was an American clergyman, scholar and historian noted for his historical text A Chronological History of New England, in the Form of Annals
. Called 'an American pioneer in scientific historical writing', Prince influenced historians such as Jeremy Belknap
Jeremy Belknap was an American clergyman and historian. His great achievement was the "History of New Hampshire", published in three volumes between 1784 and 1792. This work is the first modern history written by an American, embodying a new rigor in research, annotation, and reporting.Jeremy was...
and Thomas Hutchinson, and his Annals
was still being used as a reference text as late as 1791.
Early life, education and travels
He was the fourth child of Samuel Prince Esq. and Mercy Hinkley, and entered Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...
in 1703, graduating in 1707 with a B.A. While at Harvard his interest in books was sparked after he "chanced in my leisure Hours to read Mr. Chamberlain's Account of the Cottonian Library: Which excited in me a Zeal of laying hold on every Book, Pamphlet, and Paper, both in Print and Manuscript which are either written by persons who lived here, or that have any Tendency to enlighten our History" and began the formation of his "New England Library". After graduation he began teaching at Sandwich
Sandwich is a town in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 20,675 at the 2010 census. The Town Hall is located right next to the Dexter Grist Mill, in the historic district of town....
while working on his M.A
A Master of Arts from the Latin Magister Artium, is a type of Master's degree awarded by universities in many countries. The M.A. is usually contrasted with the M.S. or M.Sc. degrees...
, which was granted in absentia
in 1710 a year after he had begun travelling. He spent 2 years travelling to places such as the West Indies and Madeira
Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago that lies between and , just under 400 km north of Tenerife, Canary Islands, in the north Atlantic Ocean and an outermost region of the European Union...
before travelling to England in 1711 and preaching in Coombes
Coombes is a hamlet and civil parish in the Adur District of West Sussex, England. The village is in the Adur Valley northwest of Shoreham-by-Sea....
. While in England he gathered texts on the subject of early American history, hoping to write a book on the topic, but looking after the church and local citizens did not leave him enough time to do so. He returned to Boston in 1717, homesick, and and traveled with Deborah and her brother Samuel Denny, members of the congregation at Coombes. He married Deborah on October 30, 1719; they had four daughters and a son. He was ordained as a minister on October 1, 1718 by Dr. Joseph Sewell, and became the pastor for Old South Church
The Old South Meeting House , in the Downtown Crossing area of Boston, Massachusetts, gained fame as the organizing point for the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773. 5,000 colonists gathered at the Meeting House, the largest building in Boston at the time.-Church :The church, with its 56 m ...
, a position he retained until his death.
A Chronological History of New England, in the Form of Annals
In 1728 Prince began work on a A Chronological History of New England, in the Form of Annals
, a history of New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...
beginning with the 6th day of creation
The Genesis creation narrative describes the divine creation of the world including the first man and woman...
. He became interested in such a project after, during his travels, he found 'the want of a regular history of this country everywhere complained of' and in an effort to preserve the contents of various texts, some of which by then had already been destroyed. This was such a momentous project that it took him until 1736 to finish the first volume, which covered events up to September 7, 1630 and had to be cut short after the publisher informed him that the book was becoming too large to be effectively published. The volume had poor sales, which is attributed to the lack of need for a text of such detail at that time and the lack of interest in a text 'written for a higher purpose than to amuse its reader'. Despite the lack of interest in the text Prince continued to work as a second volume, releasing it in three parts going up to 1633, each costing sixpence. Due to lack of further interest in the text this format was discontinued. Prince's work is noted for its accuracy, with Prince saying that “I cite my vouchers to every passage, and I have done my utmost, first to find out the truth, and then to relate it in the clearest order. I have laboured after accuracy; and yet I dare not say that I am without mistake; nor do I desire the reader to conceal any he may possibly find.”
As a clergyman
Prince was a noted preacher, presenting a sermon at his own ordination which was said to be "a wonderful production." He was given several offers from various churches in New England apon his return, but chose to settle in Boston regardless. In the 1740s he was a great supporter of the First Great Awakening
The First Awakening was a Christian revitalization movement that swept Protestant Europe and British America, and especially the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s, leaving a permanent impact on American religion. It resulted from powerful preaching that gave listeners a sense of personal...
, inviting George Whitefield
George Whitefield , also known as George Whitfield, was an English Anglican priest who helped spread the Great Awakening in Britain, and especially in the British North American colonies. He was one of the founders of Methodism and of the evangelical movement generally...
to preach in Boston in September 1740. In an age of increasing religious skepticism, Prince attempted to reconcile scientific theories with orthodox theology, evident in writings such as Earthquakes the Works of God, & Tokens of His Just Displeasure
and An Account of a Strange Appearance in the Heavens
, a description of the Aurora Borealis he witnessed while in England.
He created the Christian History
, a periodical in 1743 to report on the revivals sweeping Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...
and the United States, with his son Thomas Prince Jr. acting as editor, although the periodical only ran for two years. The publication is notable as the first such Christian periodical to be created. In 1743 he wrote An Account of the Revival of Religion in Boston in the Years 1740-1-2-3
, an account of the revival of Christianity in Boston linked in part to his support of the Great Awakening.
As well as the obvious collection of books, Thomas Prince also left an intellectual legacy. Dr. Charles Chaucy, a frequent idealogical opponent of Prince, said after his death that "He possessed all the intellectual powers in a degree far beyond what is common. He may be justly characterized as one of our great men ... [and] deserves to be remembered with honour." His reliance on primary sources and meticulous checks of factual accuracy also makes his Annals
a key historical work, one which is still in print today.
The town of Princeton, Massachusetts
Princeton is a town in Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States.It is bordered on the east by Sterling and Leominster, on the north by Westminster, on the northwest by Hubbardston, on the southwest by Rutland, and on the southeast by Holden....
was named after Prince due to his high standing within the local community and his ownership of part of the land used to form the town, which was given to him in 1727 as part of the will of Cyprian Stevens; the Thomas Prince School, a school within the town, is also named after him. A printing company named after him (the Prince Association) was also formed in 1858.
The Prince Society
The Prince Society or Prince Society for Mutual Publication in Boston, Massachusetts, published "rare works, in print or manuscript, relating to America." It was named after Thomas Prince...
(est.1858), described in "The Cambridge History of English and American Literature" as "one of the most honoured of American historical organizations" is also named after him.
- An Account of a Strange Appearance in the Heavens - 1717
- "Account of the English Ministers at Martha's Vineyard" - 1727
- Earthquakes the Works of God, & Tokens of His Just Displeasure - 1727
- "A Sermon on the Death of Cotton Mather" - 1728
- "Memoirs" - 1731
- The Vade Mecum for America: or, A Companion for Trades and Travellers (travel guide) - 1731
- Chronological History of New England, in the Form of Annals. Boston: Printed by Kneeland & Green for Samuel Gerrish
Samuel Gerrish was a bookseller and publisher in Boston, Massachusetts, in the 18th century. He kept a shop "near the brick meeting house in Cornhill," and published works by Thomas Prince and others. He married Mary Sewall in 1709; children included Samuel Gerrish .-Published by Gerrish:* Thomas...
- "A Thanksgiving Sermon occasioned by the Capture of Louisburg" - 1745
- "Earthquakes of New England" - 1751
- "The New England Psalm-Book, Revised and Improved" - 1758
- Prince's library now resides in the Boston Public Library