|The Pences In America|
By Richard A. Pence
© Copyright, 1997, 1999, 2000
October 7, 2000
Beginning as early as 1727, the name Pence appears in passenger lists to Pennsylvania as Panse, Pentes, Pense, Penss, Bentz, Benns, Benss, Bense, Bantz, Bence, Banse - probably others - and in its feminine form, Pensin or Bensin. A number of places of origin are cited for these early families, including what is now Germany, Switzerland and Holland, but few of them have been traced to specific areas.
Although the name Bentz is relatively common in the United States, most of these early settlers eventually came to be known under the spelling Pence. In some areas of Pennsylvania with heavy German concentrations, Bentz and Pentz are still frequently used. However, as these families moved into Virginia and westward and became a part of more diverse communities primarily with English-speaking officials, the phonetic spelling of Pence or a variation usually prevailed. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures the surname Pence comprises only 0.004 percent of the population and ranks 2,882 among surnames in the country (this apparently includes both Pense and Pentz, as these names do not appear elsewhere in the list). Bentz comprises 0.002 percent and ranks 5,461, while Benz ranks 6,933, also with 0.002 of the population.
As one might expect, Bentz and Benz are found most frequently in Pennsylvania and in metropolitan areas such as Cleveland, Cincinnati and St. Louis, areas with a relatively larger number of 19th Century German immigrants.
Pence can be found throughout the U.S., but is more common in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and throughout Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri - reflecting typical migratiion patterns. In the 20th century, the migrations were to California, Washington and Oregon. (See maps at Pence Surname Distribution.)
While Pence is the most common spelling, some branches of families which spelled their name Pence can now be found using Pentz or Pense. It is important to remember in researching any early family, and this is true especially with the Pence families, that how a name is spelled usually does not have any great significance as far as relationships are concerned. Spelling was more a matter of chance than of intention.
For example, families which probably now spell their name Bentz, Pentz, Pence or Pense have been found in compiled indexes for Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio under the following spellings: Bans, Banse, Bantz, Banz, Bence, Benns, Bens, Bents, Benty, Bentze, Bentzee, Benz, Panse, Pance, Penee, Pens, Pensch,, Penss, Pents, Penty, Peny, Pentze, Pince and (possibly, not yet confirmed) Pons and Pines.
Some of these are obviously phonetic misspellings by the census taker, while others result from a misreading of the handwriting by an index compiler (such as reading a final z as a y, the c as an e or the first e as an a or an i).
Virginia Pences. The Old Dominion at one time was home to the ancestors of a great many of the Pences in America today. At least three major groups of Pences settled in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley beginning in the 1740s, apparently after having lived at least a short time in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania records for the time are sometimes sketchy and, with the prevalence of certain given names among the Pences and other German families, it has so far been difficult to determine which, if any, of the records pertain to the Pences who later went to Virginia.
The brothers Jacob and Valentine Pence settled by 1747 on Cub Run in a portion of Augusta County that since 1778 has been a part of Rockingham County. They were undoubtedly in Lancaster County, Pa., earlier.
Another group, consisting of Lewis, Jacob, Adam and Henry (called "The Hawksbill Pences," which see), brothers who came from Iggelheim, Pfalz, Bayern, Germany, in 1749 with their father. They all settled in the 1750s on the Hawksbill Creek in what was then Frederick County, became a part of Shenandoah County in 1772 and since 1831 has been in what is now Page County.
A third group, with Michael, Conrad, George Philip and Nicholas Pence settled in the 1770s in what is still Shenandoah County. The first three lived on Holman's Creek near Forestville, while Nicholas settled near "Pence's Hill" south of Edinburg on the old Valley Pike, now U.S. Highway 11. These men were from Lancaster and, later, Berks counties in Pennsylvania (Berks was formed partially from Lancaster about 1750).
The first and third groups are still prominently represented in the Valley. The descendants of Jacob and Valentine who remained in Virginia (more of the latter than the former) now live primarily in Rockingham County, with a few in Augusta County. Conrad's present-day Virginia descendants live largely in Shenandoah County, while the descendants of George Philip and Nicholas are on both sides of the Rockingham-Shenandoah line.
