In February 1801, off the French coast, His Britannic Majesty’s Frigate Theadora intercepted four French merchantmen attempting to evade the British blockade. After a short chase, and as she prepared to fire a warning shot, the four came about and hove to. The frigate lowered boats and sent one to seize each of the enemy vessels.
The launch, Theadora’s largest boat, crept steadily toward the waiting barkentine. Edward Pierce, the third lieutenant, nudged the tiller to keep the boat on course, making the slight changes in heading without conscious thought or effort.
“A routine operation, do you think, sir?” asked Midshipman Thomas Morgan. His oldest uniform, purchased before a final growth spurt, fit snugly. The midshipman’s white collar patches were stained and dirty.
“One would think,” answered Pierce. “Still, something about it doesn’t set well.”
The launch topped a crest and the Frenchman appeared to be noticeably closer. The forty British seamen in the launch would board the apparently surrendered merchantman, place the crew under guard, and search the ship. Once certain that none of the crew was hiding and that the cargo posed no risk to a prize crew, the majority would return to Theadora. Morgan and eight hands would remain onboard, with orders to sail to any English port.