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The Pruiett Family

Part 1

Introduction - How Our Surname Evolved Over Time

In the narrative that follows, the various spellings of Pruiett reflect differences in the source documents. The family name was spelled "Pruitt" by four generations, from the first Samuel Pruitt around 1700 to Asa Prewitt/Pruitt in the early 1800s. During the 1800s, very few in the family could read or write. This explains the many different spellings of the name during this period including Prewitt, Prewett, Pruit, Pruitt, Pruet and Pruett. Family members signed many of their documents by making an X. Beginning around 1870, the family was spelling the name "Pruett" on a fairly consistent basis as demonstrated on the marriage license of Asa W. Pruett and Alice Climer dated Dec. 31, 1891. After moving to Cincinnati, Ohio in the late 1890s, however, the family, for the most part, made the decision to change the spelling to its current form. Isaac Pruiett's death record in February 1899 is the first document we've found that reflects the spelling as Pruiett. In addition, this document narrows the time frame for the Pruiett move from Virginia to Ohio since it indicates that Isaac died in Cincinnati on Feb. 20, 1899 and was born in Virginia 1 year, 7 months and 17 days before his death. Charles Pruiett's 1905 report card also shows the spelling as Pruiett, as does William E. Pruiett's 1915 Indiana marriage license. Although the 1900 and 1910 U.S. census records use other spellings, that could be due to miscommunication with the enumerators. Both Asa's and William's 1920 U.S. census records have the current spelling. Also, William Ellis Pruiett's 1917 World War I draft registration card shows the current spelling.

Letter from Attorney W. M. Tredway, Jr. to William Ellis Pruiett
Letter from Attorney W. M. Tredway, Jr. to William Ellis Pruiett February 18, 1924

In 1924 William Ellis Pruiett received a letter from W. M. Tredway, a Chatham, Va. attorney, in which he discussed the various spellings of the family name. In his letter to the attorney, William Pruiett had spelled his name "Pruiett" and the attorney responded that he could not find that spelling in any of the family records he found. Despite this, William Ellis Pruiett decided that going forward, the family would spell the name Pruiett. William's father, Acy Pruiett, died in 1924. On his death certificate the name was spelled Pruiett, although in a couple of places the "i" was inserted as a correction.

Samuel Pruitt - Our First Pruitt Ancestor

Our first confirmed Pruiett ancestor was Samuel Pruitt who was born around 1700. Some sources give Samuel Pruitt's birth year as 1684 (perhaps an extrapolation of his birth year based on the false belief that his first son, Samuel, Jr., was born in 1705). Most sources, however, indicate that he was born on April 4, 1700 in Prince George's Co., Md. We have not seen a primary record that confirms the date and place of Samuel Pruitt's birth (however, see below for a possible birth record). At this time, the names of the parents of Samuel Pruitt are not known. Some sources indicate his father was John Pruitt who was born in England in 1658 and his mother was Sarah Lessene who was born in England in 1662. Other sources indicate that John Pruitt and Sarah Lessene were born in Virginia, even that John Pruitt was born on Tangier Island. The Tangier Island connection is highly doubtful since the first confirmed settlement of Tangier Island was by Joseph Crockett and his family in 1778 and the first Pruitt to inhabit Tangier Island arrived in the late 1700s. However, we have no historical evidence that John Pruitt and Sarah Lessene were Samuel Pruitt's parents, let alone that Thomas Prewitt (The Immigrant) who is frequently named as the father of John Pruitt, was his grandfather (see below). There were several Pruitt families in Virginia in the late 1600s and it is not clear how to sort out the various relationships, although we are making some progress using Y-DNA analysis.

