The Mythology of
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 ." 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.