Jacob and Valentine had numerous descendants who went to Ohio (primarily Preble and Warren Counties) and, to a lesser degree, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. One son of Valentine, Jacob, moved into North Carolina, and there are descendants of his in both Carolinas and other southern states. Later Rockingham descendants were prominently in Clinton and Delaware Counties, Ind., and elsewhere in the Hoosier state.
Michael Pence went with his entire family to Adams County, Oh., about 1796 and left many descendants there and in the neighboring counties of Higland and Brown. A few of Conrad's descendants also went to Ohio in later years and, occasionally, a descendant of Conrad, George Philip and Nicholas also migrated to Ohio. Peter, son of Nicholas, went to the Licking County area of Ohio and many descendants went west into Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, some using the spelling Pense.
Beginning in 1805 and up until 1820, most, if not all, of the Hawksbill Pences left the Valley and settled primarily in Champaign County, Oh., where Pence is still among the most common names. One son of Jacob went to Lincoln County, Ky., and a son of Henry went with his in-laws to Fairfield County, Oh. Adam Pence went with his entire family to Scott County, Ky., before 1800 and most of his descendants went on to Clay County, Mo., and nearby counties, where two great grandsons were neighbors to Frank and Jesse James and rode with the infamhous duo during and following the Civil War and later in the bank robbery at Liberty, Mo. (see The Outlaws).
Descendants of the three Shenandoah Valley Pence groups fanned out so rapidly in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois that it is often difficult to separate them. By the mid-1800s, in fact, offspring not only of the Hawksbill Pences, but descendants of Conrad and George Philip of Shenandoah County, and probably some Rockingham descendants, were living in Champaign County, Oh.; in nearby Miami County were a number of descendants of Jacob Pence of Rockingham County. Pennsylvania Pences had also settled in Champaign, and today, even descendants of Michael Pence of Shenandoah County and Adams County, Oh., live in Champaign County.
Descendants of more than one of the Virginia families have lived at the same time in such Ohio counties as Clark, Miami and, possibly, Warren. Fairfield County, Oh., was home for a son of Henry Pence of Shenandoah County, a grandson of Nicholas Pence and at least one group of Pences from Cumberland County, Pa., as well as descendants of a John Pence, possibly of the Rockingham group.
Today, descendants of two of these groups are found in Bartholomew County, Ind., where there are also descendants of an unidentified group and a group that likely originated in Pennsylvania. Two or three different Pence groups have been represented in Madison and Shelby Counties, Ind. (where there were also Pences from Pennsylvania). Henderson and Warren Counties, Ill., had descendants of two or more Virginia families and one Pennsylvania family, as well as a group as yet unclassified, but probably also from Pennsylvania.
Whitley County, Ind., also was a "Pence melting pot." A large number of the Hawksbill Pences from Shenandoah County by way of Champaign County settled there, and George C. Pence, a son of Michael of Adams County, Oh., founded a large family there. In addition, several descendants of a Pennsylvania Pence family settled there after having been n Stark County, Oh., along with another family from Pennsylvania that still uses the name Bentz.
Farther west, Hardin County, Ia., had descendants of Jacob Pence of Augusta County, Jacob Pence of Shenandoah (Page) County, Michael Pence of Shenandoah County and probably a Pennsylvania group. Thus, it is important not to assume that Pence families living in the same county are related.
The "Five Brothers." In spite of the fact that records have not been found to support such a tradition, the belief is strong among many Pence descendants - those of the Valley as well as others - that there were originally five Pence brothers who settled in what became the United States. However, there were perhaps as many as 40 Pences whose arrivals have been recorded in Pennsylvania, and others likely came through such ports as Baltimore and Charleston - perhaps even New York and Boston, as there are a scattering of Pence families in the Northeast, some apparently there quite early. Additionally, there is a large Nova Scotia Pentz family, some descendants of which have spilled in the United States, and there is evidence that some of the Pennsylvania families may have migrated to Canada.
