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The Pruiett Family

Rosamond Prewtt/Prentt/Pruett/Brett - Who Was She?

Birth Record for Samuell Prewtt in Northumberland Co., Va.
Birth Record for Samuell Prewtt in Northumberland Co., Va.
On February 1, 1700, Samuell Prewtt (or Prentt) was born to Rosamond according to Northumberland Co., Va. records. Beverley Fleet originally transcribed these St. Stephen's Parish birth records in 1938 and noted:
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.

Col. Abrahall Patent 1675
Col. Robert Abrahall Patent 1675
Virginia Counties Around 1670
Virginia Counties Around 1670
Twenty-five years before this birth record, on October 20, 1675, a Rosamond Pruett (or Brett) was claimed as a headright (along with 24 other individuals) on a grant of 1200 acres in Gloucester Co., Va. to Col. Robert Abrahall. Three years later, on September 26, 1678, Rosamond Brett was (again?) claimed by Col. Abrahall as a headright (along with 19 other individuals) for an additional 1000 acres in New Kent Co., Va. Both properties were described as being on the "NE side of Mattopony Riv." Since New Kent and Gloucester were contiguous counties at this time, the properties were likely close to each other. Col. Abrahall claimed at least 19 of the same people for both of these land patents, fortifying our belief that the two land-patent Rosamonds were the same person.

Col. Abrahall Patent 1678
Col. Robert Abrahall Patent 1678
Each individual (or headright) entitled the patentee to 50 acres of land. It was common practice to buy and sell the names of potential headrights. The patentee need not have been responsible for paying the person's passage to America as long as he/she held the right to use their name. Each person's name should not have been used more than one time, but that requirement was often overlooked or ignored by patentees and the authorities who oversaw the process. In this case, since the land was patented in two different counties, the authorities may not have known that the colonel was using the same names.

Land Patent and Birth Record Name Comparisons
Land Patent and Birth Record Name Comparisons
The similarities of the names on the birth record and the two land patents suggest that all three Rosamonds were the same person. Prewtt, Prentt, Pruett and Brett were the last names deciphered from the handwritten records by those transcribing them. Rosamond was not a common name and the spellings of the last names, while difficult to determine, are not too different from each other. Since Col. Abrahall used many names more than once on his patents, it's likely he used the same Rosamond on these two patents. The Rosamond who gave birth to Samuell in Northumberland Co., Va. lived only about 30 to 40 miles from Gloucester Co. and New Kent Co. where Col. Abrahall patented his land.

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. John Hawkers Headrightarea 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.

Y-DNA Markers for Pruitts-Sweeneys-Whites
Y-DNA Markers for Pruitts-Sweeneys-Whites

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.

Sweeney-White-Pruitt Terminal SNPs
Sweeney-White-Pruitt Terminal SNPs
Who was the common ancestor of our eight testers? We are confident that the three Whites in our test population are descended from Moses Swinney, born around 1717. He lived in Edgecombe Co. and Granville Co., N.C. in the mid-1700s and died in Granville Co. in 1754. At least two of his sons, Littleberry and Cajabeth took their stepfather's surname of White. We are very confident in the belief that all of the White testers descend from one or more of Moses Swinney's sons who took the White surname. Based on this, we know the Whites are really Swinneys or Sweeneys. Therefore, it seems likely that they descend from the same Sweeney/Swinney ancestor as our testers. Does this mean that Samuel Pruitt also descends from that same common ancestor? It's very likely. SNP testing performed through FTDNA's Big Y test also confirms that our six testers who have taken that test are descended from a relatively recent common ancestor, based on the fact that they share the SNP FT18699 which formed around the year 1700. That year of SNP formation was calculated by YFull using a commonly used age estimation methodology. With more Big Y tests, we may see that year move up or back, but the timeframe is definitely in the ballpark and is a confirmation of the 111-marker test results.

Can We Identify a Common Ancestor of our Pruitts, Sweeneys/Swinneys and Whites?

Thomas Purifoy Patent 1655
Thomas Purifoy Patent 1655
If Rosamond Prewtt was the mother of our Samuel Pruitt, it may be that Samuel's father was a Sweeney/Swinney living in the Tidewater/Northern Neck region of Virginia at that time. At least one family living in that area can be considered a prospect for having a son or grandson who fathered Samuel. Edmund Sweny, Sr. was born in Ireland or England in the early 1600s. He emigrated to the Tidewater area of Virginia sometime before 1655. Based on what we know about his children and grandchildren, Edmund likely lived in Elizabeth City Co., Va. most of his life. Thomas Purifoy's headright patent indicates that Edmund Sweny's wife Elizabeth, son Edmund, Jr. and daughters Elizabeth and Mary accompanied him to Virginia. Their presence on the patent would indicate the three children were born before 1655, possibly long before that date. Some researchers indicate that after their arrival in Virginia, Edmund and Elizabeth had three other sons (Samuel, Merritt and Lazarus). However, we have found no contemporaneous records to support this. It may be that Edmund and Elizabeth had more children, we just can't confirm names or dates of birth based on the records we now have.

Edmund Sweny Will 1697
Edmund Sweny Will 1697
A will written in 1696 and probated in 1697 has been linked to Edmund Sweny, Sr. However, there are several issues that make it problematic to link it to Edmund, Sr. The will indicates that Edmund Sweny's eldest son Edmund was under the age of 21. The Edmund Sweny who accompanied his father to Virginia on or before 1655 would have been over 40 years of age in 1697. The will also indicates he had other children who had not yet "come of age." While it's possible Edmund, Sr. had a second family with an unknown wife, it is unlikely that Martha, the wife mentioned in the will, who was the widow of Thomas Tabb and was born around 1647, would have been the mother of those children. In addition it is very unlikely they would have named one of their children Edmund. It is much more likely that this 1697 document is the will of Edmund, Jr. It is less complicated to imagine that he and his first wife, name unknown, had the children mentioned in the will before she died in the late 1680s or early 1690s. After her death, Edmund, Jr. could then have married Martha Tabb. According to sources, Martha was the daughter of Augustine More who was featured prominently in Edmund's 1697 will. As for the afformentioned three additional sons of Edmund, Sr., Samuel, Merritt and Lazarus, it's possible one or more was the son of Edmund, Sr. However, one or two were just as likely to be the sons of Edmund, Jr. or one of his brothers, if any. These three Swenys, or their namesakes, appear in historical records after 1700. At least two served as Justices. Samuel Swinney was identified in the early 1720s as the owner of a ship, the 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:

Virginia Counties Around 1700
Virginia Counties Around 1700
Elizabeth City Co., Va. is just south of Gloucester Co., the presumed base of operations for Col. Robert Abrahall. Gloucester Co. is just south of Northumberland Co. The three locations are around 60 to 70 miles apart in total. It's not known whether any of these individuals, Col. Robert Abrahall, the Swenys or Rosamond Prewtt, had any association with each other. All of this needs to be researched in more depth to see if a more detailed family tree can be constructed and to see if any of our Moses Swinneys/Sweeneys can be tied to the descendants of Edmund Sweny, Sr. Geography and Y-DNA testing provide the basis for the scenario that a descendant of Edmund Sweny, Sr. could have fathered Rosamond's son. More work needs to be done to uncover the documentation necessary to prove relationships. We will need to work forward in time from Edmund Sweney, Sr. and his family and backwards in time from the earliest known ancestors of our Swinney/Sweeney testers. With that in mind, here is a list of those testers and their earliest known ancestors.

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.

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