Gateway to the Classics: American History Stories, Volume III by Mara L. Pratt
American History Stories, Volume III by  Mara L. Pratt

"Don't Give Up the Ship"

This has come to be so much a watchword among our people, that it would never do for us to pass on without learning what it means. You have already learned the meaning of "Taxation without Representation," "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute." You will recall, too, that battle in the Revolution where "Molly Stark" was the watchword; then there was the attack by Ethan Allen on the fort—when he cried, "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress I command you to surrender."

All these sayings uttered at one time or another by some loyal son of America, have been passed down in our history, until they have come to be immortal, that is, never-dying sayings.

And now let us see how it was that "Don't give up the Ship!" came to be another of these "immortal sayings."

There was in our navy, a ship called the Hornet—a twin, perhaps to the fiery Wasp  that you have just heard about. This Hornet, with Captain Lawrence as its commander, was buzzing about in pretty nearly the same part of the ocean in which we found the Wasp—on the lookout for some unlucky English vessel into which to fix its stings. Soon up came the English Peacock,—strutting along, I imagine, under full sail, feeling as vain and sure of success as a real peacock might have felt when about to attack so small a thing as a hornet. But size isn't everything; as we have already found in many a battle of the history of our country.

The Peacock  gave the signal for battle. Instantly the furious little Hornet  flew at the Peacock, and an angrier little hornet, with hotter stings, you never saw.

Boom! boom! boom! buzz! buzz! buzz! hiss! hiss! hiss! went the fire from both Peacock and Hornet. So fast and so thick flew the balls, so hot and so terrible was the battle, that in fifteen minutes the proud Peacock had lost all her glory and her pride, all her beauty and her courage, and lay upon the waters a complete wreck.

Her hold was now half full of water; and, knowing that she must sink, her commander surrendered to Lawrence, the crew were taken prisoners and transferred to the Hornet.

The generous way in which Lawrence treated his prisoners won the hearts of the British even; and his bravery carried delight to the hearts of his countrymen.

When he came into Boston harbor with the Hornet, he was greeted with shouts and hurrahs; and another vessel was given him, while the Hornet was set aside for repairs.

Now, this new vessel which was given into the charge of Captain Lawrence, had been, from its very beginning, an unlucky vessel. So much so, indeed, that the sailors were afraid to board her, believing that she was fated, and must surely bring only sorrow to her crew.

But brave Captain Lawrence willingly took command of her; feeling confident and secure after his recent victory.

No sooner was he ready to sail forth from Boston Harbor, than he met in battle the Shannon, an English vessel. I wish I could tell you that the gallant Lawrence again came out victorious. But, instead, I shall have to tell you that after a hot, fierce battle of only fifteen minutes—a battle as fierce, and hot, and terrible as had been that between the Wasp and the Frolic, or between the Hornet and the Peacock—the unlucky vessel was reduced to a mere wreck. At the very beginning of the fight, Lawrence himself, who always stood in the very thickest of the fire, fell mortally wounded.


Fight Between the Chesapeake and the Shannon.

Thus folded in his country's flag, Lawrence was carried by the British to Halifax, where he was buried with the respect and honor which he so richly deserved.

Very carefully did his officers carry below their much loved commander; and Lawrence, not forgetting his charge even in dying, whispered almost with his last breath, "Don't give up the ship!"

The British, wild with delight, that at last, after so many defeats, victory was once more on their side, swarmed upon the deck of the American vessel, singing and shouting with joy.

But when they found the brave Lawrence lying dead, they did not forget how nobly and how kindly he had dealt with the English prisoners at his victory over the English Peacock. And so, seizing the American flag, which they had torn from the mast with such yells of delight, they carefully lifted the unfortunate commander, and wrapped around him this banner which he had so loved, and for which he had so bravely fought.


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