William Hickling Prescott (May 4, 1796 – January 29, 1859) was an historian.
William H. Prescott was born in Salem, Massachusetts to William Prescott, Jr., who was a lawyer, and his wife, née Catherine Greene Hickling. His grandfather William Prescott served as a Colonel during the American Revolutionary War.
Prescott suffered from failing eyesight after a thrown crust of bread was temporarily lodged in his eye. This occurred while he was attending Harvard University, where he graduated in 1814. He made an extended tour in Europe, and on his return to America he married, and abandoning the idea of a legal career, resolved to devote himself to literature. After ten years of study, he published in 1837 his History of Ferdinand and Isabella, which at once gained for him a high place among historians. It was followed in 1843 by the History of the Conquest of Mexico, and in 1847 by the Conquest of Peru. His last work was the History of Philip II, of which the third volume appeared in 1858, and which was left unfinished. In that year he had an apoplectic shock, and another in 1859 was the cause of his death.
In all his works he displayed great research, impartiality, and an admirable narrative power. The great disadvantage at which, owing to his very imperfect vision, he worked, makes the first of these qualities specially remarkable, for his authorities in a foreign tongue were read to him, while he had to write on a frame for the blind. Prescott was a man of amiable and benevolent character, and enjoyed the friendship of many of the most distinguished men in Europe as well as in America.
Much of Prescott's work was based on his researches with unpublished documents in archives in Spain.
W. H. Prescott died of a stroke in Boston, Massachusetts. In Arizona, the town of Prescott was named after him for his The Conquest of Mexico.