During the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain, Captain James Lawrence sailed in command of the 36-gun frigate USS Chesapeake. On June 1, 1813, the Chesapeake engaged the warship HMS Shannon near Boston in a ship-to-ship duel. Lawrence’s crew was young and inexperienced, while the Shannon had one of the best-trained crews in the Royal Navy. The British guns quickly cut away the Chesapeake’s rigging, setting her adrift, and the king’s men swarmed onto the American vessel.
Within a few minutes Captain Lawrence was mortally wounded. As he was carried below deck, he gave his last order: “Tell the men to fire faster! Don’t give up the ship!”
Despite the captain’s exhortation, the Chesapeake was soon captured. Lawrence died a few days later, leaving behind a wife and daughter.
When fellow officer Oliver Hazard Perry heard of Lawrence’s death, he had his friend’s dying words stitched onto a large blue banner, which he flew from his flagship, the USS Lawrence – named for Captain Lawrence – when he fought the British on Lake Erie in September 1813.
Perry’s flag now hangs in a place of honor in Memorial Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The words it bears – “Don’t Give Up the Ship” – have become a rallying cry of the Navy.