Little Prudence Cruff is the mistreated daughter of Goodwife and Goodman Cruff. Kit Tyler befriends the girl, teaches her to read, and introduces her to the friendship of Hannah Tupper. The novel charts Prudence’s transformation from a lonely, timid child to a confident young girl whose book-smarts will eventually save Kit’s life.
When Kit rescues Prudence’s doll that day on the Dolphin, the little girl seems to be as meek as a mouse. Though Prudence’s mother claims the child is stupid, Kit still notices something special about her. She describes Prudence as follows:
A more unpromising child she had never seen, Kit thought, yet she couldn’t get Prudence out of her mind. There was some spark in that small frame that refused to be quenched. (2.9)
With time and patience, Prudence does indeed flourish. During their private lessons, Kit introduces the girl to the basics of reading and writing.
She had memorized the hornbook in a few day’s time and sped through the primer. After that she had plunged headlong into the only other reading matter available, Hannah’s tattered Bible. Kit had chosen the Psalms to begin with, and slowly, syllable by syllable, Prudence was spelling out the lines, while Hannah sat listening, her own lips often moving with the child’s in the lines she remembered and could no longer read. (16.62)
Through Kit’s teaching and Hannah’s encouragement, Prudence gains strength and confidence in herself. She positively blossoms. By the time Kit is accused of witchcraft, Prudence will fearlessly address the magistrate:
The child’s head was up. Her eyes were fastened levelly on the magistrate. Prudence was not afraid! (19.79)
Prudence’s testimony clears Kit from charges of witchcraft. The transformation of Prudence’s character suggests the power of friendship and kindness.