But, there is one vessel encountered by the frigate South Carolina in her voyages that ever and always has remained unnamed - the very first prize the frigate ever took. It must have been a relatively minor encounter because no single source covers it in much detail. What we know of this encounter between the frigate and her prize has to be gleaned from sources that do not offer great quantities of information on this encounter. As a matter of fact, these sources frequently raise more questions which may never be answered due to the passage of over two hundred and twenty-five years.
Evidently, once Commodore Gillon had set sail from the Texel, Holland, he lingered in Dutch coastal waters for about three weeks, waiting for a convoy of merchant vessels to assemble themselves to be escorted by his frigate across the Atlantic Ocean. While the frigate South Carolina was experiencing the North Sea for the first time "...a major North Sea tempest lasting two days..." (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 38) struck the area and wrecked an entire Swedish fleet. The frigate South Carolina rode out the storm at sea with only minor damage, mostly to her masts. This storm must have figured into the delay of the merchant vessels in assembling themselves. The Lewis work Neptune's Militia, page 39, states that "giving the small convoy one more chance to come out, on August 24 Gillon cruised past Texel Road for a last time and then turned the ship northwest for the voyage home".
Once out into the North Sea, Commodore Gillon pointed the frigate South Carolina to sail along the eastern coast of England and Scotland. According to the Lewis work, Neptune's Militia, page 39, "Gillon evidently felt that the Laurens contract was no longer binding, because he now spent considerable time chasing prizes, running one down off Berwick on England's east coast." This reference to "...Berwick on England's east coast" is a reference to Berwick-upon-Tweed, a town located in far northern England, two-and-one-half miles south of the Scottish border and situated in the county of Northumberland. This citation tells us where geographically Commodore Gillon encountered this vessel but, nothing more of it or the encounter.
There are two other references to the capture of this unnamed British ship. One comes from the pension application of Alexander Coffin Of Nantucket, Massachusetts, "Pension Application of Alexander Coffin W8617". In Coffin's pension application we find the following statement: "...after long waiting for an opportunity to put to sea & evade the British squadrons which were constantly cruising off the Texel; finally sailed from thence about the middle of September 1781, took an English prize in the North Sea which not being worth sending in was burned..." This account offers a bit more information on what became of this unnamed British vessel. Evidently, the ship was in such poor condition, Commodore Gillon judged to not place a prize crew aboard her and burned her instead. The poor condition could have been due to the age of the ship, lack of timely maintenance, or some other environmental factor that resulted in such factors as rotten wood and severe leaking. This first prize taken by the frigate South Carolina was destroyed on orders of Commodore Gillon.
The second reference we have also is in relation to Alexander Coffin. Coffin served as a midshipman on board the frigate South Carolina during this cruise off the eastern coast of England. His entry in Moss's work, Roster of South Carolina Patriots in the American Revolution, page 182, states that "...during September 1781, he assisted in capturing an English ship in the North Sea." This brief entry is all that indicates the capture of this unnamed British prize by the frigate South Carolina or that midshipman Alexander Coffin participated in this capture. But, both this citation and the one above contained in Coffin's pension application indicates that an enemy vessel of some types was indeed run down by the frigate and burned as unfit to send in to a friendly port, a port city in France being that destination.
This is all that is known of the encounter of this vessel with the frigate South Carolina. There is enough references here to slightly reconstruct this event but, nothing more. This vessel certainly had a name, a home port, a cargo it was carrying when she was stopped by the frigate South Carolina, a crew that also had faces and names, and a history plying the deep. All of this has been lost to us now, two hundred years removed from these events. But, this chance encounter did take place. A ship was burned, for one reason or another. A crew was taken prisoner. A cargo confiscated and taken aboard the frigate South Carolina. Yet, this vessel disappears from recorded history after this in much the same manner that the frigate South Carolina disappeared from the pages of history after her capture by the Royal Navy in December 1782. Irony or fate?