Tag Archives: Penelope Stout

Part I: Penelope Stout, Mother of Middletown

Note:  If you have not read Penelope’s legend, I recommend you read my last post before digging into this research quagmire.

http://ushistoryimages.com/new-jersey-colony.shtm Arrival of British New Jersey Gov. Cartaret in about 1665. He succeeded Gov. Nicholls who signed the Monmouth Compact in 1664/65

What Do We Know?

Was she indeed a wonder woman?  Counting only facts that can be documented, rather than assumptions that seem likely, we do not have the most basic genealogical building blocks of information about Penelope Stout.

Full name, parents, place of birth, date of birth, (1st) marriage date and place, name of (1st) husband.  All these are mysteries.

We know that she married Richard Stout in Gravesend, New York and they were early settlers of Middletown, Monmouth County, New Jersey.

New Jersey and New Netherlands in The pink area is Long Island and Gravesend would be located on the western most portion. The red underline in the water points to Sandy Hook where the legend takes place and the red arrow on the green land points to the location of Middletown.

We know the couple raised ten children who lived to adult age.  Her husband amassed a great deal of land, buying from the Navesink group of the Lenapi people, and earning land by the right of an original settler under the Monmouth Compact in 1664 (1665 by our new calendar). The Navesink would have been the people who captured Penelope and befriended her in the legend.

The settlers sought religious freedom and asked the Governor to include a guarantee of freedom in the Compact establishing their first settlement.  The Stout family played an important role in founding the Baptist church in New Jersey.


Penelope lived during a turbulent time in New Jersey, as the Dutch and English engaged in a European war that spilled over into the colonies. The small group of English settlers from Gravesend New York remained loyal to the English. Their main settlement came a few months before the Dutch surrendered to the English in August 1664.

The unrest returned in July 1673 when the Dutch regained control for about seven months, but the English returned.  However, the return of the English rule did not end the unrest, as the colonies began to chafe over their treatment by the far-off rulers.  I will talk in more detail about that phase of the life of the Stouts when I turn to Richard Stout, and my ancestor, David Stout.

Although Penelope’s story is awesome, amazing, inspiring, and indeed legendary, she only “exists” in a genealogical sense after she marries Richard. Yeah, I know, that is the fate of women in our society, but here I refer to the scarcity of documented facts. It would be nice to have birth, marriage, or immigration records. Instead we have one whale of a legend.

The Development of a Legend

In an essay analyzing the legend, Virginie Adane points out that the very first published version of a woman’s shipwreck and survival of capture by Indians, published in1765,  does not mention the name of the victim. (Essay in de Halve Maen, the journal of the Holland Society of New York, reference below). 

That first version would be The History of the Colony of New Caesaria or New Jersey by Smith.  He precedes the story of the woman from a shipwreck off Sandy Hook with a disclaimer that he is not sure of the truth of the tale, but feels it is possible.  In his telling, the woman marries a man named Stout.

Adane traces the development of Penelope’s story in the general trend of stories about women captured by Indians. Later, as people became interested in documenting the history of the region and the genealogy of the Stout family, the story tellers identified Penelope and added more (frequently contradictory) details. Adane in the de Halve Main journal article explains how the story evolved. (Link below in references.)

It is my belief that family legends always bear some crumb of truth, but for more than 200 years, various researchers have been trying to reverse engineer the story of Penelope and find the facts behind it.  For the most part, their efforts have been unsuccessful.   

What was Penelope’s Name?

Penelope’s maiden name might have been Kent or Lent. It might have been some version of Prince, but many assign that name to her first husband.

The account by Nick Sheedy, The Story of “The Brave” Penelope Stout (about 1622-1732) goes into detail about the possibilities posed by the various names. At different times, the story includes the English name Prince, or Princin or Prinzen. Sheedy asserts that the suffix “in” would sometimes be added to a married woman’s name, so that if she married someone named Prince or Prins her married name would become Princin.

The Van (a prefix meaning “from”) could have been added to make the name sound Dutch, or the name might have been Dutch.  Sheedy searched in vain for a place called Prins to justify a Van something-like-Prinsen.

A British Baptist minister named Kent fled England for Holland about the time Penelope would have been born, and one theory holds that was her father.  Another assigns Kent as the first name of her husband, Kent Van Princin. Which of course does not make sense if the in is added to denote a married woman. However, A History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (1880) states that Richard married a Dutch woman whose MAIDEN name was Penelope Vanprinces. 

