James Lawrence

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James Lawrence
Gilbert Stuart - KN-2579 Master Commandant James Lawrence, USN (1781-1813).tif
portrait by Gilbert Stuart
Born(1781-10-01)October 1, 1781
Burlington, New Jersey, US
DiedJune 4, 1813(1813-06-04) (aged 31)
USS Chesapeake near Boston, Massachusetts, US
Place of burial
Service/branchUnited States Navy
Years of service1798–1813
Commands held
SignatureSignature of James Lawrence (1781–1813).png

James Lawrence (October 1, 1781 – June 4, 1813) was an officer of the United States Navy. During the War of 1812, he commanded USS Chesapeake in a single-ship action against HMS Shannon, commanded by Philip Broke. He is probably best known today for his last words, "Don't give up the ship!", uttered during the capture of the Chesapeake. The quotation is still a popular naval battle cry, and was invoked in Oliver Hazard Perry's personal battle flag, adopted to commemorate his dead friend.[1][2]


Lawrence was born on October 1, 1781, the son of John and Martha (Tallman) Lawrence, in Burlington, New Jersey, but raised in Woodbury. His mother died when he was an infant, and his Loyalist father fled to Canada during the American Revolution, leaving his half-sister to care for the young Lawrence. He attended Woodbury Academy.[3] Though Lawrence studied law, he entered the United States Navy as a midshipman in 1798.

During the Quasi-War with France, he served on USS Ganges and the frigate USS Adams in the Caribbean. He was commissioned a lieutenant on April 6, 1802, and served aboard USS Enterprise in the Mediterranean, taking part in a successful attack on enemy craft on June 2, 1803.

In February 1804, he was second in command during the expedition to destroy the captured frigate USS Philadelphia. Later in the conflict he commanded Enterprise and a gunboat in battles with the Tripolitans. He was also First Lieutenant of the frigate Adams and, in 1805, commanded the small Gunboat No. 6 during a voyage across the Atlantic to North Africa.

Although Gunboats No. 2 through 10 (minus No. 7) arrived in the Mediterranean too late to see action, they remained there with Commodore Rodgers's squadron until summer 1806, at which time they sailed back to the United States. On June 12, 1805, Gunboat No. 6 encountered a Royal Navy vessel that impressed three seamen.[4][5]

Subsequently, Lieutenant Lawrence commanded the warships USS Vixen, USS Wasp and USS Argus. In 1810, he also took part in trials of an experimental spar torpedo.[citation needed] Promoted to the rank of Master Commandant in November 1810, he took command of the sloop of war USS Hornet a year later and sailed her to Europe on a diplomatic mission. From the beginning of the War of 1812, Lawrence and Hornet cruised actively, capturing the privateer Dolphin in July 1812. Later in the year Hornet blockaded the British sloop HMS Bonne Citoyenne at Bahia, Brazil, and on February 24, 1813 captured HMS Peacock.

USS Chesapeake by F. Muller. US Navy Art Collection
Battle flag used by Oliver Hazard Perry
Artist representation of the "Don't Give Up the Ship" moment

Upon his return to the United States in March, Lawrence learned of his promotion to captain. Two months later he took command of the frigate Chesapeake, then preparing for sea at Boston. He left port on June 1, 1813, and immediately engaged the blockading Royal Navy frigate Shannon in a fierce battle. Although slightly smaller, the British ship disabled Chesapeake with gunfire within the first few minutes. Captain Lawrence, mortally wounded by small arms fire, ordered his officers, "Don't give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks."[6] or "Tell the men to fire faster! Don't give up the ship."[1] Men carried him below, and his crew was overwhelmed by a British boarding party shortly afterward. James Lawrence died of his wounds on June 4, 1813, while his captors directed Chesapeake to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

After Lawrence's death was reported to his friend and fellow officer Oliver Hazard Perry, he ordered a large blue battle ensign, stitched with the phrase "DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP" [sic] in bold white letters. The Perry Flag was displayed on his flagship during a victorious engagement against the British on Lake Erie in September 1813.[1] The original flag is displayed in the Naval Academy Museum and a replica is displayed in Memorial Hall at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. A replica is also on view at Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial, on South Bass Island, Ohio.

James Lawrence's grave at Trinity Church Cemetery

Lawrence was buried with military honors at present-day CFB Halifax, Nova Scotia, but reinterred at Trinity Church Cemetery in New York City. He was survived by his wife, Julia (Montaudevert) Lawrence, who lived until 1865, and their two-year-old daughter, Mary Neill Lawrence. In 1838 Mary married a Navy officer, Lt. William Preston Griffin.

On July 4, 1813, Lawrence was posthumously elected to membership in the New York Society of the Cincinnati.[7]

Namesakes and honors[edit]

Lawrence's last words are memorialized on the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Lake Erie.

He was honored with a Congressional Gold Medal[8] and the Thanks of Congress.

Many places are named for Captain Lawrence, including:

His birthplace of Burlington, New Jersey, has a Captain James Lawrence Elementary School.[13]

In addition, the U.S. Navy has named five ships USS Lawrence.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Famous Navy Quotations". Naval History and Heritage Command. August 19, 2019. Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  2. ^ Dudley, William S., ed. (1992). The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History. Vol. 2. Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office. p. 559.
  3. ^ Dickon, Chris (2008). The Enduring Journey of the USS Chesapeake: Navigating the Common History of Three Nations. Arcadia Publishing. p. 50. ISBN 9781625843791. Retrieved July 7, 2020. By the age of twelve, James Lawrence knew that he wanted to go to sea. His father wanted him to go to law school, however, and so he set out on that course, starting at Woodbury Academy, which Stephen Decatur Jr. had previously attended.
  4. ^ Smith (1995), pp. 95–86.
  5. ^ Tucker (1993), pp. 77–9.
  6. ^ Crocker III, H. W. (2006). Don't Tread on Me. New York: Crown Forum. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-4000-5363-6.
  7. ^ "About HONORARY MEMBERS". The New York State Society of the Cincinnati. 2015. Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  8. ^ J. F. Loubat, LL.D. (1831–1927), Jaquemart, Jules Fredinand (1837–1880), illustrator. (1888) THE MEDALLIC HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1776–1876. Volume II Project Gutenberg or here for text at Internet archive.
  9. ^ "City History". City of Lawrence, IN. Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  10. ^ Hempstead, Fay (1890). A Pictorial History of Arkansas: From Earliest Times to the Year 1890. Southern Historical Press. p. 833. ISBN 9780893080747.
  11. ^ The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society. Vol. 1. Kentucky State Historical Society. 1903. p. 35.
  12. ^ Krakow, Kenneth K. (1975). Georgia Place-Names: Their History and Origins (PDF). Macon, GA: Winship Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-915430-00-2.
  13. ^ "Captain James Lawrence Elementary School". Burlington-NJ.net. City of Burlington Public Schools. Retrieved June 24, 2019.


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

External links[edit]