Pratt


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The Old English praett, meaning trick or cunning, became a nickname for someone who was cunning or played tricks.  The earliest citing of this name was Lefwinus Prat around 1080. 

Pratts Bottom is a village in the London borough of Bromley, on the border with Kent.  Often the butt of jokes, the village was named after the family of Stephen Prat who lived in the valley in the 14th century. 

Some Pratts do not like this derivation and prefer its origin from the latin pratum, meaning a clearing or meadow.

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England.  The Pratt name in early times was mainly to be found in and around East Anglia.   It cropped up later in Devon and in Staffordshire and the Yorkshire dales.

Suffolk  Wilfric Prat was documented in the Seals of Suffolk in 1179.  Walter Pratt of Baldock in Hertfordshire was born in Mildenhall, Suffolk in 1390.  Pratt families were local gentry in Norfolk, at Hockwold from the time of Henry VIII and also at Downham.  Sir Roger Pratt of the latter family, who became a leading architect in Restoration England, built Ryston Hall for his own account in 1672, a manor which has stayed with the family to the present day. Sir Roger also built Coleshill House in Berkshire, the property of Pratts who had become wealthy cloth merchants in London.

Devon  The Pratt name was and is to be found in the west country, in Devon.  One early sighting was in Kentisbeare.  Another Pratt family from this area made it in the legal profession in London, rising to be Earl Camden in the 18th century.

Staffordshire  Thomas Pratt, who died in 1739, started a long line of Pratt potters at Fenton near Stoke. 

Yorkshire  The little village of Askrigg in Wensleydale can boast the 18th century jockey and horse breeder John Pratt and the early 19th century clockmaker James Pratt. 

The Pratt name also cropped up in Swaledale, beginning with Thomas Pratt in 1630.  Poorly educated, these Pratts worked at the Old Gang lead mines on Gunnerside and were converts to Methodism.  However, these mines closed down in the 1840's and the Pratts left the area.  The Rev. John Pratt was posted to Newfoundland in 1873.  His son was the poet, E.J. Pratt.  The family heritage was traced by daughter Claire in her 1971 book The Silent Ancestors: the Forebearers of E.J. Pratt.  

Ireland.  A Pratt family had arrived in Ireland from Leicestershire in 1641 and acquired land in Meath and later in Cavan.  They held onto Cabra castle in county Cavan until 1964.  Other Pratts took land in Youghal, Cork and county Laios at this time (John Pratt was known as "Cromwell Pratt" in Laios).    

Scotland.  The Pratt name appeared at Nairn in the Scottish Highlands during the 13th century.  They became a sub-sept of the Grant clan.  They showed up in numbers first in Fife and later in Aberdeen. 

America.  Phineas Pratt was probably the first Pratt arrival in America, coming to Massachusetts Bay with Thomas Weston in 1622 and helping to establish the Wessagusett plantation.  Forty years later as an old man, he wrote an account to the court of Massachusetts of the colonists' early struggles.  He lived onto the ripe old age of ninety. 

Other early Pratts in New England were:
  • Joshua Pratt who arrived at Plymouth on the Anne in 1623 and Matthew Pratt who came in the 1630's and settled in Weymouth.  Matthew's line was covered in Francis Pratt's 1890 book The Pratt Family.
  • while John and William Pratt were Puritans who had settled in Hartford, Connecticut in 1636.  From this lineage came Jared and the Mormon Pratts.  There are, because of multiple wives, a staggering 30,000 descendants of the 18th century Jared Pratt.  
Massachusetts later produced one remarkable Pratt family.   Henry Pratt was born in Wrentham in 1771, the son of Noah and Hannah Pratt.  He became the famous New England organ builder of his time.  His son Addison was first a Yankee whaler and then a Mormon missionary in the Pacific islands.  His wife Louisa Barnes Pratt, from whom he was later separated, became better known to the wider public after her memoirs of missionary work and pioneer life was published.

