Thomas Pritchard’s arrival at Jamestown in 1620 with the London Company and his subsequent contributions to the settlement of Virginia’s Northern Neck are documented by primary and secondary sources alike on this side of the Atlantic. Still, his origin remains elusive.
Over the years, researchers have pinpointed less than a dozen Pri(t)chard families in England and Wales whose offspring named Thomas are viable candidates for the Virginia immigrant. The two families who best meet the criteria traced their descent from the Prichards of Penrhos Castle in Monmouthshire, Wales. Their line originated with Caradoc Vraich-Vras (520-570 A.D.), founder of the dynasty of princes between the Wye and Severn rivers.
When Penrhos Castle was attacked and destroyed in the Thirteenth Century, the family members spread throughout Monmouthshire and neighboring Glamorganshire. By the time our Thomas was born (between 1592 and 1596, based on official immigration lists), the two key family seats were within twenty miles of one another.
From 1521-1649, Llancaiach Fawr Manor near Caerphilly was home to six Prichard generations. David Prichard (d.1630) and his wife, Mary Carne, were the parents of a Thomas Prichard, whose documented promotions from rector of Michaelston in Glamorgan to canon of Hereford in 1636 remove him from consideration.
In Llanover, four miles south of Abergavenny, St. Bartholomew’s Church served a parallel Prichard line for many generations. A polished brass plate marking their graves beneath the outer wall of the Prichard pew commemorates William Prichard (ca. 1500-1565) and his son Matthew, High Sheriff for Monmouth (ca. 1545-1622).
David’s cousin, Edward Prichard of Cardiff, Glamorganshire, is identified as a landlord and a son of Matthew Prichard. The sources are wills and land purchases found in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, Cardigan and in the Public Record Office Archives of the United Kingdom.
Edward’s will of 1612 names his wife Mary, his eldest son David, his second son Edward, daughters Margaret and Mary, and his third and youngest son Thomas. This Thomas Prichard disappears from local records about the time our Thomas set sail for Virginia.
By tradition, the eldest son in many British and Welsh families inherited the property, the second son entered a profession such as law, and the third son learned a trade. By helping his father build and repair the many houses inhabited by his tenants, this Thomas may well have acquired the carpentry and masonry skills sought by the London Company.
Hoping that the journey to our past is better illuminated by visiting the unique environment that may have firmed an ancestor’s personality and life, my husband and I flew to Wales to visit Llancaiach Fawr Manor. It was restored during the 1990s and is now a museum, archaeology laboratory, and cultural center of Glamorgan.
We returned in May 2009, this time to Llanover in Monmouthshire’s Usk Valley. One of three Welsh villages that are also private estates, it was the seat of William Pritchard’s descendants until the mid-Eighteenth Century. Unlike crumbling Penrhos Castle, most of the buildings within Llanover are well preserved.
The focal point is St. Bartholomew’s Church. Situated near the water where druidic worshipers gathered fourteen centuries ago, its nave dates to about 1150. The tower was added later and the chancel expanded. Two large residences on the estate are Ty Uchaf (upper house) and Curt y Porthir (the court with the long porch), homes of William and Matthew Prichard, respectively. A church booklet cites a legend that another Prichard homestead, Court Farm, had a secret passage leading from the house to the church.
The families residing in Ty Uchaf have always been overseers of the estate, which is comprised of many farms operated by tenants. Each farm has been represented for generations in a church pew bearing its name. The farmhouses scattered throughout the district are attractive and substantially constructed of whitewashed stone. All belonging to Llanover are identified by a distinct border of gray paint around the eaves to avoid confusion with houses on adjacent estates.
Ty Uchaf, built in Georgian colonial style, sits far back from the lane meandering through the village/estate. As we drove past, guided by Jilly Jones, the Vicar’s Warden, a sudden gust of wind disturbed a large drapery hanging across an open second floor window. For a brief moment, it resembled a ghost signaling from the past.
Jilly explained that Benjamin Waddington purchased Llanover Estate in 1792 from the last of the Prichard line. He left it to his daughter Augusta, later known as Lady Llanover. She lived until 1896 and was famous throughout Great Britain for the pedigreed Black Welsh Mountain sheep she raised, prompting the nursery rhyme, “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.” The large flock still bred on the estate is visible from the lane.
