Bicentennial Biographies is a not-for-profit radio project designed to raise awareness and increase interest in local history. It is brought to you as a public service by the Chautauqua County Historical Society throughout 2011 to celebrate the county’s 200th birthday. To learn more, visit www.McClurgMuseum.org or contact your local historical society.
It can be said that no other family has had a more significant impact on the early settlement of the Chautauqua Lake Region than that of William Prendergast and his offspring. It’s fascinating, then, to consider that the Prendergast arrival may never have occurred, due to an event 40 years earlier.
The year was 1766 and 39 year-old William Prendergast (born in Ireland), was put on trial in the Hudson Valley, charged with leading an armed revolt against landowners. When it was time for his trial, his 26 year-old Quaker wife – Mehitable Prendergast – assisted in his defense and made a notable impression. However, the jury returned a verdict of “guilty” and William was to be hanged for high treason. But Mehitable refused to give up and she rode on horseback from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan – 80 miles – to beg for his life. Wearing a white dress with blue stripes, the young wife persuaded the governor to issue a stay of execution. King George III eventually issued a full pardon, and William was set free.
Nearly 40 years later the couple and their family headed for Tennessee. In all, 29 persons made up the travel party including all nine of their children. Upon their arrival in the south, they were very dissatisfied with the country and the entire group turned back. They arrived in Erie, Pennsylvania in September 1805 and it was there they resolved to settle in the sparsely populated area of Chautauqua Lake. By the winter the family had purchased 3500 acres of land near Mayville and on the lake. William died on Feb. 14, 1811, at the age of 84. Mehitable soon followed, passing on Sept. 11, 1812 at the age of 74.
For additional reading go the Prendergast and Hunt Cemeteries, featuring information compiled by Edna Ingham and originally published in the Jamestown Journal “Fenton Historical Society Deserted Cemetery Series” – 30 Aug. 1969
– J. Sample