Prence, Thomas (DNB00)

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PRENCE, THOMAS (1600–1673), governor of Massachusetts, whose name is also written Prince, but not by himself, was born in 1600 at Lechlade in Gloucestershire, where his family had been settled for some generations. His father was a puritan, and emigrated to Leyden while Thomas was still young. In November 1621 Thomas arrived at New Plymouth, with several distinguished colonists, in either the Fortune or the Anne. He brought a considerable fortune with him, and rapidly became a prominent citizen, though he always had a distaste for public office.

Having become a member of the court of assistants, Prence was elected to succeed Winslow as governor of Massachusetts in 1634, but resigned in the following year on removing his residence to Duxbury. In 1637 he did good service to the state in raising a corps to assist Connecticut against the Pecquot Indians, and in 1638 was urged to become governor again; he reluctantly consented, making it a condition that the law requiring residence at New Plymouth should be relaxed in his favour. At the end of the year he retired, but devoted himself to promoting the welfare of the colony. In 1641 the first barque ever constructed in New Plymouth was turned out under his guidance. In 1643 he and others obtained a grant and founded a new settlement at Nansett or Easthams. In 1650 he established the Cape Cod fisheries. In 1654 he was authorised by the court of assistants to constitute a new government in the settlement at Kennebec.

In 1657, on the death of Bradford, Prence was again chosen governor, and so remained till his death, through a period troubled by wars with the Indians and internal quarrels with the quakers. Besides being governor, he was at one time treasurer, and on various occasions a commissioner, for the united colonies. But his great work was the appropriation, despite much opposition, of public revenue to the support of grammar schools. He governed the colony with firmness and prudence, evincing energy, judgment, integrity, and religious zeal.

In 1665 Prence changed his residence from Eastham to New Plymouth, where he died on 29 March 1673.

He married, first, in 1625, Patience (d. 1634), daughter of Elder Brewster; secondly, in 1635, Mary, daughter of William Collier, who survived him. He left no male descendants.

[Collections of Massachusetts Historical Society; Morton's Annals of New England; Landmarks of Plymouth, p. 209.]

C. A. H.