Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Prendergast Gravestones

Gravestone of Penelope Prendergast (1774-1845)
St. George's Anglican Church, St. Catharines, Lincoln, Ontario
Partially hidden by the barberry shrubs that grow in the courtyard cemetery of St George's Anglican Church in St. Catharines, Ontario, is a 19th century gravestone to Penelope and Jedidiah Prendergast. What is unusual about this stone is that there is another stone to Penelope and Jedidiah in the Prendergast Cemetery in Mayville, Chautauqua, New York.

Portrait of Jedidiah Prendergast
St. Catharines Museum
Jedidiah, a physician, was born in Pawling, Dutchess, New York on 13 May 1766. He was the fourth son of William Prendergast (1727-1811) and Mehitable Wing (1738-1812). Jedidiah married Penelope Chase, the daughter of William Chase (1754-1813), a Rhode Island merchant, and Catherine Rodman (? -1789). Penelope was born in Kingston, Washington, Rhode Island in 1774.

The year Jedidiah was born, his father was charged with leading an armed revolt against landowners in the Hudson Valley. When he was found guilty and sentenced to hang, his wife Mehitable rode over 100 kilometres on horseback from to beg the governor for a stay of execution. Eventually, William Prendergast was granted a full pardon by King George III.

Portrait of Penelope Prendergast
St. Catharines Museum
Almost four decades later, William and Mehitable departed New York for Tennessee, accompanied by most of their children and grandchildren. Tennessee was not to their liking, so they headed north to the Chautauqua Lake area of Western New York. It is unclear whether Jedidiah and Penelope went with them. What is know is that Jedidiah moved to Upper Canada and settled at St. Catharines, then know as Shipman's Corners. Jedidiah was the first non-military doctor in the Thorald and St. Catharines area.

When his father died in 1811, Jedidiah rejoined the rest of his family in Chautauqua, and became a merchant in partnership with his brother Martin Prendergast (1769-1835). Jedidiah would eventually go on to become a New York State Senator.

In the few years Jedediah and Penelope had been in Upper Canada they had become acquainted with the Merritt family, including young William Hamilton Merritt (1793-1862). William married Jedidiah’s daughter Catherine Rodman Prendergast (1793-1862) in 1815. William Hamilton Merritt was a soldier, merchant, and politician, and is considered the “father” of the Welland Canal. The numerous letters held at the Archives of Ontario, and the letters published in an 1876 biography, show that William frequently turned to his father-in-law for advice.

Gravestone of Penelope Prendergast (1774-1845)
Prendergast Cemetery, Mayville, Chautauqua, New York
Penelope Chase Prendergast died at St. Catherines on February 1, 1845 during a visit to her daughter and son-in-law, and according to the burial register was interred in the churchyard of St. George’s Anglican three days later. Jedidiah died in 1848 at his home in Mayville, Chautauqua, and was buried at the Prendergast Cemetery. When William Hamilton Merritt erected a gravestone for his mother-in-law at St. George’s, he also decided to commemorate his father-in-law Jedidiah. Apparently, Jedidiah’s relatives in Chautauqua had the same idea.

Drawing of the Prendergast Gravestone from
the 19th Century Tombstone Database Project

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