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HIST974 Seminar in American History | British Naval Ship Shannon


The command “Don’t give up the Ship” is one of the most famous commands that almost became the law for the captains of the ships and was much eulogized in the days to come was said by the American Naval Officer known as James Lawrence. He was the commander of the American naval ship known as the USS Chesapeake (George, 2015). The statement which was mentioned by the naval officer when he has almost going to die, therefore it is also known as his dying command. His statement was “Don’t Give up the Ship!” which is still famous as a naval cry of the battle. Lawrence had been a student of Law and he entered the Royal Navy of the United States in the year 1798 serving as the midshipman, and this position is the junior most rank among the naval officers.

He soon was promoted to the post of lieutenant when he was serving the USS Enterprise and was successful in a number of attacks on the enemies. Lt. Lawrence was having great advancement in his position and soon he was serving as the 2nd in command, and was successful in destroying the USS enterprise which was captured. He served various other naval ships as well like the USS Vixen, USS Argus, and USS Wasp. He was quite efficient and gained great reputation in his position in which he was serving.   

On June 1t 1813 when the British naval ship Shannon had appeared un the offshore of Boston the people were quite worried because of the defiance and challenged showed by the British navy. USS Chesapeake sailed out as a response to the British Shannon. It was a breathtaking situation as it was known that the British Navy was the strongest at that point of time. The nation was young and the whole population of the nation was looking forward to a great victory which would establish the prestige of the young nation to the highest level. The crowd who were too eager to witness the forthcoming battle had taken various positions which made them tactically advantageous to witness the event that was going to unfold, and this included the high buildings, the rooftops, the large trees and some people had even taken small boats to the sea to be near the battle zone for the best view possible.

The naval ship Shannon was a greatly powerful ship with 38 guns and it was under the command of the famous and popular Captain Philip Broke. The USS Chesapeajke on the other hand was a smaller ship with 36 guns and the captain had just taken command just 11 days before the battle (Neimeyer, 2015). Captain Lawrence however had plenty of experience from the past.

The crowd saw that both the ships sailed far away from the shore therefore it was not visible by the crowd which caused much disappointment because the crowd had this ardent desire the witness conflict. This particular battle had lasted for about approximately 15 minutes, and had been the cause of 250 casualties. The battle of the ships had been mainly happening by the pouring of hundreds of cannon balls to each other’s ships. The Americans experienced an unfortunate defeat in this particular battle when the ship caught fire and Broke had captured it. Captain Lawrence was fatally injured by a gunfire and his last words to his men was “Don’t give up the ship!” The ship was captured by the British party who had repaired this particular ship to rechristen it as HMS Chesapeake and used it for various purposes (Sheads, 2014). The stirring cry of Lawrence at the end of his life became the war cry of the U.S Navy. The important Battle of the Lake Erie on 1813 in which the American navy came out as victorious witnessed Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry naming his ship as Lawrence and also a flag was flown on the ship where the last words of Captain Lawrence was printed in white on a blue background.

Captain Lawrence was given a number of bravery and gallantry awards many of which was posthumous. Apart from that many places were also renamed after the late Captain’s name, some of these places are Lawrence in Indiana, Lawrenceville in Illinois, and Lawrence County in Ohio. There are various other battle ships which are named after him. The dying command of the gallant Commander Captain Lawrence is still remembered by the US Navy and the general people in the country.


George, C. T. (2015). The War in the Chesapeake. In The Routledge Handbook of the War of 1812 (pp. 95-110). Routledge.

Neimeyer, C. (2015). War in the Chesapeake: The British Campaigns to Control the Bay, 1813-1814. Naval Institute Press.

Sheads, S. S. (2014). The Chesapeake Campaigns 1813–15: Middle ground of the War of 1812. Bloomsbury Publishing.

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