Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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LAWRENCE, James, naval officer, born in Burlington, New Jersey, I October, 1781; died at sea, 6 June, 1813. He received an appointment as midshipman in 1798, and was made acting lieutenant in two years, though he did not receive his commission until 1802. He joined the squadron that was engaged in the war with Tripoli, and distinguished himself while commanding a gun-boat, and also as second in command of Decatur's daring and successful expedition to destroy the captured frigate "Philadelphia" under the walls of Tripoli. Lawrence spent nearly five years in desultory warfare on the Barbary coast. In 1808 he was 1st lieutenant of the "Constitution." and then in command of the "Argus," "Vixen," and "Wasp." He was promoted to captain in 1811, and placed in command of the "Hernet." After war with Great Britain was declared, he made a cruise on the coast of Brazil. He blockaded the British man-of-war " Bonne Citeyenne" in the port of San Salvador, and challenged her captain to meet him at sea, but failed to bring on an action, and was driven off at the end of a fortnight by a ship of the line. Irritation at having been passed over by the recent promotion of Captain Charles Norris may have led Lawrence to seek for distinction in this manner. A few weeks later he fell in with the "Peacock" brig-of-war off Demerara. Both vessels manoeuvred for the weather-gage, finding that he could weather the enemy, Lawrence tacked, and broadsides were exchanged at short range. The " Peacock" attempted to wear, and the " Hornet," running down on her quarter, poured in a heavy fire, which trip-pied her and compelled a surrender in less than fifteen minutes. She soon sank, drowning several of her crew and three men of those that were sent from the "Hornet." Lawrence had a slight advantage in weight of metal, and a greater in the superior accuracy of his fire, as shown by the condition of his opponent. The "Peacock" lost her captain and nearly one third of her crew, while the "Hornet " had only one man killed and two wounded. Lawrence gained considerable reputation by this victory, and was sent to Boston to take command of the frigate " Chesapeake." A few days after his arrival a challenge was sent in by Captain Broke (q. v.), of the British frig-ate "Shannon," which was the cruising in the offring. A fair meeting was promised, and it was pointed i out that he could not hope to get to sea in the presence of the British squadron. In view of his previous action in challenging a British ship, and his imperative orders to proceed to sea, Lawrence was unable to decline a combat when, on 1 June, 1813, he sighted the "Shannon " and ran out to meet her. About thirty miles off Boston he came up with her, and went into action in gallant style. After a few broadsides, the "Chesapeake" fouled her opponent, Lawrence fell mortally wounded, and nearly every officer with him was soon shot down. Broke saw that the men were flinching from their guns, and led his boarders to the "Chesapeake's" deck. The crew of the " Chesapeake" could not be brought up to repel them. Those stationed on deck fought desperately, but in disorder, and the ship was soon in the hands of the enemy. Several incidents of the action show that the crew of the "Chesapeake" lacked discipline. They were newly shipped and imperfectly trained. The "Shannon" was noted for excellent gunnery practice, and her captain had supplied sights for the guns at his own expense. In size and armament there was not much disparity between the ships. Neither was much injured during the brief action, but the " Chesapeake's" loss was 47 killed and 99 wounded, while the "Shannon's" total loss was only 85. Of the "Chesapeake's" wounded, 14 died in a few days, among them Captain Lawrence, and Ludlow, his 1st lieutenant. Both ships were taken to Halifax, where Lawrence was buried with military honors. There was much exultation in England over a victory that seemed to restore the prestige of the British navy. Captain Broke, who had been severely wounded in boarding the "Chesapeake," was made a bare-net, and received other marks of distinction. The remains of Lawrence and Ludlow were restored to the United States, and received with public honors at Salem. Judge Joseph Story delivered an oration there, and they were buried in state in Trinity church-yard, New York city, where there is a monument to Lawrence's memory, represented in the illustration. The intense disappointment that was caused by the loss of the "Chesapeake" might have led the public to criticise the conduct of Lawrence in accepting a contest for which he was so poorly prepared, had it not been for the memory of his tragic fate and his dying injunction, " Don't give up the ship." If he erred in admitting chivalric traditions into modern warfare, it should not be forgotten that he associated with them courtesy and humanity in the highest degree.
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