James Lawrence

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James Lawrence (October 1, 1781 – June 4, 1813) An American naval officer. During the War of 1812, he commanded the USN Chesapeake in a single-ship action against HMS Shannon, commanded by Philip Broke. The fervid patriotism of the time elevated him posthumously to a national hero. His command Don't give up the ship became emblematic of the United States Navy.

Lawrence entered the United States Navy as a midshipman in September 1798. He was commissioned a lieutenant on April 6, 1802 and served aboard USS Enterprise in the Mediterranean. He was a member of Stephen Decatur's raiding party which destroyed the USN Philadelphia in Tripoli harbour after it was captured by the Tripolitans in 1804. He was promoted to the rank of Master Commandant in November 1810, He was given command of the sloop of war USN Hornet in 1811.

During the War of 1812, Lawrence commanding the Hornet capturing the privateer Dolphin, blockaded the British sloop HMS Bonne Citoyenne at Bahia, Brazil, and on 24 February 1813 captured HMS Peacock.

Lawrence was promoted to Captain and given command of the frigate USN Chesapeake at Boston. On 1 June 1813 he sailed from Boston to engage the blockading Royal Navy frigate HMS Shannon. Superior training and gunfire from the Shannon overwhelmed the Chesapeake. Captain Lawrence, mortally wounded, ordered his officers to "...not to give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks." However, his crew was overwhelmed by a British boarding party shortly afterwards.

The engagement of the Shannon and the Chesapeake took on great symbolic importance for both the British and Americans. Lawrence and Broke became national hero's and subsequent portrayal of their actions has tended to reflect the partisanship of each side.

James Lawrence died of his wounds on 4 June 1813, while Chesapeake was being taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

He was buried with military honours in Halifax. Popular concern lead to a private subscription to repatriate his remains. He was first buried in Salem, Massachusetts. Later his body was reinterred in Trinity Churchyard, New York City. He left behind a wife and daughter.

Following his death, Oliver Hazard Perry, would order a large blue battle ensign stitched with the phrase "DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP" in bold white letters which would fly from his flagship during his victorious engagement against the British on Lake Erie in September, 1813.

The United States Navy has named five ships in honor of James Lawrence, including the U.S. Brig Lawrence (1813-1825) commanded by Perry on Lake Erie.

In the canon

Lawrence appears in Fortune of War and The Surgeon's Mate in his historical context. As commander of the Hornet his victory over the Peacock is the catalyst for meeting Jack Aubrey being held as a prisoner in Boston. Lawrence calls on Aubrey to pass on news of Lieutenant William Mowett who was being treated in New York after the loss of his ship. [1] Aubrey's impression is highly favourable; "He liked the look of him...obviously a sailor." As Lawrence readies his new command, the Chesapeake, Aubrey watches his preparations with great interest. Lawrence is last seen bringing his ship into battle directly against the Shannon which wins both Aubrey and Broke's praise for being " handsomely done". [2]

In The Surgeon's Mate Lawrence dies of his wounds and is buried in Halifax. Aubrey attends the funeral which causes him to reflect on Lawrence, "he had never regretted an enemy commander as he regretted Lawrence, a man quite after his own heart, who had brought his ship into action and had fought her in the most handsomest manner." [3]

O'Brian presumably wishes to establish their kindred martial spirit in the Nelson tradition of "never mind manoeuvres: go straight at 'em'"- although Aubrey does show some doubt that these tactics may no longer be suitable for conflict with the Americans. O'Brian also provides a very balanced portrait of Lawrence and avoids the partisan history and critiques on both sides


  1. FOW, omnibus HC edition , Norton, page 20609
  2. FOW, Ibid, page 2185
  3. SM, omnibus HC edition, Norton, page 2218

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