The Mythology around Thomas Prewitt (The Immigrant)

Many Pruitts trace their lineages back to Thomas Prewitt (The Immigrant) who was said to have arrived in Virginia in 1636 as an indentured servant to Joane Bennett of Charles River County, later York County. Some indicate that Samuel Pruitt was the grandson of Thomas Prewitt through an alleged son, John Pruitt. We do not know much about Thomas Prewitt. We do not know if he was really an indentured servant, but suspect he wasn't, or whether he even knew Joane Bennett. What we know is that on May 6, 1636 Joane Bennett used her personal headright and those of eight other individuals, including Thomas Prewitt, to claim 450 acres in Charles River Co., Va. (see these two transcriptions of the patent) and this handwritten copy of the original patent. If you paid for your own or another person's transportation to the colonies, you received a right to obtain 50 acres of land. You could also purchase unused headrights from someone else. This was common in colonial America and did not necessarily mean that the person transported was an indentured servant or that the person claiming the headright was the original possessor of that headright. We also can't be sure that Thomas Prewitt arrived in America in 1636; he could have arrived years earlier and could have been a child when he arrived. However, a second patent filed by Thomas Privett on June 2, 1636 in Charles River County may shed some light on his age and means. In this patent he claimed one headright for a "servant" or "person" unnamed to claim 50 acres (see the handwritten copy to see that the actual word used was "servant"). If the spellings of Thomas's last name or "servant" seem odd, see this Old English decoder to see alternate ways to write a lower case "v." Since this was a legal document, we can assume that Thomas Privett/Prewitt was at least 21 years of age in 1636. If he brought a servant with him, we can also assume he wasn't a pauper. This second patent, coupled with Joane Bennett's patent, suggests that Thomas paid for two individuals to cross the Atlantic and that he sold one patent to Joane Bennett or someone else who sold it to Joane Bennett and used one patent to obtain 50 acres of land for himself. There's also the possibility that the use of the term "servant" was a mistake and that the second headright was a friend or his wife. There were many steps in the headright process that took a long time to complete and mistakes could be made along the way. The actual written patent was just one of the final steps. Given the uncertainties, we likely will never know the full story of Thomas's transport to Virginia.

The next time we hear about Thomas Prewitt/Privitt is in the late 1640s when several court cases were filed in York Co., Va. (Charles River County was renamed York County in 1643). The existence of these cases, filed between 1646 and 1648, indicates that Thomas Prewitt/Privitt continued to live in York County for another twelve years after he filed his patent for 50 acres. These court cases and the patents are the sum total of all the documentation for Thomas Prewitt in colonial Virginia. There are no records we can find that identify the parents, wife or children of Thomas Prewitt.

Can we definitively identify Thomas Prewitt's ties to England? Some researchers have Thomas arriving in Virginia in 1635 on the Ship America from Gravesend, England which is around 25 miles east of London on the River Thames. Unfortunately, the only individual on that ship with a name similar to Thomas's was reported as Thomas Pratt, age 17. We do not believe this is a credible record for Thomas Prewitt. To find an English birth record for Thomas, some researchers may have counted back 20 years from Thomas's presumed arrival date and linked him to a Thomas who was born in Salisbury, England in December 1616. There is a record of a Thomas Wiett christening at Salisbury, St. Edmund, Wiltshire County, England on May 25, 1616. Some have speculated that this record was misread as Thomas Piett or Prett and became Thomas's link to England. Another source for Thomas's birth is based on Church of England Parish Registers from Winterbourne Earls, Wiltshire County, England which places his birth in December 1616. However, a review of those registers finds only one Prew-it baptism record near that date: John Prewit, son of John Prewit, baptized April 12, 1618. One last baptism record sometimes cited as Thomas's birth record is from Britford, Wiltshire County, England which states that "Thomas Pruet, the son of John Pruet, was baptized the 24th of July [1618]." What are we to make of these records? We know that many cited records for the birth of Thomas Prewitt are not always accurately characterized. We also know that there were several documented Thomas Prew-its who could have been the link to England for our Immigrant Tom. And finally, and most importantly, these records probably just scratch the surface of surviving records for Prew-its in England. In Wiltshire County alone there are more than 100 records for Prew-it births, baptisms and marriages between 1580 and 1630. There are likely many times more records that have never been imaged or transcribed or have been lost to history. Since there are no traceable, sourced links from Immigrant Tom to a Thomas Prew-it in England, we cannot ascribe parents to Thomas Prewitt, the Immigrant, at this time.