One source of this tradition might be the History of Virginia, published in 1924 by the American Historical Society. Page 248, Vol. V, carries this quote:
|The Pence family, numerously and substantially represented in the Western counties of Virginia, particularly in the Shenandoah Valley, originated in Magdeburg, Germany, where the name was Bentz. This family in very early Colonial times came to America and located in what is now Millerstown, Pennsylvania. In America the name underwent the change to Pence, and eventually, but long before the Revolution, five Pence brothers left Pennsylvania and moved to various locations up and down the Shenandoah Valley, particularly in Shenandoah and Rockingham counties.|
Beatrice Carson, in a 1960s manuscript on the Hawksbill Pences, writes of "five brothers." She adds Frederick and John to Jacob, Lewis and Henry, but only the latter three are identifiable in the records. It now has been established that Lewis, Jacob and Henry, along with Adam, came to this country with their father, Johann Georg Bentz, in 1749 on the ship Phoenix. These four brothers did have an older brother named John, but there is no record that he came to America or to the Shenandoah Valley. However, a 1912 book on the descendants of one of the sons of Henry Pence of the Hawksbill group quotes a grandson as saying he was told that five brothers came to America.
The descendants of a Peter Pence of Pennsylvania, many of whom moved west, also have a five brothers tradition. Several descendants state (perhaps from a similar source): "Five brothers came to Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, from the Netherlands in 1730." It appears, however, that Pences probably did not settle in the Lycoming area until after the Revolution; how many there were and whether they were brothers is unknown.
These same five brothers are mentioned by others, including one who says that "one brother went to Maryland, two stayed in Pennsylvania and two went to Virginia." In the case of one Pennsylvania group in the Lancaster-York area, it is likely there were four, if not five, brothers. However, all apparently remained in Pennsylvania, although some descendants did go to Maryland and, possibly, Virginia.
Descendants of two unrelated Missouri Pence families write of seven Pence brothers.
The "three brothers" misconception is relatively common among American family tree climbers, since it is a way of rationalizing how those with the same surname can't find a common ancestor in their trees. There is, however, no ready explanation for the five brothers theory common among Pences - except that there were so many of them that the usual three brothers weren't enough to account for everyone!
Pence Family Origins. In his 1912 book about the descendants of Judge John Pence (a son of Henry of the Hawksbill Pences), Kingsley Adolphus Pence (John's grandson), included a coat-of-arms that had been granted to a Bentz or Benz of Bale, Rothenburg, Bavaria. According to family tradition, Judge John Pence's father, Heinrich Bentz, had been born in Germany, so Kingsley Pence innocently included the following in his discussion of the early Pences in America:
"The coat of arms of the family Bentz originated, or at least was used, in Rothenburg, in the state of Bavaria, in Germany. It is, therefore, probable that Henry came from that vicinity and also probable that some of our forefathers used the coat of arms."
Miss Carson, a descendant of Henry Pence, put that assumption on shaky grounds. In the introduction to her Pence family manuscript, she wrote: "We can only pass on the report of a reputable Austrian genealogist that the coat of arms which an earlier Pence genealogy suggested 'might have been used' by our Pence ancestors, was granted to the patrician family of Benz, which probably had become extinct before our ancestors left Germany."
However, the innocent assumptions of yesterday grow into the "facts" of today. I often get letters declaring that the writer is a descendant of Henry Pence of Rothenburg, Bavaria. More often than not, the writers of these letters are not even descendants of Henry Pence, let alone descendants of a Bavarian Pence family, although evidence discovered in 1995 definitively puts the roots of the Hawksbill Pences in Iggelheim, Rhineland-Pfalz, Germany, which was at one time a part of Bavaria.
Dr. John Branner, a former president of Stanford University (1912-1915), included a chapter on the Pence family in his Branner genealogy (a son of Conrad Pence married the daughter of his ancestor Casper Branner). According to Dr. Branner's account, the Pence families originated in Switzerland and about the year 1000 AD moved into what is now Germany, and from Germany went to Holland and from there to Pennsylvania.
Other information in Dr. Branner's book contains some serious flaws. He said, for instance, that Michael Pence was one of the 19 children of Henry Pence of Shenandoah County. However, this is "Hawksbill Henry" and his family is well documented and does not include a Michael. Besides, Michael and Henry were almost the same age. The evidence is that Henry was born in late 1739, while Michael, now known to be the son of another Michael, was probably born in 1738!
The fact that many Pence descendants claim their ancestors came from "Holland" likely results from a misinterpretation of statements on many of the early passenger lists. Often these read that the ship came from "Rotterdam, but last from Cowes," or some similar statement. Even though it is apparent that a person coming from anywhere on the European continent likely would leave from a port such as Rotterdam, many have jumped to the conclusion their ancestors originated in Holland. Others have assumed, because the ship last left a British port, that their families lived in England before coming to this country; some German families did, but it appears doubtful that any of the Pences were among them.
