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In Quest of My Jamestown Immigrant Ancestor
By Emily Pritchard Cary

     Thomas Pritchard arrived in Jamestown in 1620. Nearly four centuries later, Art Fakes, a Chicago lawyer, has broken through the time barrier and pinpointed the probable Welsh origin of our mutual ancestor.

     Virginia records indicate that Thomas was one of twelve carpenters recruited by the London Company to erect shelters for the settlers colonizing this part of the New World. Once his services were completed, he focused on the rigorous task of establishing himself in a verdant land fraught with unknown dangers and physical challenges. 

     Each generation moved several miles forward through the Northern Neck, from Gloucester, Richmond, Westmoreland, King George, and Stafford Counties until 1741 when Thomas’s great-grandson Christopher received a large Lord Fairfax grant in the wilderness of Northern Virginia’s Prince William County, a portion that eventually fell under Loudoun County jurisdiction.

     Five generations of Pritchards had called Virginia home when another Thomas married Rachel Davis, whose family was newly arrived in Loudoun County from Cardigan, Wales. Was he able to share his family’s stories of a common heritage, or had memories of the Welsh homeland already faded?

     Certainly by the time descendants of the immigrant Thomas began recording the family history, overseas      connections had been severed and key details were lost. The few clues confirming his relationship to a specific family in Wales would not be uncovered until the 21st century and the advent of the Internet.

     Utilizing Welsh court records now available online, Art Fakes has narrowed the lineage of Thomas Pritchard of Jamestown to one of two prominent families sharing a common ancestry from Lewis ap Richard Gwyn. (Following the typical 16th century naming pattern, Lewis’s name identifies him as the son of Richard and grandson of Gwyn.) When the Welsh adopted the English usage of surnames, ap (son of) Richard evolved into Prichard and/or Pritchard. 

     Both Prichard families lived in what was then Glamorganshire, South Wales, one at Llancaiach Fawr Manor near Caerphilly, the other at Llanover in what is today part of Newport, a city eight miles east of Cardiff.

     Llancaiach Fawr Manor was established by David Prichard, great-great grandson of Lewis ap Richard Gwyn. David had three sons: Edward, William, and Thomas, the youngest.

     Edward Prichard, David’s cousin, held property in Llanover that is now spread throughout Newport’s residential area. Edward, too, had a third and youngest son named Thomas.

     Which Thomas Prichard sought his fortune in Virginia?

     Traditionally, the eldest son inherited the family property, the second entered the military, and the third learned a trade. Art Fakes believes that Thomas, son of David, is the “Glamorganshire gentleman who studied at Gloucester Hall in Oxford, graduating with a B.A. in May of 1599.” In 1620, that Thomas would have been in his 40s’s, rather old to begin life anew in Virginia. Instead, he became a clergyman. Documents show that he was rector of Michaelston in Glamorgan in 1617, the Archdeacon of Llandaff in 1626, and a canon of Hereford in 1636.

     This leaves Thomas, youngest son of Edward, as the sole candidate for our immigrant ancestor. Art Fakes believes that the facts bear out because Edward was a landlord. By helping his father build and refurbish homes for his tenants, Thomas would have had ample opportunity to practice and perfect carpentry and masonry skills before joining the London Company and sailing to Virginia.

     Not until primary sources in the Loudoun County Court House confirmed my relationship to the Davis family from Cardigan did I begin searching for my Welsh roots. In 1985, my husband and I first traveled there, initiating what has become an annual journey filled with surprising discoveries. 

     During one of our early visits to Wales, we stayed in Newport at the suggestion of an acquaintance there. While walking from our hotel to the nearby Roman ruins at Caerleon, we passed Christ Church, portions of which date back to the 16th century. Built on high grounds, its extensive cemetery contains one gravestone after another bearing the surnames Prichard and Pritchard. We now realize that those buried there were members of Edward Prichard’s Llanover line. 

     Time and modern development have altered the Newport and Cardiff countryside. Land that once belonged to Edward Prichard of Llanover has been parceled off to make way for homes and industries.

     Llancaiach Fawr Manor, however, estate of his cousin David, is nestled in the same picturesque rural setting it enjoyed five hundred years ago. Upon learning that it was restored in 1990 to its original grandeur by the Caerphilly County Borough Council, we traveled there this past summer. It is very likely that our immigrant ancestor Thomas was a guest there upon occasion. 

     As in many families, given names are repeated in both Prichard lines from generation to generation. Thomas, Edward, William and David are found frequently. At the time Thomas, son of Edward of Llanover, was learning the trade of carpentry, his cousin Edward, eldest son of David of Llancaiach, was learning to manage his father’s estate. David died in 1630, willing his manor to his son Edward. Because Thomas of Llanover was not in line to inherit property upon his father’s death, it is not surprising that he sailed to Virginia in 1620 to seek his own fortune. 

     While Thomas was buying and selling Northern Neck acreage, Edward Prichard was torn between his Puritan faith and loyalty to the crown. When the Civil War erupted in 1642,  Edward pledged his support to Charles Stuart, King Charles I, and was promptly appointed as Commissioner of Array. This gave him the responsibility of raising money for the king and authorized him to seize the land of known Parliamentarians. For his allegiance to the King, he was given the title of Colonel.