Rosamond Prewtt - the Mother of Samuel Pruitt?

Just to add one more wrinkle, there is a record of a Samuell Prewtt/Prentt born in Northumberland Co., Va. to Rosamond on Feb. 1, 1700. This is intriguing because of John Hawker's early connection to Northumberland County and subsequent migration across the Potomac River to St. Mary's Co., Md. and then Prince George's Co., Md. (see Hawker for more). It may be that Samuel Pruitt followed that same migratory route, arriving in Prince George's County in the early 1700s where he married John Hawker's granddaughter, Elizabeth Hawker in 1720. For a more thorough analysis of the possible connection of this birth to our Pruiett line and our probable connection to another immigrant family, see The Swenys of the Tidewater region of Virginia.

The Pruitts of Maryland

Prince George's Co., Md., which was created in 1696, encompassed an area that included the present day counties of Montgomery, Frederick and Prince George's and the District of Columbia. In 1748 Frederick County split off from Prince George's County and encompassed all of western Maryland including present day Montgomery County and the northwestern part of the District of Columbia. In 1776 Montgomery County was carved out of the southeastern portion of Frederick County. While the narrative that follows describes events that occurred in both Prince George's County and Frederick County, the actual location of these events was in present day Montgomery County and the northwestern part of the District of Columbia.

It's commonly believed that Samuel Pruitt and Elizabeth Hawker were married in 1720 in Prince George's Co., Md.; however, there is no known historical record to confirm the date or location. Elizabeth Hawker was born on Dec. 14, 1701 in Prince George's Co., Md. She was the daughter of Robert Hocker and Amy Selby. For more on the Hocker/Hawker lineage, see the Hawker family. There are several variations of the names of the children born to Samuel and Elizabeth Pruitt. This area needs more investigation, but here is a list that makes the most sense based on historical records:

The Pruitts did not leave much of a footprint in Maryland records in the early to mid-1700s. No Pruitt marriage records have appeared so far, except for Priscilla Pruitt's marriage to William Duvall (see this 1940 transcription of the Rock Creek parish church record). The only other records uncovered so far are the 1733 List of Taxables below and Samuel Pruitt's lease agreement, last will and accounting documents on Pruiett, Part 2. With this in mind, there is a question that's been raised by some researchers as to whether Margaret Pruitt exists and whether she or a Margaret Snowden married Philip Hocker. Since no marriage record has been found, we have to rely on Philip Hocker's last will and a deed recorded in Frederick Co., Md. to make a subjective determination. The primary (and perhaps only) argument in favor of Philip Hocker marrying a Margaret Snowden is the fact that he left his son, Nicholas Hocker/Hawker, more than one hundred acres of a tract of land called Snowden's Manner [Manor] Enlarged. We believe researchers originally deduced that his wife must have been a Snowden for him to possess this tract. Now we know that he bought the land from Thomas, Samuel and John Snowden in 1769. While this removes the principle argument in favor of marrying a Snowden, it does not prove that Margaret Pruitt was his wife. Some researchers have indicated that Philip Hocker's son, Samuel, was named Samuel Pruitt Hocker, but we have not found a record that substantiates this claim. At this time, we believe the weight of evidence points away from Philip Hocker marrying a Margaret Snowden, and we have tentatively determined that the evidence points towards Margaret Pruitt. As always, this kind of determination is subject to change as more evidence comes to light. Certainly, the geographic proximity of the two families, as the record below suggests, makes a Hocker-Pruitt union a plausible presumption.

The 1733 List of Taxables taken by Charles Perry, constable for Rock Creek Hundred in Prince George's Co., Md. showed:

Samuel Pruitt 1
Nicholas Hawkes [Hawker] 2
   Philip Hawkes [Hawker]

Nicholas Hawker was Elizabeth (Hawker) Pruitt's uncle.

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