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The Boston Globe


The real, shameful story behind ‘Don’t give up the ship!’

Behind the iconic American slogan, a military loss—and a PR win

200 years ago, on June 1, 1813, in the midst of a bloody sea battle between an American and a British frigate a few miles north of Boston, one of America’s most memorable wartime slogans was born. As the mortally wounded Captain James Lawrence of the US frigate Chesapeake lay dying in his cabin, his crew locked in hand-to-hand combat on the quarterdeck above, he is alleged to have uttered the memorable words: “Don’t give up the ship!”

His rallying cry, published a few weeks later in a Baltimore newspaper, became the unofficial motto of the US Navy for decades thereafter, long predating “Remember the Maine” or “Remember Pearl Harbor.” Just two months after the battle, a bright blue banner emblazoned with Lawrence’s words flew at the masthead of a namesake vessel, USS Lawrence. Its captain, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, won a decisive victory on Sept. 10 over British naval forces in the Battle of Lake Erie.

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