The Prance Family


THOMAS PRANCE, was captain of the ship 'Joseph' of Appledore which consisted of two guns and fifteen men and in the year 1793 was attacked by a French privateer, the 'Sans Culotte' with ten guns and forty men. After three days fighting in bad weather his hands were blown off in loading a gun, and he was also wounded by a shot, his ship was boarded and taken near the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, America. On his return to England he was presented to King George the III.

This is not a picture of the 'Joseph' ! and is a Brigantine, not a Brig.

The following is a copy of a letter by Peter Blight Prance (Thomas' fourth son and father of Mrs.Gertrude Thompson) to the Editor of The Cambrian dated 20th July 1879.

"Sir, Having read with some interest in your valuable Journal of 11th inst. a letter headed 'Swansea Hero' signed S.P., to whom I feel gratefully indebted for thus bringing to the knowledge of posterity a deed of daring of no ordinary find, on the part of my late revered father: yet as his account is not quite accurate, I trust you will afford me space for a true relation of particulars, as I have known them recorded in my Father's own papers, which are now in my posession. I give it as briefly as I can:- Thomas Prance commanding the ship 'Joseph of Appledore, sailed from Norfolk Virginia (in which port he had been blockaded some time) in company with several other British ships on 21st. May 1793 laden with wheat for Barcelona in Spain. The following day, his ship being hindermost the fleet was attacked by the French privateer 'Sans Culotte'. Capt.Ferris mounting ten guns and forty men; the 'Joseph' having but two guns and nine men (three, of whom were foreigners, ran below and refused to fight) but not withsatanding this superior force, the vessels engaged within pistol shot of each other off and on for three days. The privateer on the second day had to retire to repair damage to her foremast, but on the third day recommenced the action and a ball from her, severly wounded Capt. Prance in the thigh, tearing off the flesh badly, but this did not prevent him carrying on the fight. At last unfortunately, by motion of the ship in a heavy sea, the man who was attending to the ve....of the gun, he was serving (for he was obliged to fire the gun himself, being so short manned) rolled off, the air thereby rekindling the dead fire and when the cartridge was rammed home, which in the hurry was done by using both hands they were blown off at the wrists, the shock causing him to fall on the deck, and rendering him unconscious. The chief mate was at the same time wounded by a shot from the enemy. In this state of affairs the 'Joseph' was boarded and taken prize. The Capt. and crew transferred to the Frenchman and landed three days later at Norfolk, Virginia where Capt Prance had his stumps amputated. The war between the United States and France breaking out just at this time. The American Government seized the 'Sans Culotte' and offered her as a present to my Father: but he was so ill from his woulnds and entertaining serious doubts that he should ever recover, declined the offer. I may mention that in consequence of the war all postal arrangements were so interrupted between the U.S.A. and this country that no letters reached his friends and it having been reported to his father, that his son had died, the family went into mourning for him and had a funeral sermon preached. After two years of painful interval he returned home to the great surprise of his father and family. Shortly afterwards he went to London and the Prince Regent (George 1V) desiring to see him, he had an audience through his friend the celebrated statesman Charles James Fox.

The Prince received him most cordially, warmly eulogising his bravery and presented him with a thousand guineas. I ought to mention, before my Father left America, the leading merchants of Philadelphia, among many of whom he counted personal friends and those of Washington, including the grandson of Mr. Penn, headed by the British Ambassador presented him with a handsome testimonial and substantial gift of money. In the early part of this century his ship 'The Endeavour' was comissioned and fitted out for service in the Royal Navy, as a convoy for vessels from the Bristol Channel round land and while waiting for a sufficient numbers of ships, his long pennant was flying at the masthead quietly at moorings in the mumbles Roads. My father was a very active and energetic man; he could do most things for himself, with but a little assistance, could write well, was a capital tennis player, and could jump a five bar gate with anyone. A curious incident once happened. My father and two friends, the late Capt.David Tennant RN., and Mr Roberts of Hatherley walked arm in arm together down Wind Street and there was only one hand between the three. He died at a good old age, was respected, I believe by everybody and was buried at the Old Chapel of Ease at Penclawd, not Hatherley as supposed by S.P. Signed PETER BLIGHT PRANCE, London. "

Thomas was the fourth of twelve children born to John Prance of Appledore and Mary German of Pentclawd who married in 1742. He married Martha Williams in 1802 and had four sons and two daughters. A portrait of Captain Thomas was painted in his cabin in the Bay of Naples by Candido which at one time was in the posession of Mrs. Gertrude Thompson ( Cambridge?) , his grand-daughter. It would be fascinating if the whereabouts of this portrait could now be traced.

The JOSEPH is described in the Lloyds register of 1793 as being a Brig on 159 tons and en route from Exeter to Philadeplphia ( This may have been before the above incident).   At the time there was considerable hostility between  the naval forces of America, France and  Britain leading up to the American War of Independance.  Brigantines were  75 - 150  tons.   smaller ships than  Brigs,  were very manoeverable  and had only the foremast carrying square sails.  Brigs  ranged from  150 - 300 tons.  Next in size came the Barques.  Below is a diagram showing the likely rigging of the Joseph.

A Brigantine or Brig - 1790

Brigantine or Brig - 1790
    The Brigantine or Brig , was a type of ship used in large numbers , both as a Merchant vessel and as a Naval Ship . It carried 16 guns and was rigged for speed , having both Top gallant sails and royals . These ships were used by Navies of the World for scouting and reconnaissance duties . They were used to track down ships of an enemy . Many of the Brigs of the late 18th century could carry sweeps for maneuvering in still weather . In 1814 the British Navy had 71 brigs of various types carrying 10 to 16 guns .

Length 110 ft.
Beam 28 ft.
Depth 16 ft.
Crew 100 to 120