As you probably know, no one paid much attention to spelling in the 17th century, so we will not worry about the various forms of the name, but it would be nice to know what her maiden name really was.

Penelope and the Cow

The first time we see her name in a record, Penellopy Prince testifies in a court case in Gravesend (New Netherlands) 1648.  Since this date is after the generally assumed time she was married to Richard Stout, the use of a former name might be puzzling.  However, it was common in New Netherlands for married women to use their maiden names, particularly in legal matters. Which makes one more argument for her maiden name as opposed to her first married name, being some form of Prince.

Even the court case throws sand in our eyes when it comes to dates.  Sheedy found a Gravesend Long Island Town Book record of the “cow case” that took place in 1648.  However many printed histories of Penelope refer to a 1951 case, which Sheedy could not locate.  It seems probable that early writers were playing fast and loose with dates just as with spelling.

The Court Record of the Cow Case

The following is the account of the case of the cow (transcribed from microfilm located at New York Public Library, by Nick Sheedy, from the Gravesend, Long Island, (Town Book, Vol. 1; Sept 12, 1648): “Ambrose London plaintive agt:ye wife of Tho: Aplegate defent in an action of slander for saying his wife did milke her Cowe” “The defent saith yt shee said noe otherwise but as Penellopey Prince tould her yt Ambrose his wife did milke her Cowe” “Rodger Scotte being deposed saith yt being in ye house of Tho: Aplegate hee did heare Pennellopy Prince saye yt ye wife of Ambrose London did milke ye Cowe of Tho: Aplegate” “Tho: Greedye being deposed saith yt Pennellope Prince being att his house hee did heare her saye yt shee and Aplegates Daughter must com as witnesses agat: Ambrose his wife milking Aplegates Coew” “Pennellope Prince being questationed adknowled her faulte in soe speaking and being sorrie her words she spake gave sattisfaction on both sides.”

In other words, Penelope allegedly accused a woman of milking a cow that did not belong to her but when the case went to court, she said, “Never mind.  Sorry.”

Was There a Shipwreck?

Nick Sheedy has researched sailings from Holland and shipwrecks off the New Jersey coast in order to try to determine the timeline of Penelope’s story.  In fact, he finds only one ship that fits the bill, named Kath. This corresponds to the story as told in A History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. The wreck of the ship, reported to Holland in 1648, establishes the beginning of Penelope’s story as taking place in 1647 or 1648.  [If she was indeed a passenger on that ship.] Sheedy and people he quotes who searched in Dutch records, could find no other evidence of a ship from Holland to the new world that wrecked in that region in the 1700s.  We also cannot get any help from a passenger list, because ships were not required to keep passenger lists.

To Be Continued

In the next post, Part II, Penelope Stout, Mother of Middletown, I will look at the question of where Penelope was born, and how her children’s ages might (or might not) help us determine her own age.

Note on Sources

Adane, Virginie. “The Penelope Stout Story: Evolution of a New Netherland Narrative.” De Halve Maen, 2009. Journal is on line.

Edwards, Morgan. Materials Towards A History of the Baptists in Jersey, Vol. II. 1792. Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, Printer. Available at archive.org

Ellis, Franklin. History of Monmouth County, New Jersey. 1885. Philadelphia: R. T. Peck & Co.  Available on line at archive.org

Mellick, Andrew D. Jr.  The Story of An Old Farm, or Life in New Jersey in the Eighteenth Century.1889 Somerville, N.J.: The Unionist Gazette. Available on line at archive.org

Salter, Edwin. A History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. 1890. Bayonne NJ: E. Gardner & Son Publisher. Available on line at archive.org

Smith, Samuel. The History of the Colony of New Caesaria, or New Jersey, Samuel Smith, 1765; reprint, 1811, Wm. S. Sharp, stereotyper and publisher: New Jersey. Available on GoogleBooks. ( Amusing note explains that the typesetters were not familiar with the term gaol for jail and changed it to goal throughout.)

Stillwell, John. Historical and Genealogical Miscellany: Data Relating to the Settling and Settlers of New York and New Jersey, Vol.2 and Vol. 4 ( 1909/1916) New York: NY. Available on line at archive.org

Stout, Claude D. Richard and Penelope Stout: A Critical Anlysis of an Important Period in American History. 1974. Palmyra WI printer. Available digitally on Ancestors.com.I read a digital copy, purchased on line.

