Thursday, October 28, 2010

John Prescott, Founder of Lancaster, Massachusetts

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were withering and sere-
It was night in the lonesome October
...Edgar Allan Poe
Ulalume: A Ballad

The Old Settlers Burial Ground is the oldest burial ground in Lancaster.  It is located far off the main road behind Middle Cemetery; it is pretty much hidden from view  and can be accessed only by foot and wandering through the woods for a bit.  I'd like to thank my online friend,  Kat,  for taking the time on her vacation to visit the old cemetery and take these pictures for me.   Try to imagine how active this old place must be on Samhain Eve. (Click on pics to enlarge)

(This is the pathway to the old burial well hidden you would never know it was there.  At the foot of this path lie the remains of my ancestors, the Prescotts.)

My 9th great grandfather was John Prescott, the founder of Lancaster, Massachusetts.  He was born 1605 in England and died December, 1681 in Lancaster, Massachusetts.  He married Mary Gawkroger (alias Platt) (1607-1718) on April 11, 1629 in Sowerby, Yorkshire, England. The first 5 of their children were born in England except for the fifth child Hannah who was probably born in Barbados.   There are several old tales about old John, but the following  from "The Wheeler Family of Rutland , Massachusetts" is one of my favorites.

John was a sturdy, strong man of stern countenance, and whenever he had any difficulty with the Indians, he would clothe himself with his coat of mail, helmet, cuirass, and gorget, which gave him a fierce and frightful appearance. They having once stolen from him a horse, he put on his armour and pursued them; and in a short time overtook the party. They were surprised to see him alone, and a chief approached him with uplifted tomahawk. John told him to strike, which he did, and finding the blow made no impression on his cap, he was much astonished, and asked John to let him put it on, and then strike on his head, as he had done on John's. The helmet being too small for the chief's head, the stroke settled it down to his ears, scraping off the skin of both sides of his head. They gave him up his horse, thinking him to be a supernatural being.


(The above photos are an overview of the old burial ground from the foot of the path.)

"One may sense from research into Lancaster history that there was something a little unorthodox about John's religious views which postponed his becoming a freeman for many years, and this may have been the real reason why they hedged at naming the town after him, in spite of their admiration of his industry. At the same time, the name of Lancaster instead of some other reference to Yorkshire, would tend to identify John with an English county of origin prior."

(This is a view from the left.)

"John's sharp shooting ability and ingenuity saved his house, barn and sawmill from being burned many times when he had no one to help him but Mary. With her to reload, one time he held off a band on Indians who were convinced there were several men inside. John was busy firing form all sides and shouting orders to imaginary soldiers while Mary reloaded for him."

(Notice the old gnarly tree standing guard in the middle of the cemetery.)

(This is the view from the rear of the burial ground.)

"In the meantime, fighting was going on around the other garrison houses - Wheeler's Prescott's and Sawyer's. This Prescott family lost two sons-in-law, Jonas Fairbank married to Lydia Prescott, and Richard Wheeler who was the husband of Sarah Prescott. Also, two grandsons were killed -Joshua Fairbanks and Ephraim Sawyer. Richard Wheeler, and Jonas and Joshua Fairbank(s) were killed at Wheeler's garrison house, and Ephraim Sawyer was killed at Prescott's garrison house. Those who were left gathered at Sawyer's garrison house and a runner was dispatched with a note pleading for a company of soldiers to come to their rescue. Captain Wadsworth's Company arrived with wagons, and after about two weeks' speculation as to what to do, finally transported the remaining villagers to towns farther east, such as Watertown, where they scattered to stay at the homes of various friends and relatives.
(The Wheelers', Prescott's, Fairbanks', and Sawyer's are all part of my family line.)

(Check out the orbs of light in the above photo.)

"With the burning of this town, of which only one house was left standing and all but a fragment of the town records destroyed, nearly every personal record of the families was lost. As a result, all clues that might have been available from personal family knowledge to link any of them with earlier generations in England were gone. The research required to replace and prove these links has been painfully slow and expensive since then."

