........ Conjecture, noun, the formation of judgments or opinions on the basis of incomplete or inconclusive information. Source: Encarta Dictionary

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Conjecture 2: Penelope’s first husband was English and his surname was Prince.

Today I argue against the commonly accepted idea that Penelope’s first husband was a Dutchman with the surname Vanprincis.

A Contemporary Record, 1648
The only contemporary record of Penelope is the September 1648 slander trial about milking a cow in the Gravesend Town Records, which recorded her name as Penellopey Prince. Notice how the other women in the trial are mentioned: wife of Tho. Aplegate; his wife; Ambrose his wife; wife of Ambrose London; Aplegate’s daughter; and Ambrose his wife. Under the English legal doctrine of coverture, as the saying goes, “husband and wife were one person as far as the law was concerned, and that person was the husband.” The fact that the English clerk wrote her name as Penellopey Prince strongly implies that she had passed from the legal status of feme covert (literally, covered woman in archaic Anglo-Norman French legalese, meaning married) to feme sole (single woman) because she was a widow.

In a Dutch context, one might reasonably argue that Penelope Prince was her maiden name, but the list of Gravesend founders was all English. Being mostly Anabaptists, they picked a location at the southwestern tip of Long Island that was as far as practical from the Dutch government, Dutch Reformed Church, and New England Puritans. Therefore, I find it implausible that Englishmen would apply Dutch naming conventions to an English woman.

17th Century Writings
I would like to know how other women (single, married, or widowed) were referred to in the rest of the Gravesend Town Records but, I as far as I know, the book has never been published nor put on the Internet. Instead I skimmed 300 pages of the John Winthrop’s Journal (1630-1640, Massachusetts Bay Colony) and found two women mentioned by their full name: “one Abigail Giffor, widow” and “Dorothy Talbye was hanged at Boston for murdering her own daughter.”

Winthrop used the customary English format for real ladies, that is, the title and first name, such as “the Lady Arabella,” for whom Winthrop's ship was named, and "Mr. Humfrey and the Lady Susan, his wife." Two married women who were personally accused of religious crimes were designated “Mrs. Hutchinson” (20 mentions because of her infamy) and “Mrs. Dyer.” Every other time that a female was mentioned in conjunction with a man’s name, Winthrop used phrases such as James Sagamore's wife, wife of one William Dyer, one Hawkins's wife, wife of one Scott, Faber's wife, his wife (numerous times), gentlewoman and two daughters. This are the same techniques cited above in Gravesend Town Records and confirm the tradition of coverture that a married woman’s Christian name was not written except in special circumstances.

Smith, 1765
The second written record of Penelope is in Samuel Smith’s 1765 The History of the Colony of Nova Caesaria, or New Jersey, where she is not mentioned by name but described first as the wife of a young Dutchman and later as “marrying to one Stout.” This phrasing sounds familiar. I realize Smith describes the husband as a Dutchman but the account uses the word Dutch five times including the historically inaccurate statement that the Dutch settled Middleton. The New Netherland Project website comments that “most histories of early colonial America either dismiss New Netherland in a few lines or rely on English sources, which portray the Dutch colony from an adversary's viewpoint.” Therefore, it is difficult to know which histories to trust, such as the next example.

Edwards, 1790
The third written record is my favorite description despite its inaccuracies, Morgan Edwards’s 1790 Materials Towards a History of the Baptists, repeated by Benedict in 1813 and Nathan Stout in 1823 and Mayes around 1890 where I first read it: “Mrs. Stout was born in Amsterdam, about the year 1602 (sic). Her father's name was Vanprinces. She and her first husband (whose name is not known) sailed for New York (then New Amsterdam) about the year 1620 (sic).” Notice that here the Dutch name belonged to her father, not her husband. Therefore, the common practice of calling the husband Vanprinces appears to mistakenly combine Smith’s description of Penelope as “wife of a young Dutchman” with Edwards’s “her father’s name was Vanprinces.”

Other versions
Nathan Hale Streets’s version in 1897 quotes Benedict as saying “her father's name was Vanprincis” with the “is” ending.

In 1916 John Stillwell  quotes Mrs. Seabrook in calling her ancestor “Penelope van Prince.”

I have heard that Kent or Lent is the traditional maiden name for Penelope, perhaps from a newspaper article at the Spy House Museum Complex in Port Monmouth, New Jersey. As far as I can tell, Deborah Crawford invented the maiden name of Thompson in her book Four Women in a Violent Time.

Is Vanprincis a real name?
I believe that Vanprinces is the result of “dutchifying” the English surname Prince to be better fit the story that Penelope and her first husband sailed from Amsterdam. If her descendants can’t remember the guy’s first name, how much should we trust their memory of the last name? Other commentators have pointed out that “van,” meaning “from,” and thus should refer to a place as the German “von” does. But no one has found such a Dutch place like “Princes” to be from.

