James Lawrence was born in Burlington, New Jersey, on 1 October 1781. Though educated in the field of law, he joined the infant United States Navy in September 1798 as a Midshipman and served in the ship Ganges and frigate Adams during the undeclared war with France. Commissioned in the rank of Lieutenant in 1802, he served in the schooner Enterprise during the War with Tripoli, taking part in a successful attack that burned enemy craft ashore on 2 June 1803. In February 1804 he was second in command of ketch Intrepid during the daring expedition to destroy the captured frigate Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor. Later in the conflict he commanded Enterprise and a gunboat in battles with the Tripolitans. He was also First Lieutenant of the frigate John Adams and, in 1805, commanded the small Gunboat Number 6 during a voyage across the Atlantic to Italy.
Subsequently, Lieutenant Lawrence commanded the warships Vixen, Wasp and Argus. In 1810 he also took part in trials of an experimental spar-torpedo. Promoted to the rank of Master Commandant in November 1810, he took command of the sloop of war Hornet a year later and sailed her to Europe on a diplomatic mission. From the beginning of the War of 1812, Lawrence and Hornet cruised actively, capturing the privateer Dolphin on 9 July 1812. Later in the year Hornet blockaded the British sloop Bonne Citoyenne at Bahia, Brazil, and on 24 February 1813 captured HMS Peacock.
Upon his return to the United States in March, Lawrence learned of his promotion to Captain. Two months later he took command of the frigate Chesapeake, then preparing for sea at Boston, Massachusetts. She left port on 1 June 1813 and immediately engaged the Royal Navy frigate Shannon in a fierce battle. Captain Lawrence, mortally wounded by small arms fire, ordered "Don't give up the ship" as he was carried below. However, his crew was overwhelmed by British boarders shortly afterwards. James Lawrence died of his wounds on 4 June, while Chesapeake was being taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, by her captors. His body was later repatriated to New York for burial.
(Brig: displacement 493 tons; length 109'9"; beam 16'3"; depth 4'8"; complement 134; armament 2 long 12-pounders, 18 short 32-pounder carronades)
Lawrence was one of two 493-ton Niagara-class brigs built at Presque Isle (Erie), Pennsylvania, by Adam and Noah Brown under the supervision of Sailing Master Daniel Dobbins and Capt. Oliver H. Perry for Navy service on the Great Lakes during the War of 1812.
Lawrence was launched 24 May 1813 and fitted out at Erie with the other ships of Perry's newly built squadron while awaiting the arrival of her crew. On 9 August, Capt. Jesse D. Elliott and some 100 men arrived and helped man the squadron, which sailed on 12 August. The squadron sailed to Detroit and located the British lake squadron soon thereafter.
During the 10 September 1813 Battle of Lake Erie, Lawrence served as flagship for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry until she was disabled by enemy fire. Perry then transferred to the Brig Niagara, from which he fought the battle to a successful conclusion. In mid-1815, following the end of hostilities, Lawrence was sunk in Misery Bay, near Erie, in order to preserve her hull. Her submerged hulk was sold in 1825 and, except for a brief examination in 1836, remained underwater for nearly four more decades. In September 1875 her remains were raised, cut into sections and transported by rail to Philadelphia, where she was displayed during the 1876 exhibition celebrating the Centennial of the United States. The ship was accidently destroyed by fire during that exhibition.
20 July 2005