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John Prentis of New London, CT, Born 1698

John Prentis of New London, CT, Born 1698

By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Summer 1997 and Revised 8 Dec 2005

Update: John Prentis is the son of Jonathan Prentis and Elizabeth Latimer, and is #4 on pg. 344 of our new PRENTICE book.

By letter of 12 Feb 1997, Marian Turner enclosed a copy of an item in the National Genealogical Soc. Quarterly, Vital Records from the National Intelligencer, v. 65, #3, Sept. 1977, Court of Canterbury, 1741-1750. It reads as follows:

"Prentis, John of New London, Conn., late of St. Martins in the Fields, Middlesex, Commander of H.M.S. Defence, died leaving property in Great Britain and the Netherlands. By his Will he appointed William Bowdoin of Boston, New England, his executor. Probate now granted to said Bowdoin." (Aug. 1746)

A Google search did not produce any information about the ship commanded by John Prentis. It did, however, produce the following information about a later ship of that same name which might have been of roughly comparable size:

The 3rd [ship of that name,] DEFENCE was a 74-gun ship built at Plymouth in 1763. She was of 1602 tons, and carried a crew of 600 men. Her length, beam, and draught were 168ft., 47ft., and 18ft. For a model of the ship, see http://rasputin.physics.uiuc.edu/~wiringa/Ships/Period1/GreatBritain/Defence.html.

In 1780 the Defence, commanded by Captain Lord Cranstoun, was in an English fleet of some 21 ships of the line, and 11 frigates under Admiral Sir George Rodney with his flag in Sandwich. They sailed from Plymouth on December 29th, 1779, for Gibraltar and the West Indies. At daylight on January 8th, 22 Spanish sail were sighted and were at once chased. After a few hours action they were all captured. Seven were men-of-war, chiefly frigates, and the remainder were merchant vessels laden with stores and provisions for the Spanish fleet at Cadiz.

This action was fought about 300 miles west of Cape Finisterre; the British ships then proceeded towards Gibraltar. On January 16th, close to St. Vincent, another Spanish squadron was sighted, consisting of 11 ships of the line and 2 frigates under Admiral Don Juan de Langara. The English ships at once chased, and at 4p.m. the leading ships got into action. At 4.30 a Spanish 70 blew up with all onboard, and at 6 another struck. A night action followed, and at 2a.m. the Spaniards surrendered. Besides the one blown up, six Spanish ships were captured, but of these, two drove ashore and were lost. The Defence on this day lost 10 men killed and 21 wounded.

In April 1781 the Defence was one of a fleet of 29 ships of the line, which under Vice-Admiral Darby with his flag in Britannia effected the relief of Gibraltar. Accompanied by a large convoy they arrived at Gibraltar on April 12th, and landed the necessary warlike stores, but not without great opposition from the besieging Spaniards, and from a flotilla of single gun gunboats in the Bay. In one week the re-victualling was accomplished, and the relief effected, and the squadron then returned to England, arriving at Spithead on May 22nd.

On June 20th, 1783, the Defence, under the command of Captain Thomas Newman, took part in the fifth action between Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes and Admiral de Suffren. It was known as the battle of Cuddalore. The English fleet consisted of 21 and the French fleet of 18 vessels. The fleets met at 4p.m. on June 20th, and the action lasted till 7p.m. The curious point about this fight is that, unknown to either belligerent, it was fought five months after the preliminaries of peace had been signed. The French gained a victory strategically and tactically, though no shipps were taken on either side. The English loss was 99 killed and 434 wounded, while the French had 102 killed and 386 wounded. The Defence, lost 7 killed and 38 wounded. The French by this action prevented the reduction of Cuddalore.

On May 5th, 1794, the Defence, commanded by Captain James Gambier, was off Ushant in a fleet of 25 ships, 7 frigates, 6 fireships, sloops, and hospital ships commanded by Admiral Earl Howe with his flag in Queen Charlotte. Until May 28th Lord Howe searched for the French fleet, which consisted of 26 ships, 7 frigates, and 4 small craft, under Rear-Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse with his flag in Montagne. On the 21st the English fleet captured a Dutch convoy, and on the 25th it took an American brig two small French frigates. On the 28th the French fleet was sighted and was at once chased. A partial began at 5.p.m. By 10p.m. one French ship was disabled with 400 killed and wounded, but was rescued and towed away. On May 29th a further action took place in which the French were badly mauled, and the British lost 67 killed and 128 wounded.

