On September 10, 1813, American ships under the command of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry engaged a British naval squadron on Lake Erie during the War of 1812.
Perry’s flagship was a 20-gun brig that had recently been renamed The Lawrence, in honor of his fallen friend, U.S. Navy Captain James Lawrence.
On June 1, 1813, Capt. Lawrence was mortally wounded during a fight between American and British ships near Boston.
It was reported that, as he lay dying, Lawrence said: “Tell the men to fire faster and not give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks.”
Commodore Perry helped immortalize the pithier, famous version of this quote.
He had a special battle flag made that said “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP.” And, during the September 10th battle on Lake Erie, it was defiantly unfurled on The Lawrence.
It was the British who prevailed in the June naval engagement that the took the life of Capt. Lawrence.
But in the Battle of Lake Erie, the Americans won and captured all of the British ships.
Commodore Perry quickly scrawled a brief report on the back of an envelope and had it sent to U.S. General William Henry Harrison.
We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.
Yours with great respect and esteem,
The first line, “We have met the enemy and they are ours,” became one of the most famous U.S. Navy quotations in history.
And, the special battle flag Perry flew that day made the short version of Capt. Lawrence’s dying words an immortal naval motto.
Perry’s flag is now on display at The United States Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland.
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