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The American Sprague Beginnings

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One of the oft asked questions is “Are all the Spragues in America Related?” The simple answer is “No” but a more comprehensive answer is in order.

Some believe that their Sprague ancestry dates to a Mayflower passenger. The beginning of the colonization of New England (North America) is largely credited to passengers who endured the rigors of trans Atlantic travel aboard the Mayflower in 1620. No Sprague is among the passenger list of that vessel but as we will see Sprague family members were not far behind. The first, Francis Sprague, arrived in 1623 aboard the Anne, the third of a long line of sailing ships with the mission of populating the English colonies. Francis has not been successfully traced to Europe and there is a strong possibility that he came by way of England from Leiden, Holland. Sprague may not be the European name but rather he may have left Europe as a Spraak or some other the many variations that ultimately became Americanized to Sprague. The Francis Sprague line (#01 in the Sprague Project) was to become the second largest Sprague line in America.

Only a few years later in 1629 three brothers named Sprague arrived aboard the Lions Whelp. These three brothers, Richard, Lt. Ralph and William, have been traced to Edward Sprague of Dorsetshire, England and probably represent the first true Spragues in America. Richard married but left no descendants. Lt. Ralph headed what was to become the third largest American Sprague line and William headed the line which became by far the largest Sprague line. The ancestry of father, Edward, remains unproven though there are many earlier Sprague records in Dorsetshire. It was long believe that he descended from Tristram Sprague but research of the 20th century largely disproved that theory. Another theory is that he descended from Enos Sprague. Barring new found records this line may not be proven beyond father, Edward.

Other Sprague lines emerged in North America. Some reportedly stem from other “three brothers” stories and some grew from lines of surname variations such as Spragg, Spriggs and a host of other variations. The earlier lines have proven difficult to tie to England or other European countries with well documented ship’s records or immigration records. Because of this the names which officially recorded their entry to North America have remained mysteries.

One thing can safely be assumed about the beginnings of the earlier Sprague lines in North America. Though they didn’t come on the Mayflower, they came in other similar small ships that crossed the Atlantic during the 17th century carrying passengers to the New World. The ships such as the Fortune, Anne, Sparrowhawk, Little James and Lion’s Whelp provided the same spartan, uncomfortable travel as described by Dr. Mike Haywood of Cornwall, England (website: http://www.mikehaywoodart.co.uk) in his introductions for his original paintings which are included here with his permission.

In introducing his painting of the worsening weather conditions encountered by the Mayflower, Dr. Haywood comments:

"At this time, 383 years ago, the Mayflower's fortunes were changing once again. After leaving Plymouth, the first days of the voyage had passed with good winds and gently rolling seas. But now the black clouds to the North began to lumber heavily across the sky and the weather deteriorated rapidly. William Bradford described the event as follows:

'After they had enjoyed fair winds and weather for a season, they were encountered many times with cross winds........'

"The picture below is from my original painting which tries to capture the scene described in Bradford's account."

As the trip continued for what must have seemed like an eternity from which they could not possible survive, conditions deteriorated. Dr. Harwood continues:

"In 1620, at this time, fierce Atlantic storms are pounding the tiny Mayflower. Captain Jones is forced to take in every stitch of canvas and leave the vessel to drift helplessly like a piece of flotsam. The passengers are in the depths of misery, having to endure the fetid overcrowded conditions below decks. Seawater has soaked their bedding and clothes for weeks on end. William Bradford described the event as follows:

'........and met with many fierce storms, with which the ship was shroudly shaken, and her upper works made very leaky; and one of the main beams in the mid ships was bowed and cracked, which put them in some fear that the ship could not be able to perform the voyage. In sundry of these storms the winds were so fierce, and the seas so high, as they could not bear a knot of sail, but were forced to hull, for divers days together.'

"The picture below isfrom my original painting which tries to capture the scene described in Bradford's account.”

From these beginnings has emerged the Sprague family which has included individuals representative of the character from which the New World was built. Leadership emerged to provide Governors of Rhode Island and Oregon and several Generals in the Civil War. The mother of British war time leader during World War II, Sir Winston Churchill was an American born member of the Sprague family. Entertainers John Wayne, Lucille Ball and Kay Francis claimed Sprague Ancestry. The technological progress of the world benefited from the creative intellect of engineers who were instrumental in the labs of Thomas Edison, were important in the development of early electric city transportation systems, and who were important in the development of the Sprague Electric Company. A munitions expert reportedly was among the crew of the first submarine ever sent to the bottom during warfare. The Spragues joined the Mormon movement to Utah and now represent a large segment of Sprague descendants. Carl T. Sprague told the story of the development of the American cowboy in early recordings that are credited with bringing country music to the American populace as a loved form of entertainment. Few stories which make up the history of the United States will be fully told without including a bit of Sprague family history.

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Copyright © 2021; Richard E. (Dick) Weber / The Sprague Project
This page was created on April 5, 2004
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