Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
James Lawrence (October 1, 1781–June 4, 1813) was an American naval hero. During the War of 1812, he commanded the USS Chesapeake in battle against the HMS Shannon. He is probably best known today for his dying command "Don't give up the ship!", which is still a popular naval battle cry.
He was born in Burlington, New Jersey, the son of John and Martha (Tallman) Lawrence. His mother died when he was an infant and his Loyalist father fled to Canada during the Revolution, leaving his half-sister to care for him. Though he studied law, he entered the navy as a midshipman in 1798.
During the Quasi-War with France, he served in the ship Ganges and frigate Adams in the Caribbean. He was commissioned a lieutenant on April 6, 1802 and served aboard Enterprise in the Mediterranean taking part in a successful attack on enemy craft on 2 June 1803.
In February 1804 he was second in command during the expedition to destroy the captured frigate 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 Number 6 during a voyage across the Atlantic to Italy.
Subsequently, Lieutenant Lawrence commanded the warships Vixen, Wasp and Argus. In 1810 he also took part in trials of an experimental spar-torpedo. Promoted to the rank of Master Commandant in November 1810, he took command of the sloop of war 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 Bonne Citoyenne at Bahia, Brazil, and on 24 February 1813 captured HMS Peacock .
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, Massachusetts. She left port on 1 June 1813 and immediately engaged the Royal Navy frigate Shannon in a fierce battle. Captain Lawrence, mortally wounded by small arms fire, ordered "Don't give up the ship" as he was carried below. However, his crew was overwhelmed by British boarders shortly afterwards. James Lawrence died of his wounds on 4 June, while Chesapeake was being taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, by her captors.
Lawrence County, Ohio is named for him.
Captain James Lawrence Elementary School in Burlington, New Jersey is named after him.
Five ships are named USS Lawrence for him.
- Albert Gleaves. James Lawrence, Captain, United States Navy, Commander of the 'Chesapeake'. 1904.
- Peter Padfield. Broke and the Shannon. 1968.
- H.F. Pullen. The Shannon and the Chesapeake. 1970.
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