Many students who attend Gannon University have seen the flags and signs around the city that proudly state “Don’t Give Up The Ship,” but some may be unfamiliar with the meaning behind the slogan.
The phrase “don’t give up the ship,” was originally spoken in the dying words of Capt. James Lawrence, a U.S. Navy officer who perished as a result of enemy fire during a battle on the Chesapeake in 1813.
The roots of the blue and white pennant and its connection to Erie can be found in the War of 1812 and through links to the naval hero, Capt. Oliver Hazard Perry.
According to the Smithsonian, Perry was a 27-year-old man who had served as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy from the age of 13. In 1813, Perry was put in command of a fleet of ships that was being constructed on Lake Erie including the USS Lawrence — named after Capt. James Lawrence — and the USS Niagara.
Although Perry faced a magnitude of problems after receiving his assignment, he was determined to follow orders to break up the stronghold of the British in the Northwest.
When the U.S. Navy and Britain eventually met in battle on Lake Erie, chaos emerged.
The Lawrence was bombarded, and fearlessly, Perry bounded from the sinking ship into a cutter while toting a battle flag that donned the words “Don’t Give Up The Ship.”
Perry demanded he be rowed through heavy gunfire to the USS Niagara, where he successfully commanded actions that would lead to surrender by the British.
The Battle of Lake Erie, which occurred only two months after Lawrence’s death, was the first time the traditional blue “Don’t Give Up the Ship” banner was proudly raised.
The roots of the actual making of the battle flag tie back to the community that surrounds Gannon’s campus.
When Perry learned of the death of Lawrence, he was already in Erie, working on the construction of his fleet of ships.
Upon learning of the dying words of his close friend, Perry requested that a few local women sew the flag to be displayed for his upcoming battle.
After the battle, the flag was sent to the nation’s capital, and in 1849, it arrived at the Naval Academy where it resides to this day.
A replica of the traditional flag proudly hangs on Gannon’s campus within the wrestling room of the Recreation and Wellness Center. According to Don Henry, coach of the wrestling team, the flag reminds team members to take responsibility for themselves and their teammates.
“Gannon Wrestling is The Ship, Coach Henry is the Ship … Your teammate is The Ship,” he said. “We need to rally around each other.
“We need to help elevate each other.”
Henry has a handout in his office for his athletes that reminds them why they proudly display the Naval flag in their training and competition room.
On the handout, Henry reminds athletes to lead by example, do the right things and build meaningful relationships with those around them.
Donoven “Jeb” Chase, a junior history major, hopes that Gannon students will see the flag as a symbol for opportunity.
“No matter how hard situations may look, we never know when the big moment is going to come that catapults us to victory unless we keep persevering,” he said.
“Perry won out of a ‘complete accident;’ such is the way of life.”
Both on Gannon’s campus and around the city, the blue “Don’t Give Up The Ship” banner will continue to serve as an emblem of Erie’s perseverance through hard times.
Although the flag has different meanings to each individual, its roots allow it to continue to serve as a rallying cry for the city in the uncertain years to come.