Stout, Herald. Stout and Allied Families. 1951. Dover Ohio: Eagle Press. Available on line at archive.org

Stout, Nathan. The History of the Stout Family First settling in Middletown, Monmouth, New Jersey.1823 (First printing). Also 1878, 1906, 1929. The first printing, complete with many errors corrected by others in later printings, can be read here. See the 1906 edition at Family Search.

  Streets, Thomas Hale. The Stout Family of Delaware with the story of Penelope.1903. Available on line at ancestry.com or for purchase.

Penelope Stout–Wonder Woman

Penelope ___ Stout, Legendary 8th Great Grandmother

PENELOPE VAN PRINCIS: 1622 (?)-1732 (?)

A medal commemorating Penelope Stout as Mother of Middletown New Jersey.

A medal commemorating Penelope Stout as Mother of Middletown New Jersey.

The matriarch of the Stout line in America, Penelope Van Princes Stout, provides our family with a legendary woman in the most literal sense of the word.  Penelope married my 8th great-grandfather, Richard Stout, an adventurer and perhaps part-time pirate. My mother’s maternal grandfather “Doc” Stout traced his ancestry back to Richard and Penelope Stout. 

Penelope’s personal story includes a shipwreck, a deadly injury overcome,  capture and rescue from death by Indians, and becoming the “Mother of Middletown New Jersey.”  If you want to see the evolution of the legend, you can read the several versions of the embellished story about the miraculous Stouts on this web page.  However, I found a summary, which I have used below to unfold Penelope’s story by Nick Sheedy of John Day, Oregon. (He calls it notes and conjecture, so do not confuse this story with proof unless documents are cited.)

The Story of Penelope Princis Stout

The condensed version of the dramatic tale starts when Penelope and her first husband, whose last name was something like Van Princes, sailed from Holland for America in 1647. [Alternatively, stories say that her maiden name was Van Princes and her husband’s name was Kent or Lent.  Some other sources reverse the order to the maiden name and the married name.]  Their ship wrecked on a sand bar on the coast of New Jersey, and the survivors all fled, except for Penelope who stayed with her injured husband. 

When her husband died,  the unfortunate woman was discovered by Indians.  Those indigenous people, determined to keep the European settlers away from their land, took a hatchet to her and wounded her on the head and gashed her abdomen.  When they left her for dead, she rallied and holding her intestines into her body, she dragged herself to a hiding place inside a hollow tree. There she survived for several days on fungus and berries until a friendlier Indian appeared on the scene and dressing her wounds and her body, took her to his village.  After some time, either he took her north and sold her as a servant or gave her the opportunity to leave and find her own people.  

However much of this marvelous story is true, a woman named Penelope does show up up in Gravesend, New York. This colony of English-speaking people existed in the midst of Dutch territory. The first scrap of proof of Penelope’s existence appears in a prosaic 1648 court case in Long Island regarding the milking of a neighbor’s cow.

In Gravesend, Penelope met The adventurous older Richard Stout, perhaps 18 years her senior.  They were married some time between 1648 and 1664, and sailed across the bay to New Jersey. There they settled Middletown (perhaps at the suggestion of her friendly Indian savior who continued to visit her throughout his life.)  She and Richard raised many children and Penelope told her children and grandchildren the story of her miraculous survival and showed them the scars on her abdomen.  They say that the “Mother of Middletown” died at 110 years old and left behind 500 descendants.

What Do We Really Know About Penelope?

Although estimates of her birth year range between 1622 and 1626, her marriage to Richard Stout is tracked although there is no specific record of the event. We know about his will, and that she was still alive in 1705. Unfortunately, despite much speculation, no one has discovered proof of her birth year or the place, or even the name of her parents. 

Many of the stories written about her say she lived to 110 years (1622-1732). Although the first such report was published in 1765,  it still does not constitute proof, coming more than 100 years after the events of her early life.

Alas. If you love the legend, you may want to skip the next few entries on Ancestors in Aprons. Sorry to be a spoil-sport, but I am diving into the murky waters of legend and attempting to come up with some facts.

While no solid proof exists for the most dramatic parts of Penelope’s story, records do document the impact of the life of Richard and Penelope Stout and their offspring. They were influential people–ancestors worth knowing. 

Next time we meet, I will share the thoughts of Nick Sheedy who has done exhaustive research on the story of Richard and Penelope.   And I will take a look at another amateur historian who contradicts just about every commonly accepted piece of information about my legendary foremother.

If you would like to learn more about the elusive Penelope Stout, see Part I: Penelope Stout, The Mother of Middletown and Part II: Penelope Stout, The Mother of Middletown