Philadelphia.  Captain Henry Pratt, the son of London pewterer Henry Pratt, would sail regularly between London and Philadelphia in the 1680's at the time of William Penn's first arrival there.   He too made his home in Philadelphia.  A descendant, also named Henry, became a successful merchant trader in the city in the years following the Revolutionary War.  He built his home, the Lemon Hill Mansion, in what is now Philadelphia's Fairmount Park.

Virginia and the South.  Virginia received one notable Pratt.  A son of Charles Pratt, Earl Camden, was said to have had difficulties at Oxford University.  He therefore decided to emigrate to America rather than to embarass his father.  Charles and his brother John settled in Virginia in the 1790's, acquiring estates in Caroline County.  Martha Pratt returned from Virginia to England with her husband in the early 1800's.  But she left a painting of herself at the Shirley plantation manor.

"Family descendants noticed an unusual property of the painting.  Whenever Aunt Pratt's painting was removed from its spot on the second floor, the frame would start shaking violently.  In 1974 the Virginia Tourist office put the painting on display in Rockefeller Center.  It caused a sensation with its constant vibrations." 

Daniel Pratt made his mark in the South in the years prior to the Civil War.  He had moved to Alabama from New Hampshire in the 1830's and was really the South's first industrialist in what was then mainly an agricultural economy.

Heading West.  Pratts also headed West, in particular to Kansas.  The most celebrated was Caleb Pratt, a young Civil War officer who died in the conflict and after whom Pratt, Kansas is named.  Other Pratts in Kansas were:
  • Ephraim Pratt and his wife Betsy who came to farm in Neuchatel, Kansas in 1869 (after he lost his animals in a prairie fire he became a preacher)
  • Alfred Pratt who arrived from Indiana in 1876 and was one of the first settlers in Hamilton county.
  • and a Pratt family from Yorkshire which came to Kansas in 1878 and built the Cottonwood Ranch (which stayed in family hands for almost a century).
Canada.  Newfoundland can boast not only the poet E.J. Pratt, but also the painter and printmaker Christopher Pratt.  He designed the flag for Newfoundland which was adopted by the provincial legislature in 1980. 

Pratts arrived elsewhere in Canada as the 19th century proceeded:
  • Alexander Pratt from Scotland operated a grist mill in Cobourg, Ontario in the 1870's. 
  • Robert and Henry Pratt were early settlers in the 1890's on the Canadian Pacific Coast side, at Kamloops in British Columbia.  
  • and Ralph Benjamin Pratt arrived from Sydenham in Kent in the 1890's as well and became an architect for the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways.
South Africa.  James Pratt is the forgotten man in South African history.  He was an early explorer in the Witwatersrand. owning what is now prime Johannesburg land.  But he fell foul of the Boers in Transvaal who confiscated this land.  He returned to England a broken man.

Australia and New Zealand.  William Pratt from Devon was transported to Tasmania in 1825 for burglary, became a printer, and on his release in 1859 served the local Methodist Church.  His son and grandson were both prominent Methodists, first in New Zealand and then in Australia.

Richard Pratt was born Ryszard Przecicki iof Jewish parents in Poland but changed his name on arrival in Australia in 1938.  He became known as "the cardboard king" for his packaging company and was one of the richest men in Australia on his death in early 2009.

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:


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Charles Pratt,
who became the 1st Earl Camden, was Lord Chancellor under Pitt and a proponent of civil liberties.
Rev. Josiah Pratt was the first secretary and part-founder of the Church Missionary Society in the early 1800's.
Francis Pratt founded with Amos Whitney in 1860 the company Pratt & Whitney to manufacture machine tools and precision instruments (and later jet engines). 
Charles Pratt was one of the pioneers of the US petroleum industry.  His Brooklyn oil refinery later became part of Rockefeller's Standard Oil empire.
E.J. Pratt from Newfoundland was one of the foremost poets of Canada in the first half of the 20th century.
William Pratt from London changed his name to Boris Karloff on emigration to Canada.  He became well-known for his acting in horror films, in particular in Frankenstein.
Hugo Pratt was an acclaimed comic book creator.  His grandfather was English (and related to the actor Boris Karloff), but he was Italian in nationality.

Select Pratts Today
  • 14,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 23,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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