Augusta’s husband, Benjamin Hall or Lord Llanover, was a Whig and a Member of Parliament. In 1855, he became London’s first Commissioner for Works. The name “Big Ben” given to the bell in the House of Commons clock tower commemorates Benjamin Hall’s role in the rebuilding of the House of Commons.
While her husband busied himself in politics, Lady Llanover altered local culture patterns. In addition to defying English sentiments by embracing the Welsh language and customs and insisting that her staff and all families on the estate follow suit, she made certain that the estate would be passed down through the female side. Llanover is owned today by her great-great-granddaughter, whose own daughters and granddaughters are destined to inherit it for generations to come, by-passing all males in the line.
During the mid-Nineteenth Century, the St. Bartholomew Church choir was large and famous for the magnificent voices of its members. Welsh composer John Orlando Parry, a frequent guest of Lady Llanover, wrote many songs for the choir, among them a solo harp piece named “Ty Uchaf” in honor of his hostess.
Sadly, the church does not have sufficient membership today to support a choir, although there are two organs, one a small pump type, the other a pipe organ members are trying to preserve from the cold. Because the church’s stone walls are several feet thick and it lacks a central heating system, the indoor temperature on that damp, raw day in early May felt much colder than the outside temperature.
The denomination of the church is Anglican (Church of England). Mrs. Jones told us that it is a favorite of Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, who visited often while serving the Newport diocese. The Prichard family pew is three-sided, considerably larger than those representing the estate farms. The baptismal font in the center is surrounded by needlepoint kneeling pads made by the ladies of the church. Each design represents a line from the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”
The plaque honoring William and Matthew Prichard depicts each standing, dressed in armor, and wearing a sword. They have beards, no head covering, and hold their hands in prayer. Between them is the Pritchard coat-of-arms topped by a dragon’s head holding a hand dripping with blood in its mouth. Other symbols thereon are three towers, three wolves heads, three lions, and three ravens. One cannot help wondering if Matthew’s son Edward and grandson Thomas were present at his burial and sat in that very pew. Because Virginia records indicate that Thomas arrived twice in Jamestown, first in 1620 and again in 1624, it is possible that his return home was precipitated by the death of his grandfather in 1622. Soon after his return, he began buying considerable land in Virginia’s Northern Neck, an indication that he could have come into an inheritance.
An additional Pritchard family crest painted in shades of red, green, blue, black, and silver is mounted high on the nave wall next to Lady Llanover’s coat-of-arms. The Welsh inscription on hers, “Ni ddaw Da o hir arofyn,” means “No good comes of long intending,” or “Actions speak louder than words.”
The chancel centerpiece is a large painting of the Royal Coat of Arms bearing the motto, “Deo et Mon Droit” (God is on my right). Historians conclude that Lady Llanover had it painted between 1816 and 1837 to honor either King George IV or King William IV for bestowing the title upon her. The Arms of Hanover on the escutcheon show the Lion and the Unicorn emerging from the Garter Shield. After her death, it was painted over, but was rediscovered and restored in 1993.
The church tower contains a safe with the names and dates of parish births, marriages, and deaths copied from the crumbling originals. It is unfortunate for Pritchard descendants in America that the earliest baptisms and burial records extant go back only to 1661 and the marriages to 1754. Outside, dozens of early grave headstones have eroded to such an extent that many have only a tiny portion of the Prichard surname legible.
Except for the addition of electricity, little has changed on the Llanover estate since the Prichard line ceased ownership in the late eighteenth century. The bucolic surroundings are exactly as they appeared to the early families.
Despite our fervent pursuit of Thomas Pritchard’s past, we have not yet located the essential primary source confirming that the young man mastering his trade at his father’s side in Glamorgan is identical to the middle-aged “Captain” Thomas Pritchard of Nutmeg Quarter, Warwick County, Virginia who presented a petition to the assembly to unite with Denbeigh Parish and was elected in 1656 to represent Gloucester County in the Virginia House of Burgesses.
And so we are destined to continue wending our way through courthouses, cemeteries, libraries, genealogical publications, and Internet postings for that elusive fragment from the past confirming the irrefutable identity of our immigrant ancestor.