Searching WorldConnect database
I searched in the WorldConnect databases and found numerous records for Vanprincis (60), van Princis (446), Vanprinces (17), van Princes (212), Vanprincess (11), van Princess (229),  Vanprincen (1), van Princen (53), Vanprincin (22), van Princin (143), Vanprince (16 plus 2 obvious errors) and van Prince (35 including some errors). Every valid record (except a Martin van Buren Prince sometimes listed as Martin Van Prince) referred to either Penelope, her first husband or her father. I feel sure that other genealogy repositories will produce the same results. If this were a real name there would be other relatives, as occurs for the name van Prins (16 different Dutch names in 39 records after 1764).

A Challenge to Researchers
Here is my challenge as to whether Vanprinces or Vanprincis is a valid name. Find another person in 17th century Holland with that name. What the heck--in the history of the world with that surname.

Real Dutch Surnames
I found a Dutch website purported to determine the frequency of Dutch surnames:  http://www.meertens.knaw.nl/nfb/   Using the Google translator, I chose the “starts with” option for “van prin” and got a couple of hits for "van Prinsenbeek" and “van Prinsenhof” and several for Her Royal Highnesses because Queen Juliana of Holland had four daughters and “prinses” translates to “princess.” I still think Penelope marrying a baron is cute fiction but poor genealogy. But no hits for the Dutch versions of Prince that I have discussed.

The Question
The question boils down to which is the more plausible source for the surname of Penelope’s first husband: A) a contemporary legal document or B) family stories decades after her death, which disagree with each other, some assigning a non-Dutch Dutch name to Penelope’s husband and some to her father.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

Sponsored by Jim's website  and the book Penelope: A Novel of New Amsterdam


  1. Family names are very dynamic throughout the ages! When one realizes that many of our "old world" ancestors were illiterate and the village clergy who registered the christenings, marriages and deaths were also not very well educated family names were often recored by how they sounded. While searching for my father's German roots I discovered THREE different spellings for the same name. After the family arrived in the USA in the 1850s the name eventually changed to it's current spelling. The pronunciation also changed to a more English sounding name. So I can understand the many "morphs" of Penelope's presumed last name before she married Richard Stout.

    My guess is that Penelope's last name when she made her fateful voyage was "Prince" - which is an English surname. Just like my father's family name was "Anglicized", Penelope's name was made to look and sound Dutch.

  2. Here's an interesting article on the English name "Prince"

  3. A lot of romantic silliness will often seep into a family history. Similar romantic notions slipped into my mother's family line and the romantic notions from the Willett side merged with the Penelope Stout story and Penelope's name was lost in the retellings I grew up hearing. Penelope was born almost 400 years ago. For someone whom little is really known, descendants naturally filled in the blanks. So some 400 years later the lines between fiction and fact are hopelessly blurred. Jim, you are to be commended for publishing the timeline on your website, but in the interest of keeping fact and fiction separate, please include the timeline in the next printing of your book.

  4. Lydia Gaebe Bishop suggested the spelling variant "Prins" for the first husband's surname. WorldConnect gave 13,000 hits on this name and a spot check showed 100% Dutch first names. Lydia makes the plausible suggestion that the first husband was a Dutchman named "Prins."

  5. My interest in Stout is a mind boggling one. When our O'Neal, O'Neill, O'Neil did a DNA in 2007, we thought we would get a good response. Well, we did. About 8 Stouts came back as the closest matches. We can only go back to 1882 on Harry Joseph O'Neil. We assume he was born about 1860. dad met him as a young boy, one time. He said he had a heavy accent.So, i can understand the frustration and wonder about Penelope's family. I have written all the Stouts, and only one came back with a possibility. We have been searching for years, so you can imagine our surprise that NO O;Neal's came back, but a load of Stouts. There is no question our O'Neal is not from Harry Joseph's side. He had only one son we know of, and he named him Henry Daniel O'Neal. Since that name does not appear in his wife's family, we concur it is from his side. ---Mary

  6. Unfortunately, with nothing recorded we will never know. I think it is interesting that you found no mention of a "Penelope" in any of the Dutch marriage records during that time. Was this marriage not recorded or were they married somewhere else? The fact that you found something that states her father's name was VanPrincis takes me back 10-15 years when I first discovered Penelope. The fact that her father was a "Baron" I never even took as serious but I often wondered if that could have been his first name but I never looked to see if there were any Dutch names that sounded anything like Baron. I think i might look into that. I have always thought her maiden name could have been something that sounded similar to Princes, remember she would have spoken with a heavy accent.

    Another thing, using ancestry.com I have found marriage records to Richard stout some list her as Penelope Prince some list her as Penelope Kent. I think one says wid. after her name, I don't have that accessable right now, but I will check.

    And, with no marriage record in the Netherlands or England I have always wondered if she was married before she travelled, was she sent here to marry, was he someone she met on the ship? Thomas Applegate, at one time, was mentioned as an uncle, was she sent to live with him?

    Sorry, I didn't mean to ramble on..I just start thinking about all of this and can't stop. LOL

  7. No wonder the dates in Edwards 1790 document are historically inaccurate. At that time no one in America knew when the Dutch settled New Amsterdam because the Dutch records had not been organized or studied. In 1814 New York State first hired a "memorialist" to organize and translate the records. In 1839 New York State hired an agent to scour the archives of Holland, England and France to discover relevant documents. Among the documents Mr. Brodhead found was the report of the purchase of Manhattan in 1626 for sixty guilders.