On June 1st the British stood over to the attack, and the action began at 9.30. Howe's fleet, led by the Defence, broke through the French line in most cases and engaged from leeward. The French at the beginning of the action opened a distant fire on the Defence. She, however, got through the French line between the Mucius and the Tourville, and was presently in the thick of the action. She was badly treated, and signalled for help, and was taken in tow by the Phaeton, but therefore she did this she very pluckily engaged the Impetueux for ten minutes. By 11.30 the action was practically over, and the British had eleven, and the French twelve more or less dismasted vessels. The British lost 290 killed and 858 wounded, which included 3 captains killed and 3 admirals wounded. The French lost six ships captured, one sunk, and about 7000 men killed, wounded, or prisoners, on this the Glorious First of June 1794. The Defence lost 18 killed, including the master, and 39 wounded.

Captain Gambier ws a fighting Puritan, and encouraged religious exercises on board the ship, making the Defence a source of irritation and laughter in the fleet and raising doubts as to how her crew would behave in action. They cleared up these doubts, and as she lay a riddled and dismasted hulk, the Invincible, bore down, and Captain Pakenham, a rattling good-humoured Irishman, shouted, well, Jimmy, I see you are pretty well mauled; but never mind, Jimmy, whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.

There is another story told of the Defence. The lieutenant of the after part of the main deck seeing a great three-decker (the Republican) suddenly bearing down upon the Defence, and struck with a kind of momentary panic, ran up on the quarter-deck and addressed the Captain thus: Damn my eyes, sir, but here is a whole mountain coming upon us; what shall we do? Captain Gambier, who was quite unmoved, looked gravely at him and said in a solemn voice, How dare you, sir, at this awful moment come to me with an oath in your mouth? Go down. Sir, and encourage your men to stand to your guns like brave British seamen.

On July 9th, 1795, the Defence, commanded by Captain Thomas Wells, was one of a combined British and Neapolitan fleet of 32 sail in all under Admiral Hotham with his flag in Brittania. Commodore Horatio Nelson on the 7th had discovered the French off Cape de Melle, and was chased to San Fiorenzi, where he gave information to the Admiral. The French fleet consisted of 23 ships under Vice-Admiral Martin. On July 13th the French fleet were sighted off Hyeres, and the British at once chased. The action began at 12.30 p.m. At 2p.m. a French ship struck her colours, and at 3p.m. Admiral Hotham stopped the action. The British lost 11 killed and 28 wounded, and captured one ship. The Defence lost 1 killed and 6 wounded. Admiral Hotham's decision to cease fighting was severely criticised.

In 1797 the Defence was involved in the mutiny at Spithead. The men complained of low wages, insufficient leave, poor provisions, neglect of the sick, and that they were not paid while suffering in hospital. The Admiralty granted most of the requests, and the King pardoned the offenders. There was a great deal to be said on the men's side, and they behaved very moderately. Captain Thomas Wells of the Defence was turned ashore by the mutineers. The Defence was then sent out to join the fleet commanded by Admiral the Earl St. Vincent, and that she was still giving trouble is evidenced by the following letter from the Commander-in-Chief to Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Thompson, Bart.:

H.M.S. Ville de Paris, off Cadiz, August 28th, 1797.

Sir,- Captain Wells, of his Majesty's ship the Defence, having represented to me that George Galway, gunner's mate, and James Barrack, boatswain's mate, of the said ship, came with him yesterday with a message from the ship's company that it was their desire James Stride, cook of her, should be tried on board that ship, I desire you will take the earliest opportunity to visit the Defence, and inform the ship's company that I consider their conduct upon this occasion as highly reprehensible, and that they put the lives of their two messengers at hazard by sending them on so seditious an errand, and that it behoves them to be more circumspect in their conduct, and instead of aiding and abetting these murmurings and unworthy suspicions, it is their duty to make discovery of them immediately, concealment of mutiny or sedition being, to all intents and purposes, the same crime as an act or either.- I have, etc., etc.,

St. Vincent

A few days later the Earl St. Vincent, in writing to the secretary of the Admiralty, remarks:

I am sorry, however, to observe that there has been a disposition in the Defence . . . to make occasional appeals to the people, which I hope the execution of Michael Redden and the removal of some evil spirits from the Defence will put a stop to . . .