     Three years later, Colonel Edward Prichard thought better of the situation and switched his support from Charles Stuart to the powerful Oliver Cromwell. For this change of heart, he was immediately made Governor of Cardiff Castle and was named as a member of both the Glamorgan Parliamentary Committee and the Commission for the Propagation of the Gospel. In 1646, he successfully defended Cardiff Castle when it was besieged by Royalists and played a significant role at the Battle of St. Fagans.

     Colonel Edward Prichard died in 1655 with no direct heir, thereby ending family ownership of Llancaiach Fawr Manor. 

     Today, after considerable archaeological excavation and restoration, Llancaiach Fawr Manor and Visitor Center is a museum and education center, a popular destination during weekdays for teachers and their students investigating life in the 16th and 17th centuries. Each weekend is devoted to cultural events. The busy schedule includes music concerts, open air theatre, dance programs, horticulture events, apple and cider fairs, Christmas wassail parties, architectural tours, and animal shows. Easily accessible by railroad, bus, and major highways, it is located near the village of Nelson, about five miles north of Caerphilly Castle where knights joust daily and the ghostly “Brown Lady” walks by night.

     Visitors to the Llancaiach Fawr Manor house enter a time capsule and travel back to 1640. Upon entering, they present a certificate of identification to the Steward, the most important servant. This position was reserved for an educated man with a knowledge of law.

     Upon gaining the Steward’s approval, guests are then guided around the property by servants (local people playing roles), who speak both Welsh and English. 

     During Edward’s lifetime, his many servants would have spoken Welsh, but some in higher status positions, such as the housekeeper, the agent, and the valet, would have been fluent in English, as well. These positions were passed down from father to son and mother to daughter. The lesser posts, outside workers, would be hired on the annual Labor Day.

     Today’s “servants” speak in the dialect of the times, referring in awe to the “New World” and professing no knowledge of Great Britain outside their narrow experience and “tidings from London.” In the kitchen, they explain the food preparation and local sources of the meat and fish. Outdoors, they lead visitors through the orchards and various gardens where fruit, herbs, and vegetables were - and still are - grown. They chat about their daily routines, the numerous games and forms of entertainment enjoyed by both family and servants, and the on-going political strife. 

     The three-story manor house and the stables are constructed of stone with slate roofs. The main entry off the porch is on the lowest story, which also accommodates the kitchen, storage rooms, wine cellar, laundry, still room, and servants’ hall. Stairs from the entry lead up to the Great Hall. It was used as the formal dining area (King Charles I dined here on August 5, 1645), as a courtroom for the trying of minor cases, and as a dance hall.

     Adjacent to the Great Hall is the Steward’s room, where he managed the entire manor and its finances. Beyond are an oak-paneled parlor, the master’s bed chamber, the south bed chamber, the guest bed chamber, and Colonel Prichard’s study.

     The study, its two walls of bookcases filled with publications of the times, is unique for the pigeon loft that once served as a source of fresh meat. Most landowners housed their pigeons in cotes. While there are glass windows throughout the house, the study boasts one that opens to let in fresh air, a rarity at that time in history. 

     The privy closet, or toilet, off each of the bed chambers is a luxury only the gentry enjoyed. Overnight guests arrived with at least one servant who slept adjacent to them on a truckle bed mounted on wheels and stored under the guest bed when not in use. The third floor attics provided sleeping quarters for the servants and additional storage areas. 

     Outdoors, one wanders through walled formal gardens planted as they would have been in the early 17th century. A boxwood maze in its infancy features geometric patterns made from the combination of the hedges and colored gravel. Beyond the gardens and lawn - once kept neat by many workers cutting with hand shears - are a barn and stables sufficiently ample to house many horses and carriages. The farm fields stretching behind the outbuildings back up to the main road that today is paved. Turning around, one admires rolling hills where sheep graze. The more distant hills are topped by deciduous trees that turn glorious colors in the autumn.

     The Visitor Center adjacent to the manor house has an exhibition area, a formal restaurant, catering facilities, gift shop, classrooms, and an archaeological laboratory where students were working the day we arrived. The opening of the manor to the public about ten years ago was preceded by extensive archaeological research that is still underway. China shards, coins, toys, early hearths, glass, and folk objects to discourage witches are regularly uncovered.

     Fear of witches is not surprising. Among the family’s books are many dealing with the supernatural. The servants who took us around emphasized that Llancaiach Fawr is regarded as one of the prime haunted houses in Wales. Phantom children can frequently be seen and heard playing on the stairs. There is a spectral figure of a woman - perhaps one of the numerous wives who died young during childbirth - in a flowing white gown, and a male figure wearing a cloak and a tall hat who often strolls between the house and the stable. Because the servant guides are all in costume, he is sometimes thought to be one of them. Only when he is approached does he disappear into thin air, an ephemeral memory of the long, long ago. 


© 2006 Emily Pritchard Cary. All Rights Reserved. 


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