James Lawrence

“Don’t Give up the Ship!” James Lawrence, One of the Rarest American Autographs, Rarest Major Naval Name, 3 Page Letter to John Rodgers



“Don’t Give up the Ship!” James Lawrence, One of the Rarest American Autographs, Rarest Major Naval Name, 3 Page Letter to John Rodgers


JAMES LAWRENCE, Autograph Letter Signed, to John Rodgers, September 6, 1810, Brookline, [Massachusetts]. 3 pp., 7.625" x 9.375".  Expected folds; tear on seal affecting two words and loss of paper on third page; tear on fold affecting one word.


Less than three years before he immortalized himself as a U.S. naval hero with the charge, “Don’t give up the ship!” Lieutenant James Lawrence, in command of the USS Argus, writes to Commodore John Rodgers regarding two sailors who had deserted from his previous command, the USS Wasp.


Complete Transcript

                                                                        Brookline Septr 6th 1810


            I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your enclosure, this morning, the man who signs himself Simon Latham, deserted from the Wasp previous to my taking charge of her, on examination a few days past I found that after making good the time he was absent, his time was up the last of August, and gave the Purser orders to make out his account, the day he was to have been paid off (the 2d Inst) he deserted from the boat whilst getting off wood,—the other, Truly, I understand from Captn Shaw, when last in Norfolk, had been transfered from the Gunboat to the Wasp as no account was sent with him by Purser Lyon, I have calculated his shipment from the date of entry on the Wasps books, in fact I was ignorant of his having been sent from the Gunboats untill I saw Captn Shaw  his time is now out, but as it appeared on his account; being made out that he was upwards of a month in debt, I declined discharging him untill he was out of debt, Purser Tutle’s charge against him at the time he left the Wasp was near $150 I am informed.

                                                                        very respectfully

                                                                        your obedt servt

                                                                        Jas Lawrence

Commodore J. Rodgers


[Address:] Commodore John Rodgers / U S Frigt President / New York


[Docketing:] Lieut. Lawrence / 6th Septbr 1810



James Lawrence (1781-1813) was born in New Jersey and was raised by his half-sister, after his loyalist father fled to Canada during the American Revolution. He studied law but entered the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in 1798. He rose through the ranks to command a small gunboat by 1805 in actions off Tripoli. He also served as second-in-command to Stephen Decatur in the daring destruction of the captured USS Philadelphia. As a first lieutenant, he commanded the USS Vixen, the USS Wasp, and the USS Argus. Promoted to commandant in November 1810, Lawrence commanded the USS Hornet on a diplomatic mission to Europe in 1811. In 1812 and 1813, he captured several British ships during the War of 1812. When he returned to the United States in March 1813, he learned of his promotion to Captain and took command of the USS Chesapeake at Boston. Leaving port on June 1, he immediately engaged the HMS Shannon in a fierce battle. Wounded by small arms fire from the Shannon, Lawrence ordered his officers, “Don’t give up the ship.” His men carried him below deck, but a British boarding party soon took control of the Chesapeake. Lawrence died of his wounds three days later, while the Chesapeake was bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia, as a British prize of war. Lawrence was honored with a Congressional Gold Medal and the Thanks of Congress.


John Rodgers (1772-1838) was born in Maryland and served as an apprentice to a ship’s captain as a teenager. He became captain of his own ship in 1793 and sailed out of Baltimore for four or five years. In 1798, President John Adams appointed Rodgers as a second lieutenant on the USS Constellation, one of the first three ships of the U.S. Navy. He spent the next forty years in the Navy, serving during the Quasi-War with France, both Barbary Wars, and the War of 1812, eventually rising to the rank of commodore in 1805. During the War of 1812, his flagship was the USS President, with which he captured 23 prizes. After the war, he led the Board of Navy Commissioners from 1815 to 1824, and again from 1827 until his retirement in 1837. He also served briefly as the Secretary of the Navy in 1823.




Item: 66347

Price: $17,500.00
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James Lawrence
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