It was in the occasion of this last-mentioned execution that the Commander-in-Chief thought it necessary to make the following order, since published in full:

To Rear-Admiral Sir William Parker-

Most secret and confidential, not to be divulged to any one now, nor in future, unless necessary to put it in force.

Sir-It being necessary to take every precaution against any attempt to delay or defeat carrying the sentence of the court-martial into execution, on board his Majesty's ship Defence, this morning , I have ordered all the launches in the fleet, fitted with carronades, to have them mounted, and to hold them in readiness at a minute's warning; and, should any resistance be made to carry the sentence of the law into execution, of which immediate notice will be given to you, it is my direction that you assume the command of them, taking the captains of your division in their barges to your assistance, and that you fire into that part of His Majesty's ship the Defence where the persons resisting or refusing obedience to lawful commands may dispose of themselves, and continue your fire till they submit.- I have the honour, etc.,

St. Vincent:

On September 18th, 1798, nineteen seamen of the Defence were sentenced to death for mutiny, and six to flogging and imprisonment for the same offence.

In 1798 the Defence, commanded by Captain John Peyton, was one of a fleet of 14 vessels under Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, with his flag in Vanguard, which utterly defeated the French fleet at the battle of the Nile. The French, under Brueys with his flag in Orient, consisted of 17 ships, 2 brigs, 3 bombs, and several gunboats. Nelson, with his fleet, chased and searched for three months, starting at Cadiz on May 2nd, and eventually found the French fleet at anchor in the Bay of Aboukir on August 1st at 1p.m.. Standing into the Bay at 5.30, Nelson formed line of battle, and at 6p.m. the action began by the British attacking the French van and centre while they anchored by stern. The Culloden grounded while coming into harbour, and was unable to take part in the action. The Defence attacked the Peuple Soverain and soon drove her from her position, and then attacked the Franklin, which was soon silenced with a loss of her main and mizzen-masts. At 10p.m. the French flagship Orient blew up, having caught fire an hour previously. The action continued through the night, and at 6a.m. four French ships escaped under Rear-Admiral Villeneuve. The British lost 218 killed and 678 wounded, which included one Captain killed and Admiral Nelson and other officers wounded. The French lost in killed, wounded, burned, drowned, and missing, about 3500, which included among the killed Vice-Admiral Brueys and four Captains. Of the French ships 9 were captured, 3 were burned, and 4 escaped. Three of the prizes were eventually burned as useless.

Nelson's popularity had been under a cloud, but he was now given a barony, a pension of £3000, and a present of £10,000 from the East India Company. The first lieutenants of all ships were promoted, and the British and Irish Houses of Parliament voted thanks to the whole fleet. The "Defence lost 4 killed and 11 wounded. In 1799 the Defence, commanded by Captain Lord H. Paulet, was engaged in the blockade of Cadiz. On July 2nd, 1800, the boats from the Defence, assisted by those from the Renown and Fishguard, attacked and destroyed the French 20-gun ship Therese in Bourgneuf Bay. A 12-gun lugger, two 6-gun gunboats, and a 6-gun cutter were burned at the same time. The French gunboat Nochette had been taken a few days previously.

In 1801 the Defence, commanded by Captain Lord Henry Paulet, was in a fleet of 24 ships, 7 bombs, 2 fireships, and 6 gun brigs, commanded by Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson with his flag in Elephant which took part in the battle or bombardment of Copenhagen. The fleet forced a passage of the Ore Sound on March 30th, and after encountering various navigational difficulties, anchored under fire opposite Copenhagen on April 3rd. The Danish defences, besides forts, consisted of 18 men-of-war, armed hulks, and floating batteries, moored in a 1 mile line opposite the town. Two British men-of-war ran aground, and the six brigs were unable to get into action owing to tide.

