The Pruiett Family
Rosamond Prewtt/Prentt/Pruett/Brett - Who Was She?
When the early records of Northumberland County were brought to the Department of Archives, in the Virginia State Library, in Richmond, most of them in sad condition, there appeared this worn and disordered book, marked St. Stephen's Parish. The entries date from 1661, long before there was a St. Stephen's Parish. Those from the [1660s] to the middle of the [1700s], a period of over ninety years, are all in the same handwriting.... We would assume that the book was made up from other records, now long lost.How accurate are these records? How many errors or ambiguities were introduced in the rewrite? For our purposes, looking at the Rosamond Prewtt record, the most obvious question is whether the fourth letter of the last name is w or n? It looks like the n in many other records, but several lines down from Rosamond's record, we find someone named "Thos. Pew" and the w in this case looks just like the w in Prewtt. Perhaps the answer was more obvious in the original record but, given the rampant illiteracy of the times, it may not be all that important. Often, those documenting events wrote names phonetically. Pruitt is a good example given all the ways it has been written over the centuries within the same families. Even the name Pew was likely a phonetic spelling of Pugh, a name that appears often in later Northumberland Co. records.
It's very easy to imagine that Col. Abrahall could have bought Rosamond's headright soon after she arrived in America. Her arrival could have been in 1675 or years earlier. The colonel and Rosamond need never have met for him to secure her headright. It's also possible to assume that Rosamond was a child when she came to America and was still young enough to have a child in 1700 since there was no restriction on the age of a headright.
So, who was Rosamond Prewtt? It's very likely she was a young English girl who emigrated to the American colonies in the early 1670s, willingly or not. Perhaps her parents died before she left England and she was all alone in the colonies. She likely lived in the Northern Neck area for years, perhaps working as a house servant when she was young and in the fields as she got older. Or she could have served a merchant in a town near the coast. We suspect she lived close to a shipping town and we presume, based on the next chapter of her life, she met someone and began a relationship that resulted in the birth of a son.
Was Our Samuel Pruitt the Son of Rosamond Prewtt?
Was Rosamond Prewtt's son the Samuel Pruitt who lived in Maryland and fathered three sons who migrated to the Halifax/Pittsylvania Co., Va. area by the mid-1760s? St. Mary's Co., Md. is just across the Potomac River from Northumberland Co., Va. It was fairly common for people to cross the Potomac into Maryland from the Northern Neck and Tidewater areas of Virginia and this may have been the route taken by Rosamond and/or Samuel Pruitt in the early 1700s. John Hawker, who was likely the headright mentioned in this 1651 Northumberland Co. patent, and the grandfather of Samuel Pruitt's wife, Elizabeth Hawker, also likely took that route into Maryland many years earlier. Members of the Hawker and Pruitt families lived close together in Prince George's Co., Md. and later in Pittsylvania Co., Va.
All efforts to link Samuel to known Pruitt immigrants of the 1600s have been unsuccessful. Some have tried to say he was born in 1684 and that he was the son of John Pruitt and Sarah Lessene, but there are no records to support this claim. More commonly, researchers have indicated that Samuel was born in April 1700 in Maryland, but again with no record to corroborate that assumption. With the complete lack of records for a 17th century lineage for Samuel Pruitt, it's tempting to embrace this February 1700 birth record as our Samuel Pruitt. However, further proof is necessary before we can leap to that conclusion. Recently uncovered Y-DNA evidence of a close genetic relationship between Pruitts, Sweeneys/Swinneys and Whites may provide a new avenue for research into the role Rosamond may have played in the early history of our Pruitts in America. It may even call into question whether Samuel Pruitt was descended from a male Pruitt.
Was Samuel Pruitt's Father a Sweeney/Swinney?
Rosamond Prewtt appears to be a single mother to Samuel in the 1700 birth record. For those records where only one parent was shown, most list the father. This suggests that Samuel's father was unknown at the time of his birth. The St. Stephen's Parish Records were not shy about using the term "bastard" to describe a child born out of wedlock, but that description mostly appears after the mid-1700s. Perhaps this is due to a more secular source for the earlier records or perhaps the person who rewrote the records scrubbed them. Is there any way to determine the father of this Samuel? Perhaps other records will be uncovered that shed light on a relationship between a Pruitt and Rosamond, but until then, we have one lead that might help uncover a partner to Rosamond and a father to Samuel. In the last few years Y-DNA testing has determined that some Pruitts, Sweeneys/Swinneys and Whites share a common ancestor before 1700. Now, based on results from FTDNA's 111-marker Y-DNA tests, the evidence is even clearer.
Y-DNA testing has shown that there are at least six different Pruitt family lines that lived in or near Virginia in the 1700s, but are not related within the genealogical timeframe (i.e., the period of time during which it is possible to establish genealogical relationships based on documentary evidence; FTDNA uses a Genetic Distance of 15 to mark this boundary). Samuel Pruitt and his descendants represent one of these six distinct lines. Based on computed Genetic Distances and Big Y testing, none of these lines could have intersected within the last thousand years or more. That means, where we find a Pruitt living in the colonies in the 1600s, we can imagine (or, if we're lucky, document) that Pruitt as the progenitor of one of our six lines of Pruitts, but not more than one line. With this as background, let's look at eight individuals who are related within the genealogical timeframe to see how their Y-DNA markers might suggest relationships between them and where Samuel Pruitt might fit in that picture.
