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First Name: James

Last Name: Lawrence

Birthplace: Burlington, NJ, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Date of Birth: 01 October 1781

Date of Death: 01 June 1813

Rank or Rate: Captain

Years Served:
James Lawrence

•  Quasi-War (Franco-American War) (1798 - 1800)
•  War of 1812


James Lawrence
Captain, U.S. Navy

James Lawrence was born on 1 October 1781 in Burlington, NJ, the son of John and Martha Tallman Lawrence. He was raised in Woodbury, NJ. His mother died when he was an infant and his Loyalist father fled to Canada during the American Revolution, leaving his half-sister to care for the infant. Though Lawrence studied law, he entered the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in 1798.

During the Quasi-War with France, he served on USS Ganges and the frigate USS Adams in the Caribbean. He was commissioned a Lieutenant on 6 April 1802 and served aboard USS 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 USS 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 No. 6 during a voyage across the Atlantic to North Africa.

Although Gunboats No. 2 through 10 (minus No. 7) arrived in the Mediterranean too late to see action, they remained there with Commodore Rodgers's squadron until summer 1806, at which time they sailed back to the U.S. On 12 June 1805, Gunboat No. 6 encountered a Royal Navy vessel that impressed three seamen.

Subsequently, Lieutenant Lawrence commanded the warships USS Vixen, USS Wasp and USS 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 USS 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 HMS Bonne Citoyenne at Bahia, Brazil, and on 24 February 1813, captured HMS Peacock.

Upon his return to the U.S. in March, Lawrence learned of his promotion to Captain. Two months later he took command of the frigate USS Chesapeake, then preparing for sea at Boston, MA. He left port on 1 June 1813 and immediately engaged the blockading Royal Navy frigate HMS Shannon in a fierce battle. Although slightly smaller, the British ship disabled Chesapeake with gunfire within the first few minutes. Captain Lawrence, mortally wounded by small arms fire, ordered his officers, "Don't give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks." or "Tell them to fire faster; don't give up the ship." Men carried him below, and his crew was overwhelmed by a British boarding party shortly afterward. James Lawrence died of his wounds on 4 June 1813, while her captors directed the Chesapeake to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

After Lawrence's death was reported to his friend and fellow officer Oliver Hazard Perry, he ordered a large blue battle ensign, stitched with the phrase "DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP" [sic] in bold white letters. The Perry Flag was displayed on his flagship during a victorious engagement against the British on Lake Erie in September 1813. The original flag is displayed in the Naval Academy Museum and a replica is displayed in Memorial Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.


He was honored with a Congressional Gold Medal and the Thanks of Congress.

Many places are named for Captain Lawrence, including:

Lawrence County, Alabama

Lawrence County, Arkansas

Lawrence County, Illinois

Lawrence County, Indiana

Lawrence County, Kentucky

Lawrence County, Missouri

Lawrence County, Ohio

Lawrence County, Pennsylvania

Lawrence County, Tennessee

Lawrenceville, Georgia

Lawrenceville, Illinois

Lawrenceville, a neighborhood of Pittsburgh

Lawrence Township, Mercer County, New Jersey and its Lawrenceville neighborhood.

Captain Lawrence Drive in South Salem, NY, from which the Captain Lawrence Brewing Company of nearby Pleasantville takes its name.

His birthplace of Burlington, NJ, has a Captain James Lawrence Elementary School.

In addition, the U.S. Navy has named five ships USS Lawrence.

The first USS Lawrence was a brig which acted as then-Master Commandant Oliver Perry's flagship during the Battle of Lake Erie until she was destroyed in that action.

The second USS Lawrence was also a brig, serving from 1843-1846.

The third USS Lawrence (DD-8) was a 400-ton destroyer, commissioned in 1903 and serving until 1920.

The fourth USS Lawrence (DD-250) was a Clemson-class destroyer, serving from 1921 to 1945

The fifth USS Lawrence (DDG-4) was a Charles F. Adams-class destroyer. Commissioned in 1962, she served until 1994. This ship was christened by Mrs. Dorothy Redmond Hubbard, Capt. Lawrence's great-great-granddaughter, who at the time was his oldest living descendant.


Lawrence's approximately three-dozen living descendants reside primarily in western states, with a few in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Missouri and New York.

Death and Burial

Captain James Lawrence was killed in action on 1 June 1813. He was initially buried with military honors in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but was later reinterred at Trinity Churchyard in Manhattan, NY.

He was survived by his wife, Julia Montaudevert Lawrence, who lived until 1865, and their two-year-old daughter, Mary Neill Lawrence. In 1838, Mary married a Navy officer, Lt. William Preston Griffin.

Honoree ID: 2739   Created by: MHOH




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