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|The Robinson Library >> James Madison's Administration, 1809-1817|
naval hero best known for his rallying cry of "Don't give up the ship!"
James Lawrence was born in Burlington, New Jersey, on October 1, 1781. Educated in the field of law, Lawrence chose to enlist in the newly formed U.S. Navy instead, in September 1798. He served as a Midshipman aboard the Ganges and Adams during the undeclared war with France, as a Lieutenant aboard the schooner Enterprise during the War with Tripoli, and was second in command during the expedition to destroy the frigate Philadelphia in the Tripoli Harbor. Later in the Tripolitan War he commanded the Enterprise and a gunboat in battles with the Tripolitans. He subsequently served as First Lieutenant of the frigate John Adams, 1805 commanded Gunboat Number 6 during a voyage across the Atlantic to Italy, and commanded the warships Vixen, Wasp and Argus. Promoted to the rank of Master Commandant in 1810, he took command of the sloop Hornet the following year and sailed her to Europe on a diplomatic mission.
Lawrence was still in command of the Hornet when the War of 1812 broke out. In July 1812, the Hornet captured the privateer Dolphin. Later that year the Hornet blockaded the British sloop Bonne Citoyenne at Bahia, Brazil. On February 24, 1813, she sank the HMS Peacock off British Guiana.
Returning to the United States in March 1813, Lawrence was promoted to the rank of Captain. Two months later he took command of the frigate Chesapeake, which left Boston on June 1. Almost immediately after leaving port, the Chesapeake engaged the British frigate Shannon in battle. When the two ships crashed together, British seamen stormed the Chesapeake, where the two crews engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Both sides suffered heavy losses, but the British were ultimately victorious. Lawrence was mortally wounded during the battle. As he lay dying, he gave his final order, which became the rallying cry for the American Navy: "Don't give up the ship!" While inspired by his words, the Chesapeake's crew was unable to fend off the British and was forced to surrender the ship. Lawrence died of his wounds on June 4. He is buried in New York.
Five ships have been named in honor of James Lawrence: U.S. Brig Lawrence (1813-1825); U.S. Brig Lawrence (1843-1846); USS Lawrence (Destroyer #8); USS Lawrence (DD-250); and, USS Lawrence (DDG-4).
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This page was last updated on June 23, 2018.