Graffin Prankard

Graffin Prankard was the son of Graffin Prankard who came from central Somerset.  In 1708 Prankard senior had inherited land and tenements in Somerton and a small estate in Lympsham from his father Robert, a maltster.  The Prankards were part of a close knit community of Quakers and this is possibly how Graffin junior met Sarah Alloway, the daughter of William Alloway, a Quaker merchant trading out of Bridgewater and Minehead.  It is not known when the Prankards moved to Bristol to take advantage of the thriving business opportunities, but Graffin junior married there in 1708. He and his wife, Sarah, leased a house and cellar facing the busy harbour on St Augustine’s Back from the Dean and Chapter of Bristol Cathedral and continued to live there throughout their marriage. He also rented another cellar and a loft which were probably used for storing some of his merchandise.

He set himself up as a merchant eventually trading in iron, steel, tar and pitch from Stockholm; timber, tallow, flax and hemp from St Petersburg; hides and tallow from Ireland; logwood and rice from the Carolinas; and other commodities from Rotterdam, Hamburg, Danzig and the West Indies.  His father-in-law had been trading in salt from Droitwich, which was shipped in trows (barges) down the river Severn to Bristol, where it was sent to be used to salt fish before it was exported.  Graffin built up this trade in salt from Droitwich, which was distributed throughout the west of England.

Graffin’s business dealings in Bristol and elsewhere were mainly with fellow Quaker merchants.  As an iron merchant, Graffin also invested in iron making and in partnership with James Peters, also of Bristol, he entered into an agreement with Abraham Darby, a fellow Quaker who had been living and working in Bristol.  In 1702 Darby had founded the Bristol Brass Company but by 1711 he was developing his iron smelting works in Coalbrookdale in the Midlands, using the capital he obtained from investors.  This partnership lasted six years.

Under Graffin’s supervision and close attention to detail, his business prospered.  At first he entrusted his merchandise to the ships of various Bristol merchants but in 1724 he launched his own ship of 100 tons, the Parham Pink.  From the records he kept of all his trading ventures it is possible to build up a picture of the thriving port of Bristol in the eighteenth century.  In 1732 he launched a much larger ship, the Baltick Merchant, built at the enormous cost of £2,744 1s 8½d.  At 200 tons this ship was more than twice the capacity of most ships using the port of Bristol at this time.


From the 1730s Graffin invested some of his profits in buying more land and raising stock and farming in Somerton.  He also developed his salt interests in Droitwich by covenanting with William Nock, the proprietor of a salt works in Droitwich, to lease a ‘bryne pitt’ and a seal or salt house and salt pans, with a passageway leading to the High Street in St Andrew’s.  He was also to build another salt house and pay off all the taxes of the premises and keep them in good repair.  The property was leased from two sisters, Hannah and Martha Richards, who had inherited the property from their mother, Phoebe, who died in 1730.  This gave Graffin and Nock the sole use of the brine pit and salt pans. In 1733 he was trading in iron goods and salt which were transported down the river Severn in his trows: the Providence and the John and Betty.  In Bristol the goods were trans-shipped to ports round Britain, Ireland and further afield.  Between 1734 and 1739 Graffin received deliveries of salt from William Nock and recorded the transactions in his account books.


From 1736 a succession of disasters struck Graffin’s business.  His agent in South Carolina, Paul Jennys, died.  He had undertaken many complex business dealings on Graffin's behalf but had failed to keep proper records.  This made it impossible to collect many unpaid debts and Graffin lost a great deal of money as a result.  In 1738 the Baltick Merchant ran aground leaving Charleston harbour in South Carolina and her cargo of rice was lost.

Graffin and Sarah’s daughter, also Sarah, married Caleb Dickinson, one of her father’s apprentices, who came from a wealthy Quaker family, in January 1739. 

In June of the same year William Nock received the last part of £100 from Graffin, which he had agreed to pay Nock for his services.  This was the year when Nock died and left his property including his share in the house, brine seal, yards and gardens to his wife Susannah for her life and then to his wife’s niece, Mary Butcher.  After Nock’s death Thomas Haydon seems to have taken charge of the Droitwich salt works. 

Bad luck continued to follow Graffin in the following year, 1740.  His pride and joy, the Baltick Merchant and her cargo were lost.  She was returning from South Carolina to Cowes with a cargo of rice and logwood when she was attacked off the Scilly Isles by a fast and strongly armed Spanish privateer.  Hostilities had broken out between Britain and Spain over colonial disputes and the ship was captured and taken to San Sebastian with the loss of some of the crew and a passenger.  Nathaniel Alloway, the master of the ship and a relation of Graffin’s wife, eventually managed to get home with the remaining crew, through France.  The value of the vessel and cargo was declared to be £6000 and Graffin registered an insurance claim.  His bad luck continued when his small ship, the Seaflower, was wrecked off St Petersburg in 1740.

The news of Graffin’s loss reached Bristol and had an immediate effect on his business.  Most business was conducted on credit, so as soon as the loss was known creditors rushed for payment.  He was only saved from going bankrupt by his Quaker relations and friends.  John Galton, a Bristol merchant who was married to Hannah, the sister of Graffin’s wife, took over running the business and Graffin's son in law, Caleb Dickinson, provided finance.  John Galton and Caleb Dickinson were two of his creditors and he leased several pieces of property in Western Zoyland, land in Whelpsham and Lympsham, property in Somerton, his half of an interest in three houses in Droitwich (near the Talbot Inn), and a quarter of a house in Bridgewater which he held with John Galton, Elizabeth Alloway and Joseph Gillet, to Galton and Dickinson.  His assets were assessed in 1742.  His house in Droitwich was valued at £360 and chattels there at £133 10s.  Amongst his assets were coal at Droitwich and Pope iron, which was produced in Worcester by Mrs Mercy Pope and her husband. 

From the end of 1741 until 1750 Graffin resumed trade with South Carolina and Europe and this trade was recorded in his trading accounts.  His ledgers show trade in iron goods and salt; in 1743 he lost 366 bushels of white salt on the river Severn during a flood.  A Treasury warrant to the salt commissioners allowed Graffin the duty on the salt lost.  His dealings in salt were recorded in his Salt Book.  In 1742/3, after Nock’s death, Graffin was dealing with Thomas Haydon, a Quaker, concerning the salt works in Droitwich. By 1746 Thomas Haydon owned the Star and Garter, on the corner of Backbridge Lane (now Ricketts Lane), near to the salt works.

Graffin took a less active part in his business in the 1750s and died on 4th July 1756. He was buried in the Quaker burial ground at Redcliff, Bristol.



Severn Traders            Colin Green 1999

From Quaker Traders to Anglican Gentry      JH Bettey 1991

Somerset Record Office:        Dickinson Papers

Birmingham City Archives:    Galton Archive M3101/A/D/17/1

The Hive Worcester & National Archives, Kew for wills.

Thanks are given to Dawn McQueen for all her help.