The action began at 10 and was general at 11:30. A furious cannonade followed, during which time Nelson put his blind eye to his telescope when advised by the Commander-in-Chief four miles away to discontinue the action. When Nelson disregarded this advice the Defence and two other ships were despatched to assist the Vice-Admiral by Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. By 3.30p.m. letters were exchanged under flags of truce and the fighting ceased, most of the Danish ships and forts being silenced. The Danes lost in killed, wounded, and prisoners, about 6000 men. The British fleet lost 255 killed and 688 badly wounded. Fourteen Danish ships were captured, burned, blown up, driven on shore, or otherwise taken from the enemy. A fourteen-weeks armistice was then agreed to.

The Danes mounted 696 guns on this occasion against the British 1014 guns and carronades. The approach of the Defence and her two consorts acted as a further menace to the enemy, and assisted to induce the Danes to bring the hostilities to a conclusion. Nelson was elevated to the dignity of Viscount for this victory.

In 1801 the Defence captured the French 14-gun privateer L'Enfant Carnival off Lisbon. On October 21st, 1805, the Defence, commanded by Captain George Hope, took part in the battle of Trafalgar. The English fleet consisted of 27 ships, 4 frigates, and 2 small craft under Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson with his flag in Victory. The Franco-Spanish fleet consisted of 33 ships, 5 frigates, and 2 small craft under Vice-Admiral Villeneuve and Admiral Don Frederico Gravina. At daybreak the enemy were discovered 11 miles to leeward. The British fleet stood down to the attack in two lines, and the French opened fire on the leader of the lee line at noon. At 12.10 Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood broke the enemy's line and at 1p.m. Lord Nelson did the same. As soon as the light wind permitted, the remaining British ships came up and engaged, and by 1.30 the battle was at its height.

The Defence, as fourteenth ship of the lee column, was very late in getting into action. She first engaged the French Berwick and then attacked the Spanish San Ildefonso, which struck after an hours action. At 1.25p.m. Lord Nelson was mortally wounded while walking the Victory's quarter-deck with his flag-captain, and by 3p.m. the firing had diminished. At 4.40 p.m. Having learned of the completeness victory, the British Commander-in-Chief quietly and without a struggle ceased to breathe.

By 5p.m. the fight was over, the fleet being 8 miles N.W. by W. of Trafalgar. The British lost 449 killed, which included Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson, 2 captains, and 34 officers; and 1241 wounded which included 106 officers. The British ships suffered severely in the hulls, and many were wholly or partially dismasted. The Franco-Spaniards lost 18 ships captured, of which 1 blew up. It appears that the enemy lost about 7000 killed and wounded, which included two admirals and seven captains killed. The remainder of the allied fleet managed to escape, and six months afterwards the French commander-in-Chief, Vice-Admiral Villeneuve, died at Rennes (it is said by his own hands), and was buried without military honours. Of the 17 prizes 2 sank, 6 were wrecked and lost in a storm after the battle, 2 were burned, and 1 was destroyed.

The eldest surviving brother of Lord Nelson was created an earl with £5000 a year settled on the title in perpetuity, and given £99,000 to buy en estate. A annuity of £2000 was assigned to Lady Nelson, and a sum of £15,000 was given of each of his two sisters.

Vice-Admiral Collingwood was created a Peer with £2000 a year, and Flag-Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy was made a Baronet. A large number of lieutenants were promoted, and the fleet received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament. The Defence lost 7 killed and 29 wounded.

In 1807 the British Government observed that Napoleonic scheming tended to coerce Denmark into hostility against England. Accordingly a fleet of 65 vessels under Admiral Gambier, with his flag in Prince of Wales, was despatched against Denmark, and they anchored about four miles from Copenhagen in August, and established a blockade. The Defence, commanded by Captain Charles Ekins, joined the fleet on August 9th. A large army of men under General Lord Cathurt were landed and laid siege to the city of Copenhagen. On the 23rd a flotilla of 25 small bombs, mortar boats, and gunbrigs attacked Copenhagen from seaward, while the army got ready their batteries against the town. After much firing the Danes capitulated and surrendered their entire fleet of 70 vessels to the English. The big ships took no part in the engagement. The Naval loss in the small vessels was only 4 killed and 13 wounded, while the army lost about 200 killed, wounded, and missing. The fleet received the thanks of Parliament, Admiral Gambier was given a peerage, and Vice-Admiral Stanhope a baronetcy on account of these operations.