(How about this spooky little pond located behind the cemetery?  Stephen King would have a ball.)
"John Prescott was a heroic figure in the early history of Lancaster and Groton. He brought with him a metallic coat of mail, which he sometimes wore when dealing with the savages; this served to impress them, as his force, capacity and judgment did his white neighbors. Nourse calls him an "ideal pioneer" a "true builder of the nation." He distinquished himself for bravery and leadership."

(Prescott family plot viewed from the left.)
"He had a numerous family of descendants, many of whom have been persons of great ability and distinction. His great-grandson, Colonel William Prescott, was chief in command at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Another descendant was William H. Prescott, the famous historian of the "Conquest of Mexico," "Conquest of Peru." At the time of his death, in 1683, his family had become one of the wealthiest and most influential in Massachusetts. John and Mary (Platt) Prescott had eight children. Mary Prescott was born in England. At the age of eighteen she married Thomas Sawyer of Lancaster, and by him became the mother of eleven children. She survived her husband, who died on September 12, 1706. By the marriage of Mary Prescott in 1648, the name of Prescott was merged in that of Sawyer; and in 1812 the name of Sawyer was merged in that of Munsey."

(Mary and John side by side stones.)

On the 250th anniversary of Lancaster's founding, a memorial stone was erected at his gravesite, which reads as follows:
Here With his children about him lies John Prescott Founder of Lancaster and first settlerof Worcester County Born at Standish Lancashire England Died at Lancaster Massachusetts Dec. 1681 Inspired by the love of liberty and the fear of God This stout hearted pioneer Forsaking the pleasant vales of England And encountered [sic] wild beast and savage To secure freedom For himself and his posterity His faith and virtues have been inherited by many descendants Who in every generation have well served the state In war, in literature, at the bar, in the pulpit, in public life, And in Christian homes.


  1. Oh my goodness!! I lived many years in Lancaster and loved to visit this graveyard. One time I took pictures there and emailed them to someone I worked with just to show her the how great it was. When we looked at them together, suddenly there were faces in the trees and figures almost blending into the landscape so many you couldn't even count....then we showed another person who wasn't a real believer and he saw what we saw and was blown away. I saved them on my computer (and hers) and months later we went to show someone else, and the figures were not there anymore.

    It is such a beautiful place, very magical!!

  2. Cemetarys and the history they hold are so cool...this one would be a wonderful place to spend some time and just read headstones...

  3. PS - Mary, Mrs. B is giving away a set of my cards today...

  4. Looks like we both have ancestors that founded towns in Massachusetts.
    Mine was Roger Conant on my mothers side.
    He founded Salem,MA

  5. Oh Mary...this is just amazing! I was so enthralled with the history of it and as I was reading along and saw the picture of the orbs I gasped and said, LOOK! you were right in the room here with me, lol! What a stunning photo, what a Magickal Place! I too was looking for hidden figures amongst the trees. Ah, don't you just love ancestry and geneology? I so wish I could afford to do more of mine...perhaps this winter when I have more time I can really get into it.
    I really loved this sharing Mary and thank you so much!
    Many Blessings! Many! :)

  6. Hello there, My name is Valerie Hope Powell and my Grandmother's name was Mariam Prescott and her father was Nathanael Parker Prescott whose father was John Humphrey Prescott. Long story short we are related :) I am currently doing my family tree due to my Grandmother's stories of her family tree. I am related to Colonel William Prescott, Samuel Prescott, John Prescott and he came from England. Mariam married my Grandpa Robert Trowbridge and drifted away from the family. My mom and her sisters and brothers always told me they were descendants from the revolutionary war. My Grandma told me of her brother Furon Prescott and how he collected items like muskett balls and things. It is really nice to read and see pics of where my family is from. I would love to visit Massechutes one day. It was really nice to run across your site for sure Mary. If you would like to communicate with me my email is:

