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Don’t Give Up the Ship

We all probably remember at some point, when we had a bad day, or possibly something much, much worse, someone told us, by way of encouragement, “Don’t give up the ship.”

Ever wonder how that phrase came about? So, to borrow the words of the long-ago iconic radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, “Here’s the rest of the story.”

Tradition has it that Captain James Lawrence said these heroic words after being mortally wounded in the engagement between his ship, the U.S. frigate Chesapeake and the British HMS Shannon on June 1, 1813 during the War of 1812. As the wounded Lawrence was carried below he ordered, “Tell the men to fire faster. Don’t give up the ship.”

The Chesapeake’s crew, however, was overwhelmed by a British boarding party and was forced to surrender. Captain Lawrence died of his wounds three days later as his ship was sailed by the British to Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was buried with military honors in Halifax, but eventually reinterred at Trinity Church Cemetery in New York City.

Captain Lawrence’s words lived on as a rallying cry during the war. Oliver Hazard Perry, another naval hero of the war, honored his dead friend when he had the motto sewn onto his battle flag flown during the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813.

The flag served as an inspiration to Perry’s fleet and the victory over the British, who lost two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop, a victory which secured the Great Lakes region for the United States. Perry’s victory was followed by his immortal dispatch, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

Captain Lawrence’s legacy lives on in the United States with Lawrence counties in 10 states and cities named after him in Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois and New Jersey.

Now you know the rest of the story.