  8. Here are my notes on the subject of the surname Prinse:

    It is often claimed that the surname of Penelope's first husband was “van Princes” (sometimes "van Princin" or "van Prinzen" with various researchers giving him first names: "Kent van Princes" or "Jan VanPrincin"). These particulars seem to be made up. I find no record anywhere of any person with the surname "van Prinses" or any similar spelling. It seems more likely that the "van" is simple an affix added by tradition and that the name was simple Prins, Prence or Princin. (And here I should mention that, in German (and to a lesser degree in Dutch) an "in" is often added to the end of a surname of a married woman to denote such--in this way, in some record the married name of a woman named Houpt would read Houpt(in) or Houpt-in and Streib would be read Streib(in)or Streib-in. And so, if this foreign tradition was used and someone transcribed the name from some old records as "Princin", perhaps the maiden name we should be looking for is actually "Prins"!)

    The only place I found Penelope's name in any primary record (a court case in September 1648 at Gravesend, Long Island), her name was written "Prince."

    The surname(s) Prins, Prince, Prinz, Prince and Prence are found in Holland about 1600 (as well as in England), and the name means the same in both languages--Prince (as in a royal son). I found mention of people with the surname Prince living in the Dutch province of Zeeland as late as the mid-1900. I found no person with the surname Kent or Lent in 17th century Holland. And it is also well to point out that "van" or "von" as an affix in a name mean "of" or "from" and so van Prins would refer to a place from where the family came; however I can find no place by that name in Holland excepting two locations near the city of Breda, in North Brabant, "Prinsenbeek" and "Princenhage."

    Some people named Prince (var.) in early colonial America:
    The "Swedish Governor" mentioned in 1647 records of New Netherlands, was "Johan Prins", residing on the "South River." Johan Björnsson Printz (1592-1663) served as the Governor of New Sweden (on the lower Delaware River) from 1643 to 1653. He married first Elizabeth von Boche abt. 1622; as for children, he had five daughters and one son (the son and his first wife presceeded him in death); his second wife was Maria von Linnestau; Gov. Prinz returned to Sweden in 1653, but at least one daughter remained in America (Armegott Prinz m. Johan Papegoja, who served as the next Gov. of New Sweden).

    Thomas Prence--sometimes "Prince" (1599-1673), born say in Lechlade, Gloucestershire, England, arrived in Plymouth Colony in 1623. He married Patience Brewster (Mayflower passenger) 15 Aug 1624 at Plymouth (Colony), Plymouth County, MA. Thomas Prence served as Governor of Plymouth Colony, being elected 5 June 1638. Thomas Prence was elected Governor again 3 June 1657. He died 29 Mar 1673 at Eastham, Barnstable County, MA and is buried at Burial Hill, Plymouth, Plymouth County, MA. His probate, including a complete inventory, was recorded April 23, 1673: Plymouth Colony Wills 3:60-70, #P205.

    New York's "Beaver Street" was, in the 1660s, called "Princen Straet" and was the location of the de Forest Brewery at that time, and also where the residence of Phillips Du Trieux stood.
    We also have this description in the 1650s: "... there was the Prinsen Gracht, a canal thoroughfare made by fixing up a ditch at right angles to Broad Street, where Beaver Street now runs to its terminus in Pearl Street. There lived about seventeen families, that of Jacob Kip, the town secretary, among them. Towards the west, Beaver Street was also made into a canal street, called Bever Straat." (The History of New York State, Book II, Chapter II, Part V --Dr. James Sullivan, Ed.)

  9. Because two of the main canals in Amsterdam (Holland) were named Herrengracht (Gentlemen's Canal)and Prinsengracht (Princes' Canal), I would not attach any significance to a Prinsen Gracht in New Amsterdam.

  10. The following 1926 reference proposes Kent or Lent as Penelope's maiden name and von Printzen for her husband's name. Does anyone know of an earlier reference for these specific names?
    pg 134 and 205: Stout, Richard and Penelope Kent or Lent (Widow of von Printzen), 1634-5
    pg 220: Van Priness, Penelope (widow) and Richard Stout, 1663, New York City.
    Clemens, William Montgomery. American Marriage Recods before 1699. Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, 1926. Reprinted 2007.

  11. I have been intrigued by the story of Penelope and even more interested in the variations of surnames for her. I am a direct descendant through her son Benjamin. With the help of ancestry.com , I believe I have found some answers. Penelope was named after not only her mother, but also her maternal grandmother. H
    I have found her parents are Baron Jan Van Princis (1595-1650) and Penelope Kent (1601-1698). Her grandparents are Thomas Van Prinzen (1560-1594), Jean Van Quellen (?), Mynheer Kent (1572-?), and Penelope Thompson (1572-1630).

  12. Please provide your original sources on her parents and grandparents so we can verify this because Ancestry repeats a lot of junk data. In my experience, anything about Baron Van Princis is suspect but I'll keep an open mind.