  7. Hi Cousin,
    I also am the 9th Great Granddaughter of John Prescott. His daughters married my 8th Great Grandfather John Rugg. I just went to Samuel Rugg's monument dedication as Founder of Decatur Indiana and Adams County 8/27/2011. My family is the closest living Rugg line to our original family in Lancaster Mass. Samuel was a Senator and one of the original founders of the Indiana public school system. Samuel donated all the property of 5 different churches in Decatur, parks, and town square where the first Peace Monument in the world was built. I had the opportunity to visit Samuel's grave on his 206th birthday with my family. I took a picture while visting St Mary's church and noticed many orbs in the pictures, in particular a huge orb at the chest area of a 70 ft golden mosaic of St Mary, truly amazing! I believe the journey to the graves of our descendants to be sacred, and one I need to take. Can you tell me if special permission is needed to access this land? Thanks, your cousin

  8. John and Mary's daughter Mary/Muriel wed Tom Sawyer, and two of their daughters, Elizabeth and Martha, wed Nathaniel Wilder and James Hosmer, respectively.

    I'm Beverly Joy [nee Lawson] and am decended from these two grand-daughters. Hence, I am one of your many cousins.

    Thanks so much for the wonderful piece you've put together on our grrrrrrrrrreat grampa! You have really brought him a gram to life!

  9. John Prescott is my 10th Great Grandfather. I link to him from his daughter Lydia and her husband Jonas Fairbanks. Thank you for taking the time to put this site together. I find it amazing to learn new things about our ancestors that I never knew before.

  10. John Prescott is my 9th great grandfather so you can add me to your list of cousins. Like Marie Lidke, I connect via daughter Lydia and her husband Jonas Fairbanks (and then in my case by their daughter Grace Fairbanks who married Ephraim Bullen). Such an interesting man, our ancestor John! I am currently working on my own blog story about him as part of Amy Johnson Crow's "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" project and came upon your story while updating my research. I have also visited that cemetery (on a drizzly grey day) and there is certainly an other-worldly feel about it.

  11. I too am a very distant cousin via his daughter Sarah. John is my 11th great grandfather. What an amazing find this has been. Thank you
    Loree Gaikowski

  12. Johh Prescott was my 10th great grandfather and his wife, Mary Gawkroger Prescott was my 10th great grandmother. I was lucky to visit Lancaster last summer. Thank you for this great blog.

  13. John Prescott is my 9x great grandfather through daughters Mary & Lydia, and his son Jonas. Hi Cousin!

  14. I am also a descendent of John Prescott, so cool to know there's all these cousins. I'm descended through his daughter Hannah who married John Rugg. Thanks for the wonderful post and photos!

  15. Hi cousins! John Prescott was my 10th great grandfather. I, like Joanne Barnard above, descend from Lydia Prescott and Jonas Fairbanks (also from their daughter Grace Fairbanks and Ephraim Bullen. Love seeing these pictrues, thank you!

  16. Hi Cousin, John Prescott is my 10 great grandfather...
    John Prescott (1604 - 1681)
    10th great-grandfather

    Lydia Prescott (1641 - 1712)
    daughter of John Prescott

    Jonathan Fairbanks (1666 - 1697)
    son of Lydia Prescott

    Mary Fairbanks (1693 - 1745)
    daughter of Jonathan Fairbanks

    Aaron Brown (1725 - 1746)
    son of Mary Fairbanks

    Ephraim Brown Sr (1750 - 1813)
    son of Aaron Brown

    Ephraim H Brown (1787 - 1858)
    son of Ephraim Brown Sr

    Jane P Brown (1815 - 1876)
    daughter of Ephraim H Brown

    John C. Snell (1837 - 1890)
    son of Jane P Brown

    Elbert Franklin Snell (1864 - 1949)
    son of John C. Snell

    Herbert Edward Snell (1911 - 1987)
    son of Elbert Franklin Snell

    Norma Jean Snell (1939 - 2002)
    daughter of Herbert Edward Snell

    and Me: Tessie Marie =)
    Nice to meet you and I really enjoyed your blog...

  17. John Prescott is my 11th great grandfather via his daughter Lydia. So nice to see this site.