When I first began tracing my Prince line I thought it would be an easy task. My confidence was bolstered by two fallacies.
The first fallacy was that I thought my task would be
easy due to the rarity of the name Prince. My family was the only Prince family
in the town where I grew up. My Prince grandparents were the only ones bearing
that name in the town where they lived. My name was so rare in my hometown that
as a teenager I would get a reaction when I introduced myself. People would
say, "Are you joking? Is your name really Prince? I've never heard of that name before! Are you
related to son of a King?" Such incredulity convinced me that my surname was truly rare and there were very few of us in the United States. I was so thankful that my surname wasn't Smith, Brown or Williams. These families were so prolific throughout the country I knew it would be almost impossible to sort my line from the many Smiths, Browns or Williams. However, I was
blessed with the rare name Prince, so tracing my ancestry would be a piece of cake. I was convinced that if I was lucky enough to find just one other Prince family, anywhere in the United States, they would surely be related to me. Little did I know at that time that the United States was saturated with Prince families, with the possible exception of East Texas where I grew up.
The second fallacy was the assumption that all Prince
lines would connect within a relatively short time frame. Even after I began
to realize that there were many Prince families scattered throughout America
I was sure these lines connected with one or two immigrants arriving in the
country in the early 1600s. Again, because the name was rare I could not visualize more than one or two early day immigrants bearing that name. It came as a shock to me when I learned there were several dozen immigrants named Prince who came to America during the 1600s!
My tunnel vision and ego assured me that among the few
Prince immigrants my particular ancestor had to be among the most prominent
immigrants to Virginia or New England. Therefore, I seemed to have a choice
between Edward Prince, Gentleman, immigrant to Virginia circa 1639. Or Thomas
Prence, Governor of the Plymouth Colony immigrant to Massachusetts in 1621.
Or perhaps John Prince, Ruling Elder of Hull, MA. All were famous in their day
and many Prince's trace their lineage to these worthy men. My seemingly easy
task was to join my Prince line with one of these prominent Prince men. So far
as I knew, all of my Prince ancestors resided in the South. Therefore, the most
likely candidate for my ancestor was Edward Prince, Gentleman of Virginia.
Consequently, I focused on the Virginia records trying to find my tie to this Edward Prince. As I
searched through miscellaneous land and church records I was surprised to see that many men named Prince had immigrated to Virginia in the 1600s. Most were ordinary yeomen or indentured servants, whose passage was paid by others. My ego caused me to ignore these hard working yeomen and indentured servants. I wanted to be the descendant of an English Gentleman. Someone who was wealthy enough to hire laborers, thus did not have to work with his own hands.
After years of searching for my tie to Edward Prince,
Gentleman, I began realize I could just as easily be descended from one of the
yeomen or an indentured servant named Prince. My search of Virginia records
showed I had an ample choice of possible ancestors. I was at liberty tochoose
among the following early Virginia immigrants: Nicholas Prince, 1621; William Prince, 1624; Edward Prince, servant, 1635; James Prince, 1638; Thomas Prince, 1639; Edward Prince, Gentleman, 1639; Jarius Prince, 1646; Thomas Prince, 1660; Samuel Prince, 1661; John Prince, 1664; Richard Prince, 1664; William Prince, 1694; Francis Prince, 1691. And I did not even consider those who arrived after the year 1700.
It flies in the face of reason to think that all of
the above Prince men were childless and left no descendants. However, due to
the scarcity of records, it's almost impossible to prove our descent from any
of these men, including Edward Prince, Gentleman. Undoubtedly, some of us are
closely related to Edward Prince Gentleman, but many are undoubtedly descended
from the yeomen and indentured servants named Prince. I have no doubt that most
of our Prince lines
probably connect at some point back in Merry Old England. Though many of us share the same DNA it will be a stroke of luck if we are able to determine our Most Recent Common Ancestor by name.
In my fifty years of searching I have concluded there are at least five distinct Prince groups that immigrated to America in the 1600s and 1700s. Perhaps there's more.
The first group are those who immigrated to New England, beginning in 1621, just one year after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. Governor Thomas Prence and Ruling Elder John Prince are among the more prominent ones in this group.
The second group are those who immigrated to Virginia in the early 1600s. Edward Prince, Gentleman, was the most prominent among this group.
The third group are those who immigrated to Charleston,
SC, circa 1660. Among the more prominent in this group is British Navy Lieutenant
Charles Prince and Lowrey Prince, who may be the brother of Charles. Lieutenant
Charles Prince was second in command of the HMS Mercury. He married the daughter
of British Navy Captain Clement Lempriere. Charles and his wife resided in Charleston
before the Revolutionary War. During that war he switched from the Navy to the
Army. He commissioned a captain in the British army and served as
Officer-in-Charge of American Prisoners of War. After the war he returned to Charleston but found his extensive land confiscated and his mansion burned to the ground because he served in the British army during the war. He spent many years trying to get compensation for his losses. He obtained his American citizenship in 1791. Both Charles and Lowrey Prince left descendants in Charleston and throughout South Carolina.
The fourth group is the German Printz family. Their
progenitor Johann Heinrich Printz arrived in Philadelphia circa 1745. Most of
his descendants later changed the spelling of their name to Prince. Initially,
they resided in Shenandoah Valley, VA, but many later moved to the Midwest
states of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Some researchers claim this Printz/Prince line originally spelled their surname Brentz in Germany, but it was inadvertently changed to
Printz upon arrival in America and later anglicized to Prince.
The fifth group are those who arrived in Maryland in the early 1700s. Most of these were convicts who were deported to America. We should keep in mind that in the 18th century the most trivial offense was cause for confinement to a jail and/or deportation. Most of the deportees were extremely poor and driven by desperation to steal. However, the laws were so severe that stealing of a loaf of bread was sufficient to get a jail sentence and/or deportation to America or other developing countries.
There may be other groups of whom I'm unaware, but I believe the above five groups will cover over 90% of the immigrants to America.
All of the above is presented as "food for thought." I hope it will be helpful to some of our Prince researchers.
Regards, Ron Prince
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