark died 9 Jan 1695.

Constance’s  father   Stephen HOPKINS (wiki), was recruited by the Merchant Adventurers to provide governance for the colony as well as assist with the colony’s ventures. He was a member of a group of passengers known to the Pilgrims as “The Strangers” since they were not part of the Pilgrims’ religious congregation. Hopkins was one of forty-one signatories of the Mayflower Compact and was an assistant to the governor of the colony through 1636.  He was a veteran of a failed colonial venture that may have been the inspiration for Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Anna Cooke was born in 1636 in Plymouth, Plymouth Colony.  Anna died 25 Jul 1656 in Eastham, Barnstable, Mass.  Her parents were  Josiah Cooke (b: ~ 1610 in Leyden, Zuid-Holland) and  Elizabeth Ring  (bapt. 23 Feb 1603 in Ufford, Suffolk, England)  Her maternal grandparents were our ancestors William RING and Mary DURRANT.

Children of Jane and Mark:

ii. Mary Snow b: 30 Nov 1661 in Eastham, Plymouth Colony

iii. Nicholas Snow b: 6 Dec 1663 in Eastham, Plymouth Colony

iv. Elizabeth Snow b: 9 May 1666 in Eastham, Plymouth Colony

v. Thomas Snow b: 6 Aug 1668 in Eastham, Plymouth Colony

vi. Sarah Snow b: 10 May 1671 in Eastham, Plymouth Colony

vii. Prence Snow b: 22 May 1674 in Eastham, Plymouth Colony

viii. Elizabeth Snow b: 20 Jun 1676 in Eastham, Plymouth Colony

ix. Hannah Snow b: 16 Sep 1679 in Eastham, Plymouth Colony

6. Mary Prence

Mary’s husband John Tracy was born 1633, Duxbury, Plymouth, Mass. His parents were Stephen Tracy (ch. 1596->1655) and Tryphosa Lee (~1597-<1655) Stephen immigrated in Aug 1623, Plymouth aboard the Ann. Tryphosa immigrated in 1625, Plymouth aboard the Jacob. John died 3 May 1718, Windham, Windham, CT in his 85th year.

7. Sarah PRENCE (See Jeremiah HOWES‘ page)

8. Elizabeth Prence

Elizabeth’s husband Arthur Howland was born ca. 1633 England.  His parents were Arthur HOWLAND and [__?__].  Arthur died 2 APR 1697 in Marshfield, Mass.

9. Judith Prence

Judith’s husband Isaac Barker was born in 1642.  His parents were Robert Barker and Luce [__?__].  Robert’s wife Luce was not dau of John and Anne Williams. Robert’s brother John did marry Anne Williams dau of John Williams.  Isaac died in 1710.

“Isaac was surveyor of Duxbury in 1674, constable in 1687 and a well to do farmer

His father Robert came to America 1632 to Plymouth, MA removed to Marshfield, Plymouth, MA 1643 and then to Duxbury 1653. Robert was first an apprentice of John Thorpe and then of William Palmer. Robert held serval offices in each town he lived in. Robert was a bricklayer in 1640 and bought 40 acres of upland that year, was part owner of the ferry his brother John ran in 1641. Robert bought 100 acres in Marshfield, Plymouth, MA and was a member of the Marshfield military company under Lt. Nathaniel Thomas in 1643. He was a surveyor at Marshfield in 1645 and 1648 and at Duxbury in 1654, 1672, 1677 and 1679. Was Constable at Marshfield, Grand juryman and admitted freeman 6 June 1654. In July 1646 he was licensed to keep an inn in Marshfield to retail wine which he stopped in 1666.


Wikipedia – Thomas Prence

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44 Responses to Gov. Thomas Prence

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  43. Marianne Mangels says:

    Regarding which children belong to which mother – specifically, Mary Collier vs. Apphia QUICK Freeman – have you read about: “In 1903, Ella Florence Elliott was able to show that the widow Mary was a different Mary from his second wife, based on clauses in Prence’s will and items in the widow Prence’s inventory that clearly indicated she had been a widow before marrying Prence, something that was not true of second wife Mary Collier. This incredibly detailed discussion had gone on for decades before Ms. Elliott’s Mayflower Descendant article [6:230-35] finally allowed all the pieces to fall into place. Thus, Thomas Prence m. (1) Patience Brewster, m. (2) Mary Collier, m. (3) Apphia (Quick) Freeman (divorced from Samuel), m. (4) Mary (Burr) Howes (widow of Thomas).

    Establishing the probable date of marriage for Apphia and Thomas Prence has significant implications for the parentage of Prence’s last three children (Judith, Elizabeth and Sarah). Apphia is last seen as a Freeman 1 July 1644, about a year before the birth of Prence’s seventh child, and at the end of a six- year hiatus in the birthdates of his children. She is called “Mrs. Freeman” as late as 15 October 1646 in a deed where she appears as an abutter, but this does not necessarily imply that she had not remarried by this date, since it was not unusual for archaic bounds to be used in this sort of description [ SLR 1:78].

    In a letter dated at Plymouth 8 June 1647, Thomas Prence wrote to John Winthrop that “since my parting company [with you] I have almost met with Jacob’s trial in his travel between Bethel and Ephrath: God’s having been heavy upon my wife and that for diverse months and is not yet removed” [WP 5:169]. In Genesis 35:16-19 Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel died between Bethel and Ephrath after giving birth to a son she named Benoni, but he called Benjamin. Prence here is referring to the birth of his own daughter Elizabeth, apparently a difficult childbirth.” ElisabethBendersHyde49 shared this information.
    At this time my subscription to Ancestry is on hiatus as I’m a teacher and returning to work. You can reach me at:
    Marianne Mangels

  44. yogaleigh says:

    Okay, this is fascinating. We’ve “met” here before because my great-grandfather David McCaw fits somehow on your tree. Now I’ve been researching another part of my mother’s tree, starting from her 2x great grandmother, Mary Freeman Gallaher. I’ve traced her Freeman ancestors back to Mercy Prence/John Freeman and on back to William Brewster, the Mayflower passenger. And one of my “hints” on these folks has sent me back to you. So I gather we’re related somehow through this line as well?

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