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JOHN PRESCOTT, THE FOUNDER OF LANCASTER.
1603 TO 1682.
By HON. HENRY S. NOURSE.
The facts that have come down to us whereupon to build a biography of John Prescott are scanty indeed, but enough to prove that he was that rare type of man, the ideal pioneer. Not one of those famous frontiersmen, whose figures stand out so prominently in early American history, was better equipped with the manly qualities that win hero worship in a new country, than was the father of the Nashaway Plantation. Had Prescott like Daniel Boone been fortunate in the favor of contemporary historians, to perpetuate anecdotes of his daily prowess and fertility of resource, or had he had grateful successors withal to keep his memory green, his name and romantic adventures would in like manner adorn Colonial annals. Persecuted for his honest opinions, he went out into the wilderness with his family to found a home, and for forty years thought, fought and wrought to make that home the centre of a prosperous community. Loaded from his first step with discouragements, that soon appalled every other of the original co-partners in the purchase of Nashaway from Showanon, Prescott alone, tenax propositi, held to his purpose, and death found him at his post. His grave is in the old “burial field” at Lancaster, yet not ten citizens can point it out. Over it stands a rude fragment from some ledge of slate rock, faintly incised with characters which few eyes can trace:
No date! no comment! That is his only memorial stone; his only epitaph in the town of which, for its first forty years, he was the very heart and soul, and for which he furnished a large share of the brains. This fair township—now divided among nine towns—and all it has been and is and is to be may be justly called his monument. The house of Deputies in 1652 voted it to be rightly his, and marked it by incorporative enactment with his honored and honorable name, Prescott. Unfortunately, however, some years before he had said something that seemed to favor Doctor Robert Child’s criticisms of the Provincial system of taxation without representation; criticisms that grew and bore good fruitage when the times were riper for individual freedom; when Samuel Adams and James Otis took up the peoples’ cause where Sir Henry Vane and Robert Child had left it. Therefore when, in 1652, what had been known as the Nashaway Plantation was fairly named for its founder in accordance with the petition of its inhabitants, some one of influence, whether magistrate or higher official, perhaps bethought himself that no Governor of the Colony even had been so honored, and that it might be well, before dignifying this busy blacksmith so much as to name a town for him, to see if he could pass examination in the catechism deemed orthodox at that date in Massachusetts Bay. Alas! John Prescott was not a freeman. Having a conscience of his own, he had never given public adhesion to the established church covenant and was therefore debarred from holding any civil office, and even from the privilege of voting for the magistrates. There was a year’s delay, and, in 1653, “Prescott” was expunged and Lancaster began its history.