Collection 2531 - Prentiss Family Papers, 1855-1987

Creator: Prentiss family

Provenance Note: The Prentiss family papers were donated to Montana State University in June 2010 by: Marvin L. Fuller of Bozeman, Montana; Mia Spencer of Ellensburg, Washington; M. T. Durham of Rio Rancho, New Mexico; and Fritz Durham of Boise, Idaho. An additional folder of letters from William Prentiss were donated by Marvin Fuller on July 27, 2012 and added to the collection as folder number 24.

Historical Note: William S. Prentiss was an early pioneer of La Grange County, Indiana. He was born in Massachusetts in 1798 and moved west to Indiana in 1832. He became a successful farmer, sawmill owner, and probate judge in Springfield Township. Prentiss married Jane M. Clark (1808-1890) on December 25, 1832 and the couple had five children, including Roderick and William. William S. Prentiss died in 1872. Roderick Prentiss, born in 1840, received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in 1854. He graduated in 1859 and received his commission as a midshipman, first serving on the USS San Jacinto and USS Portsmouth on a cruise to Portugal and Africa. Roderick was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in August 1861 and was assigned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron on board the USS Crusader. His last assignment was on board the USS Monongahela and during the battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864 he was fatally wounded when that ship engaged the Confederate ironclad CSS Tennessee. Roderick died the next day and was buried at Pensacola, Florida. William Prentiss, Roderick's brother, was born on April 18, 1835. He lived with his parents and eventually entered into a partnership with his father to operate the family properties. In April 1864, William and a group of men decided to travel together to the gold fields of Montana Territory. They followed the Platte River road of the Oregon Trail to Fort Laramie and then went up the Bridger Trail to Montana Territory. Prentiss reached Virginia City on August 5, the same day his brother received his fatal wounds at Mobile Bay. William returned home to Indiana by the end of 1864 and resumed management of his father's property, eventually inheriting the estate and becoming active in the local Republican Party. Prentiss was married February 27, 1866, to Hermia S. Coffinberry and he died on January 10, 1911.

Content Description Note: Letters, journals, diary and miscellaneous documents created by William S. Prentiss, Roderick Prentiss, William Prentiss, and their descendants. Nine letters were written by Roderick to his brother, William which describe his experiences as a cadet at the United States Naval Academy and an officer serving aboard the United States Naval vessels Portsmouth, Crusader, and Monongahela. The letters describe student life, shipboard incidents, and fellow shipmates in some detail. Two additional letters from Roderick were written to his father, William S. Prentiss, just days before Roderick's death during the Battle of Mobile. These letters describe Roderick's religious conversion and presentment of death in addition to preparations for the upcoming fight. One letter from William S. Prentiss to his wife Mary discusses the aftermath of their son's death, and two additional letters to William S. Prentiss from William B. Lewis and Oliver Ambrose Batcheller, officers on the USS Monongahela, give additional details on Roderick's death. Three bound journals kept by Roderick document his service on the Plymouth, Portsmouth, and San Jacinto. Much of the information in these journals is as detailed as a ship's log, but although often signed by the ship's commander, they do not appear to be the official log for any of the vessels. The overland trail diary of William Prentiss documents his departure from LaGrange Indiana and subsequent journey to the gold fields of Montana Territory. Prentiss traveled with several other men, following a route along the Platte River in present day Nebraska to Fort Laramie. From that point they veered northwest and followed the Bridger Trail from present day Caspar, Wyoming and through the Big Horn basin. After reaching the Yellowstone River they went through the Bozeman Pass and ended their journey at Virginia City. The diary records Prentiss's unsuccessful time searching for gold in Alder Gulch and his decision to return to Indiana after reading of his brother's death in a Salt Lake City newspaper. The route home followed the Virginia City-Salt Lake City trail to Soda Springs, and then southeast to Fort Bridger before again turning east across Nebraska. The diary describes travel companions and trail incidents in varying detail. The collection also includes transcriptions of Roderick's letters, some of his journals, and William's overland trail diary prepared in 1987 by his great-great granddaughter, Carol Opstad Jaeger. A single folder of miscellaneous documents, including an unidentified reminiscence by a Prentiss family descendant, is included. The items in this collection have been calendared by genre and thereafter in chronological order.


Box 1
1. Roderick Prentiss, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, letter to William Prentiss (brother), November 15, 1855
2. Roderick Prentiss, USNA, Annapolis, letter to William Prentiss, December 10, 1856
3. Roderick Prentiss, USNA, Annapolis, letter to William Prentiss, January 29, 1857
4. Roderick Prentiss, USNA, Annapolis, letter to William Prentiss, June 1, 1858
5. Roderick Prentiss, USS Portsmouth, letter to William Prentiss, March 31, 1860
6. Roderick Prentiss, USS Portsmouth, letter to William Prentiss, November 19, 1860
7. Roderick Prentiss, USS Crusader, letter to William Prentiss, June 17, 1862
8. Roderick Prentiss, USS Monongahela, letter to William Prentiss, February 15, 1864
9. Roderick Prentiss, USS Monongahela, letter to William Prentiss, February 29, 1864
10. Roderick Prentiss, USS Monongahela, letter to William S. Prentiss (father), July 31, 1864
11. Roderick Prentiss, USS Monongahela, letter to William S. Prentiss, August 4, 1864
12. William B. Lewis, Acting Asst. Surgeon, USS Monongahela, letter to William S. Prentiss, August 12, 1864
13. William S. Prentiss, letter to Jane M. Clark Prentiss, August 28, 1864
14. Oliver Ambrose Batcheller, USS Monongahela, letter to William S. Prentiss, November 12, 1864
15. Roderick Prentiss, USNA Practice Ship Plymouth, personal journal of cruise, June 24 - September 29, 1856
16. Roderick Prentiss, USS San Jacinto, personal journal of cruise, July 6 - December 29, 1859
    (also bound with ) Roderick Prentiss, USS Portsmouth, personal journal of cruise, January 7, 1860 - June 30, 1861
17. Roderick Prentiss, USS Portsmouth, personal journal of cruise, July 1 - September 13, 1861
18. William Prentiss, overland trail diary, January 1 - November 6, 1864
19. Miscellaneous documents: Roderick Prentiss midshipman's warrant, envelope, unidentified family history
20. Transcriptions of original letters in folders 1-14
21. Transcription of journal in folder 15
22. Partial transcription of journal in folder 16
23. Transcription of overland trail diary in folder 18, by Carol Opstad Jaeger, 1987
24. William Prentiss letters and documents, 1864

Updated: 1/28/14