The standard migration route from the German states of the 1700s was down the Rhine River and eventually to a port in the Netherlands. From there the ships went to England where they were outfitted for the long voyage to America. No Pence families discovered to date have varied substantially from this pattern.
Another common misconception concerning "Dutch" ancestry results from the expression "Pennsylvania Dutch," which does not denote Dutch ancestry. "Dutch," as used in this expression, is a corruption of "Deutsche," which is the German language. Hence, "Pennsylvania Dutch" was applied to the German speaking people in that state. Most probably originated in one of the German states of the 18th Century.
As yet, no one apparently has done any extensive research on the origins of many of the Pence families. The Virginia history quoted earlier states the Pences came from Magdeburg, Germany, and Kingsley Pence suggested Bavaria. Others give Holland or Switzerland, and some of the arrivals in Pennsylvania are identified as Palatinates, sometimes a catch-all term for any German immigrant as so many of them came from that area. Iggelheim, home of the Hawksbill Pences, was, for example, indeed in the Palatinate.
Weyrich Bentz, ancestor of a great many of the Bentz familites still in Pennsylvania, marrried his first wife in Adelshofen, Baden, Germany, in April 1728 and this couple is shown as having left there for Pennsylvania shortly thereafter. Urich Bentz is among those listed as arriving on the James Goodwill at Philadelphia on 11 Sep. 1728. This town is also in the Palitinate area of Germany.
According to a history of Clinton County, Ind. (1913), David Perry Pence - a great great grandson of Jacob Pence of Augusta County - said that his father and two of his father's brothers named the city of Frankfort, Ind., after the ancestral home of Jacob. This statement declares that Jacob lived near Frankfort-on-Main in Germany. Keep in mind, however, that the three brothers who founded the town of Frankfort were themselves three generations removed and obviously relying on hand-me-down information.
It appears that facts relating to the origins of many of the various Pence families who came to America in the 1700s will have to await the results of a more thorough search of the available German records.
It does seem fairly certain that most - if not all - Pences in the United States today are descendants of Germanic ancestors. The surname Pence appears not to exist in the United Kingdom, even though that nation has a unit of currency called pence. (The surname Bence, however, does exist in England, descendants of a follower of William the Conquerer.)
It also seems fairly certain that most of the Pences came to the colonies in the 1700s, although some of that name are reported to have been here in the 1600s and a few families came in the 1800s (most of these retain the spelling Bentz).
The book Seventeenth Century Colonial Ancestors lists George Pence (1638-1664) of Virginia, with wife Catherine. I have found no record of of any descendants, although apparently someone has projected a line to him.
Kingsley Pence reports an Adam Pence (Bentz), a German soldier in the British army, being discharged in New York in 1690 and establishing a family there. There are other reports of Hessian soldiers named Bentz deserting the British army during the Revolutionary War or escaping prison. I have been unable to verity and of these and one such story is directly disproved by other records.
A list in the book Passengers to America contains the name of Richard Pence, age 45, as having gone from London to St. Christophers in the Barbadoes in 1634. Also, a Philip Pence, Esq., is mentioned in a will dated Nov. 2, 1692, in St. Philip's Parish, Barbadoes. However, it is probable these are a miscopying of the surname Peirce, as in another instance checked by me: A book of early cemetery inscriptions for a Boston churchyard contains the name of John Pence - but the inscription on the stone clearly says John Peirce.
A published list of tithables in Northampton County, Va., August, 1666, includes the name Cannilus Pence. Correspondents list a Captain John Pence as having been given head rights in Maryland and a John Bence arriving in Virginia in 1655. I have seen no records on any family either might have established, although there is a Pence mentioned in the early records of Caroline County, Va. Again, these names may have actually been Peirce, a name common in Caroline County and in other parts of Virginia.
There is also a record of an Elizabeth Benns marrying in Brunswick County, Va., in 1758, and the names Pens and Bens appear in the other records of Virginia prior to 1700. These possibly are misspellings, which were almost the rule rather than the exception in the 1600s. A printed compilation of a list made by George Washington of those who voted for him in Frederick County when he ran for the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 includes the name Lawrence Pence; this is probably Lewis Pence (Ludwig Bentz in some records), one of the Hawksbill Pences who is known to have been in Frederick County in the 1750s.