The eight testers listed in the above chart took the FTDNA 111-marker Y-DNA test. All eight testers had identical values for 97 markers. Listed above are the 14 markers that had a difference in one or more testers. Using this author (Pruiett742) as the baseline, we can determine the number of marker differences between him and each of the testers. Those differences, called Genetic Distance by FTDNA, are a crude way to identify how many generations there are between two testers. For Pruitt688, the number of marker differences is 4. If we then look at the documented family trees of Pruiett742 and Pruitt688, we see that they are in fact separated by four generations to their most recent common ancestor (MRCA) who happens to be Thomas Stuart Pruitt, born in 1814. For Pruett767, the number of marker differences with Pruiett742 is 5. Based on his and Pruiett742's family trees, they actually are separated by 8 generations, having Samuel Pruitt, born around 1700, as their MRCA. The results of this kind of analysis are not always perfect, but the trend is usually pretty clear. All the Whites and Sweeneys/Swinneys are 6 and 7 generations removed from Pruiett742 according to their Y-DNA tests, suggesting that they share a MRCA born before 1700. Since Samuel Pruitt's descendants are well documented in historical records, this analysis seems correct. It would be almost impossible to construct a theory that the common ancestor of these eight testers was born after Samuel Pruitt.
Can We Identify a Common Ancestor of our Pruitts, Sweeneys/Swinneys and Whites?Sarah and Mary, a 30-ton sloop built in 1709 and registered in Virginia. Is it possible that Samuel Sweny was the father of Samuel Prewtt who was born in 1700? There were many ports of call in the Tidewater region and, in particular, the Northern Neck area where Rosamond had her son. If Samuel Sweny was the father, he would have to have been born around 1680 or earlier. Edmund, Jr. is probably ruled out as the father of this Samuel Sweny since his children were "not of age" in 1697 and his eldest son was Edmund who was not yet 21 years old. Perhaps Samuel Sweny was the child of Edmund, Sr. or the child of another son of Edmund, Sr. At this point, there are no historical records to make this call. Given the extensive dealings the Swenys had with London, New York and other ports, it's likely they owned several ships and other sons and grandsons visited various ports of call in the Tidewater area. That just means Samuel Sweny was not the only potential father to Samuel Pruitt.
Just to add further credence to the idea that Edmund, Jr. was the subject of the 1697 will, there are records in Charles Parish, York Co., Va. indicating that Edmund Sweny and wife Frances had three children in 1709, 1710 and 1711. The first was Daniel, the second was Edmund and the third was Martha. It seems likely that these were the children of Edmund, the "eldest son" of the subject of the 1697 will, and not the son of the Edmund Sweny born before 1655. Perhaps contributing to the confusion, Daniel's father was listed as Edmund, Jr.; however, that was generally a sign that someone was the son of a similarly named individual, not a position of hierarchy in the family. In the Pruitt family we often use Samuel Pruitt I, II, III, and IV to distinguish fathers from sons. However, these Samuels did not use that nomenclature. They were always Sr.'s and Jr.'s in the records. When a Jr. had a son, and his father died, he became the Sr. and his son was Jr. That's likely the same case for all the Edmund Swenys in the historical record.
A few more takeaways from the 1697 will and other records that might help sort out relationships of these various Swenys:
- Edmund Sweny belonged to the Church of England and therefore was not Irish Catholic, at least by the time he drew up his will.
- Edmund Sweny, and presumably others in the family, owned slaves.
- By the 1690s, the Sweny family had achieved business and political prominence in the Tidewater area as evidenced by their extensive dealings with merchants in London.
- In his 1732 will, Lazarus Sweny called Samuel Sweny "My Brother" and mentions two sons, Daniel and James. It's also clear that the family fortunes were still in pretty good shape.
- In William Tabb's 1727 will, he mentions Merritt Sweny as his "brother," perhaps indicating that William Tabb was raised in the same household as Merritt Sweny and suggesting that Merritt may have been one of the children "not yet of age" in the 1697 will of Edmund Sweny, Jr.
- A Merritt Sweny and his wife Mary had three children in 1741, 1743 and 1744 in Charles Parish, York Co., Va. This may not have been the same Merritt Sweny mentioned in William Tabb's will, but could have been his son.
- Samuel Sweny's 1753 will in Norfolk Co., Va. names his son Charles and leaves legacies to John and Lemuel Willoughby. Lemuel married a Martha Sweny in Norfolk Co., Va. in 1751 suggesting that Martha was the daughter of Samuel. Martha was a very popular name in the Sweny clan.
- Swinney057 - Moses Swinney, b. ~1713 in Ireland or Virginia, lived in Lunenburg Co., Va., d. before June 20, 1785 in Pittsylvania Co., Va.
- Sweeney154 - Guryn Emerson Sweeney, b. 1807 in Kentucky
- Sweeney216 - William Sweeney, b. 1757 in Virginia
- Sweeney181 - Moses Swinney, b. 1734, possibly in County Antrim, Ireland, lived in Albemarle Co., Va. around 1750, d. 1813 in Lincoln Co., Ky.
- Sweeneyxxx - Benjamin Sweeney, lived mid-1700s in Henry Co. and Franklin Co., Va.
- All Whites - Moses Swinney, b. before 1717, possibly in Bertie Co., N.C., d. before September 3, 1754 (the date of a summons associated with his estate) in Granville Co., N.C.
- All Pruitts - Samuel Pruitt, b. ~1700 in Northumberland Co., Va. or Maryland, d. before January 3, 1761 (date last will was probated) in Prince George's Co., Md.
As far as we know, the three Moses Swinneys are not the same person. It's possible the first two Moses Swinneys listed are father and son. As you can see from what we know today, all of the principals lived in a relatively confined area of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland.