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Origins of 'don't give up the ship' flag

Engraving of Captain Lawrence's death.
Engraving of Captain Lawrence's death.

Perry's flag on display at the US Naval Academy

While the Olympic Evaluation Committee is in town, it's worth delving into boaters' protest of the rowing venue.  For two years now, hundreds of boaters in Monroe and DuSable harbor have been flying the "Don't Give Up The Ship" flags to try to save themselves and the Columbia Yacht Club from relocation. 

The phrase was originally uttered by dying captain James E. Lawrence during the War of 1812.  Lawrence's ship Chesapeake was under attack from the British ship Shannon.  During the attack he was mortally wounded and taken below decks where he commanded his crew, "Don't give up the ship!"  His words inspired his crew, who fought valiantly and...gave up the ship.  Within fifteen minutes of the start of the battle, British forces had overwhelmed the Americans and raised the Union Jack.  Lawrence was angry at his men for allowing it to happen.

Lawrence, who died three days later, became a hero.  Master Commandant Oliver H. Perry in particular was stirred, either because Lawrence was his friend, or because most people in that situation would have said something more self-serving, such as, "Tell Martha I love her," or "For the love of God, give me morphine!"  Perry named his ship Lawrence after the fallen captain and flew a banner with his words while decisively winning the Battle of Lake Erie.

The flag has been flown on many US warships ever since, and the words became an unofficial motto of the US Navy.  One such flag is on display at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.