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An excerpt from archives copyright 2000 - 2016

The name Prentis has a history dating as far back as the Anglo-Saxon tribes of Britain. It was a name for a student in a craft; an apprentice having derived from the Old English word aprentis, which meant "learner of a craft." In the Middle Ages, workers and tradesmen didn't learn occupations in school. Instead, they would find an accomplished master of the craft and learn it directly from them in return for free labor during the period of apprenticeship. This is not an occupational surname for apprenticeship is not an occupation per se. It is instead how a person would learn an occupation. Often, the surname was recorded of people who had long finished their apprenticeships, and therefore could not be called one anymore. Instead, they were given the name for exhibiting typical characteristics of an apprentice: clumsiness, eagerness, and other characteristics of callow youth even into their adulthood.


The surname Prentis was first found in Essex where they held a family seat from early times and their first records appeared on the early census rolls taken by the early Kings of Britain to determine the rate of taxation of their subjects.

Spelling variations in names were a common occurrence before English spelling was standardized a few hundred years ago. In the Middle Ages, even the literate spelled their names differently as the English language incorporated elements of French, Latin, and other European languages. Many variations of the name Prentis have been found, including Prentice, Prentis, Prentiss, Prentisse and others.


This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Prentis research. Another 317 words (23 lines of text) covering the year 1327 is included under the topic Early Prentis History in all our PDF Extended History products.


More information is included under the topic Early Prentis Notables in all our PDF Extended History products.


Some of the Prentis family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt. Another 141 words (10 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products.


Families began migrating abroad in enormous numbers because of the political and religious discontent in England. Often faced with persecution and starvation in England, the possibilities of the New World attracted many English people. Although the ocean trips took many lives, those who did get to North America were instrumental in building the necessary groundwork for what would become for new powerful nations. Some of the first immigrants to cross the Atlantic and come to North America bore the name Prentis, or a variant listed above:

Prentis Settlers in United States in the 17th Century

  • Thomas Prentis, who landed in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1652

Prentis Settlers in United States in the 18th Century

  • John Prentis, who arrived in New London, Conn in 1746

Prentis Settlers in United States in the 19th Century

  • James William Prentis, who landed in Mississippi in 1896
  • Frank Arnold Prentis, aged 27, arrived in Hancock County, Miss in 1898


  • Joseph Prentis (1754-1809), American politician from Virginia, he represented Williamsburg in the Virginia House of Delegates, Speaker of the House from 1786 until 1788
  • Robert R. Prentis (1855-1931), American politician, Mayor of Suffolk, Virginia from 1883 to 1885, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia
  • John Prentis, American politician, Mayor of Williamsburg, Virginia from 1759 to 1760
  • Dave Prentis (b. 1950), English General Secretary of UNISON, the United Kingdom's largest trade union


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  1. Leeson, Francis L. Dictionary of British Peerages. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1986. Print. (ISBN 0-8063-1121-5).
  2. Thirsk, Joan. The Agrarian History of England and Wales. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 7 Volumes. Print.
  3. Colletta, John P. They Came In Ships. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1993. Print.
  4. MacAulay, Thomas Babington. History of England from the Accession of James the Second 4 volumes. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1879. Print.
  5. Robb H. Amanda and Andrew Chesler. Encyclopedia of American Family Names. New York: Haper Collins, 1995. Print. (ISBN 0-06-270075-8).
  6. The Norman People and Their Existing Descendants in the British Dominions and the United States Of America. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1975. Print. (ISBN 0-8063-0636-X).
  7. Bowman, George Ernest. The Mayflower Reader A Selection of Articales from The Mayflower Descendent. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Print.
  8. Bede, The Venerable. Historia Ecclesiatica Gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History Of the English People). Available through Internet Medieval Sourcebook the Fordham University Centre for Medieval Studies. Print.
  9. Magnusson, Magnus. Chambers Biographical Dictionary 5th edition. Edinburgh: W & R Chambers, 1990. Print.
  10. Marcharn, Frederick George. A Constitutional History of Modern England 1485 to the Present. London: Harper and Brothers, 1960. Print.
  11. ...

The Prentis Family Crest was acquired from the archives. The Prentis Family Crest was drawn according to heraldic standards based on published blazons. We generally include the oldest published family crest once associated with each surname.

This page was last modified on 13 April 2015 at 08:42.

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