The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Lawrence, James

Edition of 1879. See also James Lawrence on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

LAWRENCE, James, an American naval officer, born in Burlington, N. J., Oct. 1, 1781, died of wounds received in action, June 5, 1813. He entered the navy as a midshipman Sept. 4, 1798; in 1800 he was made acting lieutenant, and in April, 1802, a lieutenant, and served with distinction during the war with Tripoli, being one of the party which destroyed the frigate Philadelphia, Feb. 15, 1804. In February, 1805, he returned to the United States, but soon sailed for the Mediterranean again, in command of a gunboat. Soon after his arrival on the station peace was concluded, and he returned to the United States. He served as first lieutenant of the Constitution in 1808, and subsequently commanded the Vixen, Wasp, and Argus. On Nov. 3, 1810, he was promoted to the rank of master commandant, and appointed to the Hornet (18 guns), with which in the autumn of 1812 he sailed from Boston in company with the frigate Constitution, Com. Bainbridge's flag ship. In December the two ships arrived off the port of San Salvador, Brazil, where the British sloop of war Bonne Citoyenne was lying, with a very large amount of specie on board. Soon afterward the Constitution separated from the Hornet, leaving her to blockade the Bonne Citoyenne, which she did for 18 days, when she was chased off by the Montague (74), and shaped her course for the mouth of the Demerara river, making several captures on the passage. On Feb. 24, 1813, when off the mouth of the river, the Hornet fell in with the British brig Peacock, a vessel of equal size but somewhat lighter armament. After a short but severe contest the Peacock surrendered. She was found to be in a sinking condition, and before all the wounded could be removed went down with nine of her own and five of the Hornet's men. The loss of the Peacock was 33 killed and wounded, including her commander; the Hornet had but one killed and two wounded, and the ship was but little injured. She arrived at New York in March with 277 souls on board, including prisoners. Congress bestowed a gold medal upon Lawrence, and a silver one upon each commissioned officer who served under him in this engagement. In the same month Lawrence was promoted to the rank of captain, and appointed to the frigate Chesapeake, then lying at Boston. The Hornet was also placed under his orders, and it was intended that the two ships should cruise against the Greenland whale fishery. In the forenoon of June 1 the Chesapeake was lying in President roads ready for sea, and the British ship Shannon (38), Capt. P. V. Broke, appeared alone in the offing, for the express purpose of meeting her. Capt. Lawrence felt himself impelled under these circumstances to go out and engage the Shannon, though doubtless against his better judgment. The ships were very nearly of equal force, both mounting 48 guns, long 18- and 32-lb. carronades, and their complements were probably about the same. But the Shannon was a thoroughly disciplined ship, and Capt. Broke, who had for some time contemplated meeting the Chesapeake, had been cruising and constantly exercising his ship's company, with a view to this engagement. The Chesapeake, on the other hand, had arrived at Boston two months before from a cruise, and the men had been much on shore, indulging freely in dissipation. Capt. Lawrence was almost a stranger to them, and was weak in officers. At noon the Chesapeake weighed and stood out with a moderate breeze at S. W. At 5h. 45m., when the two ships were about 30 m. from Boston light, the action was commenced by the Shannon, which opened her fire as her guns bore, the Chesapeake retaining hers until the ships were fairly yardarm and yardarm, when she fired a well directed broadside. For several minutes a severe cannonade was maintained by both ships, when the rigging of the Chesapeake was so much cut that she became unmanageable, was thrown into the wind, taken aback, and fell aboard the Shannon, the waist anchor of the latter hooking her rigging. She was now exposed to a destructive raking fire, her upper deck particularly being swept by grape and canister from the carronades of her antagonist. Boarders were ordered to be called, but the bugleman had left his post. This caused some confusion, and at this critical moment Lawrence fell with a second and mortal wound, being shot through the body. The upper deck was now left without a single commissioned officer, the others having been all killed or wounded, and the Shannon boarded and carried the ship, no regular resistance being made. This sanguinary action lasted but 15 minutes. The Chesapeake had 48 killed and 98 wounded. The Shannon had 23 killed and 56 wounded, Capt. Broke among the latter. Both ships now made sail for Halifax. Lawrence survived four days, and every respect was paid by the British officers at Halifax to his remains, and those of the first lieutenant Ludlow. Few officers enjoyed a higher professional or private reputation than Capt. Lawrence. His personal appearance was dignified and commanding. In action he evinced the utmost courage, and his last injunction as he was borne below, mortally wounded, was: “Don't give up the ship.”