During the last months of 1807, the Defence, commanded by Captain Charles Ekins, took part in the blockade of Lisbon. In July 1809 the Defence, commanded by Captain David Atkins, sailed from the Downs in a fleet of 246 men-of-war of various kinds commanded by Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Strachan with his flag in Venerable. Four hundred transports accompanied the expedition, carrying some 40,000 troops under the earl of Chatham. Many of the men-of-war removed their lower-deck guns and carried horses. The expedition set forth to destroy all the French ships in the Schelde, and at Antwerp; to demolish the dockyards at Antwerp, Flushing, and Ter Neuze; and to render the Schelde no longer navigable for big French ships. This affair was of a Military rather than a Naval character. The fleet assisted by bombarding and the landing of a Naval Brigade, in the capture of the island of Walcheren, and in the bombardment, siege, and capture of flushing. But the Earl of Chatman was fonder of his own personal comfort than of work, and after the Island of Walcheren with its batteries, basins, and arsenals had been reduced the British forces withdrew.

On December 24th, 1811, after some minor services in the Baltic, the Defence, commanded by Captain David Atkins, was wrecked and lost on the coast of Jutland, 593 men being lost out of 597. The St. George, with Rear-Admiral Robert Carthew Revnolds, had gone ashore, which circumstance was reported to Captain Atkins by the master of the Defence. . . . The Captain enquired whether the Admiral had made the signal to part company; upon being answered in the negative, he replied. I will never desert my Admiral in the hour of danger and distress. Shortly afterwards the Defence too struck. The sea swept completely over the Defence, and the masts had to be cut away. Minute-guns were fired, but the guns soon broke adrift. The waves forced numbers of the men down the hatchways. The booms were washed away, and with them nearly one hundred men who were clinging to the different spars. The guns, which had broken loose, crashed from side to side, killing and maiming those who could not get out of their way. The boats were all stove in except the pinnace. Twenty men got into her, but she capsized, and all perished. Another sea lifted a spare anchor and threw it up on end, and in its fall upon the forecastle it killed about thirty men. The Danes behaved with great kindness to the survivors, and also attended to the burial of all the bodies that were washed ashore, including that of Captain David Atkins, whom they subsequently exhumed and placed in a vault with the honours of war.

The fourth DEFENCE was a 74-gun ship, launched at Chatham in 1815. She was of 1754 tons, and carried a crew of 590 men. Her length, beam, and draught were 176ft., 48ft., and 18ft. This vessel ended her days as a convict ship at Woolwich, and she was broken up in 1857.

The fifth DEFENCE was a 60-ton coastguard cruiser, launched in 1848. In 1847 the Defence was sold.

The sixth DEFENCE was a 60-ton coastguard cruiser, launched in 1848. In 1869 the Defence was sold for £391.

The seventh DEFENCE was a 16-gun screw battleship, launched at Jarrow in 1861. She was of 6150 tons, 2600 horse-power, and 11 knots speed. Her length, beam, and draught were 280ft., 54ft., and 26ft. For many years the Defence acted as a coastguard ship at Holyhead, but her name was eventually changed to Indus, and she acted as a mechanician's training-ship at Plymouth.

The eighth DEFENCE is a 14-gun twin-screw cruiser, launched at Pembroke in 1907. She is of 14,600 tons, 27,000 horse-power, and 23 knots speed. Her length, beam, and draught were 490ft., 74ft., and 26ft. From November 1911 to February 1912 the Defence, commanded Henry H. Bruce, had the honour of acting as one of the escort to H.M.S. Medina. The Medina, flying the Royal Standard, was conveying the King Emperor, His Majesty King George the Fifth, to India, where his Majesty's Coronation Durbar was helld at Delhi on December 12th, 1911.

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