Joseph Prewett – Where Are You?

Time flies when you’re stumped. I’ve finally decided it’s time to set aside my family’s research for a short spell. I have lost my focus and am just spinning in circles. So, I turned my attention back to my husband’s family. I think I’ve mentioned before that my mother-in-law is also a hobby genealogist. She has accomplished much with her branches of the family. But her big brick wall is with an ancestor named Joseph Prewett.

Prewett, as with so many surnames, morphs in spelling as it moves through the generations. In the case of Meredith, he used a couple of variations – though we can probably attribute the variations to clerks attempting to use phonetics. All that being said, please forgive me for not being consistent with the spelling.

Meredith Prewit is the father of James Hardin Pruitt. We are very confident in the accuracy of the family research that establishes this connection. James died on 18 April 1917 in Stanford, Lincoln County, Kentucky and his record of death names his mother as Martha Drain. We find a record of marriage to support this. Meredith “Prewit” (but left an unclear signature that could be Pruitt or Prewitt) married Martha Drain on 10 August 1829 in Washington County, Kentucky. Sometimes her surname is spelled Drane. Darn these Kentuckians.

Then, there is the “Pruitt” family bible started by Redmond “Prewett” and his wife, Mary Bland. Redmond was Meredith’s brother. My mother-in-law personally knew the last owner of this bible, a descendant of Redmond, and had the foresight to transcribe the family data and send copies to the DAR library in Washington, D.C. Sadly a flood destroyed this bible some years back, so these transcriptions are all that are left as evidence for some of the assertions made going forward. The Bible ties Redmond and Meredith together as it records the death of Meredith which is corroborated by other public vital records; Meridith Prewitt departed this life July 18th 1855.

Meredith Prewitt is a unique name for a male. So unique, that there are only three that have records in Kentucky. Two are grandfather and grandson; the grandfather being the subject of this posting and the grandson having been born in 1871. The third is a mysterious Meredith H. Prewitt who served in the Civil War, died in 1862, and is buried in Louisville. I have no idea where this third Meredith comes from. When we widen our search to Virginia, we find a couple more men who either ended up in Missouri, were born much later than our subject, or come from an older branch out of Virginia. And that is how few men named Meredith Prewett (of any spelling) there are.

Many researchers name various parents for Meredith and don’t associate Redmond as his brother. They do not publicly offer supporting sources, and seem to make the connection based on a lack of possibilities, or by using a process of elimination. It is a good strategy and is one that I have used in my own research. Normally I would go right along with the logic; however, in the case of Meredith, the bible disputes all the various public trees asserting these theories. In the bible, Redmond records his father’s death; Joseph Prewitt, father departed this life December 20th 1844. He also recorded his mother; Polly Prewitt, mother departed this life July the 10th 1844.

Using the Bible entries and what records are available online a timeline emerges:

Simplified timeline for Meredith Prewett

What the records that make up this timeline tells us is that Meredith and Redmon consistently used the surname variation of Prewett (give or take a letter variation) over Pruitt. Even the Bible uses the “Prewett” variation. We also see that they did not move from Washington County to Marion County. Instead, their residence change was made based on county line changes. This tells us that they lived for quite a long time in the same location and it provides the clue to include Washington County in my search for Joseph. This is just a starting point since what records we have do not give us the birthplaces of Meredith or Redmon, nor the death place of Joseph and Polly.

So, I consulted early tax records for Washington County, and I looked in the census for Joseph’s in all of Kentucky’s counties before 1830. Here is what it uncovered…

Extended timeline including known Joseph’s. Note that I originally did not find an 1810 or 1820 Washington County Joseph, the table was finding him upon a re-search of the records (I think I used FamilySearch one time and Ancestry the second time – funny what the differences are between the two).

You probably are thinking the same thing I was thinking. Joseph who paid taxes in Washington and Marion County is probably Meredith and Redmon’s father! But is it?

I pulled the string further on this Joseph. He always lived nearer to the younger Allen, who also paid taxes in Washington and Marion County. If we assume the order that people were entered onto the tax rolls indicates the order they paid, then we see also that Joseph and Allen paid taxes closer in time together. I suspect them to be father and son due to age differences from corresponding census. However, if you pay close attention to the table above, you would see that this Joseph “appears” to be widowed by 1830 as he is living alone except for one 11 year old enslaved male.  He is last identified in Marion County in 1834 when he paid taxes…and then disappears. Allen sticks around, but disappears himself after his last tax payment in 1837.

What about Mercer County Joseph? Mercer County borders Washington County on the east. In 1840, there was still a man named Joseph who lived utterly alone. But…I have the same problem with this Joseph as I do with the Marion County Joseph. He appears to be widowed by 1840. And like the Marion County Joseph, he always has the right number of sons in the right age brackets. It is unfortunate to take this into consideration, but what makes Mercer County Joseph a less likely candidate is that they did not own enslaved people (not according to census). Both Meredith and Redmon did, as did Marion County Joseph, and Martha Drain’s family.

Circling back to Polly (or Mary, or Martha), I asked myself, why wouldn’t Polly be represented by a tick-mark in the 1840 census with either Joseph’s? What if…Polly was living with one of her children in 1840? Had she become so infirmed as to need more round-the-clock care than Joseph could provide (both candidates were living alone in 1840)? Pfft. No help, as this still leaves two possible candidates.

Wait, I had three candidates! No dice with #3. I ruled out Shelby County Joseph. This man consistently spelled his name Pruit (give or take variation with a single letter) and never had the right number of sons in the early census.

Next step…conduct a more close analysis of tax records (locations, original owners, etc.) and see what DNA matching has to offer. Stay tuned…


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