With that brief background sketch, I hope I have given some idea of the times in which my progenitors enter the scene. I have been investigating two sides of my family history — my mother’s, which started in Massachusetts, and my father’s, which started in Virginia. Well, of course, they actually started in Africa, but I am starting with this country’s story. In my case, this is inextricably connected with the history of Great Britain in the first part of each immigrant’s story.
On each side there is one man who stands out, who has been remembered by history. In Massachusetts, it was John Prescott. In Virginia, it is William Claiborne. There are similarities between them. Both arrived from England fairly early in the colonization period — Prescott in 1640 and Claiborne about 1630. Given that Massachusetts was about 10 years behind Jamestown, being settled in 1620 instead of around 1610, this puts them at a similar stage of development, when there was still a LOT of frontier left to explore.
Both of them had lost their fathers at an early age. I don’t know much about their youth. But this seems to have made them become self-sufficient at an early age. And they were certainly not tied to the family home or occupation. Obviously, both of them were natural leaders.
When they had been a few years in America, both of them established trading posts on the leading edge of settlement. John Prescott bought an existing post and founded a town around it. Claiborne founded his own post, as we shall see.
What I find interesting is that the Massachusetts town became a mill town and that Claiborne ended up owning a large plantation in Virginia. This is absolutely typical of the development in their respective colonies. The character of the North and the South – industrial vs. agricultural – was evident from the beginning.
It is also interesting that Prescott came from the north of England and Claiborne from the south. Prescott was a blacksmith and his wife came from a weaving area. Claiborne came more from the merchant and trading background. I suspect both of them were motivated by the opportunity to achieve greater success than at home, although neither of them were poor men.
I couldn’t invent men who would be better examples of the pioneering spirit which founded this country or of the influence of time and place upon men.