On 1 June 1813 during the War of 1812, Captain James Lawrence of the 49 gun frigate USS Chesapeake sailed out of Boston Harbor to engage Captain Philip Bloke’s 38 gun HMS Shannon. Lawrence wanted to break the blockade of Boston and saw his chance when most of the patrolling British flotilla departed, leaving just the Shannon until she could be reinforced in a few weeks.
Unfortunately, Lawrence just finished outfitting the ship and most of the crew had been on board for less than two weeks. The Chesapeake’s crew was virtually untrained. Bloke’s crew on the Shannon had been together for almost seven years and was one of the most highly trained crews in the Royal Navy. In the ensuing battle, the Chesapeake was dead in the water in under 15 minutes and Lawrence laid mortally wounded on the deck. In one of the last orders to his crew, he muttered “Don’t give up the ship”. Inspired by their captain’s words, all of the officers and most of the crew fought on until they were either dead, or too wounded to fight. Their tenacity, however, didn’t change the outcome.
News of the fight and Lawrence’s words electrified Boston and a flag was commissioned in Lawrence’s honor. It was dark blue with “Don’t Give Up the Ship” written in large bold white letters across of it. The flag was presented to Lawrence’s friend, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who was in the process of building a squadron of ships at Presque Isle, Pennsylvania, in order to clear Lake Erie later that summer of the British. Perry would fly it as his rank flag on his flagship, the USS Lawrence.