Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Don't Give Up the Ship!"

I gave a talk on Sunday afternoon at the Burlington County (New Jersey) Historical Society on the occasion of the 225th birthday of Captain James Lawrence, he of "Don't Give Up the Ship" fame (follow the link through the title for more information on Lawrence and his career).

Captain Lawrence's birthplace, as well as the home of James Fennimore Cooper, are on the grounds of the historical society, so it was quite an occasion. The education director of the society was dressed up as Captain Lawrence, looking remarkably health for being dead a couple of hundred years, a local band played naval anthems, and a wreath was placed on the door of Lawrence's house.

Though it was sunny it was blowing a gale and the wreath, of entwined twigs, blue ribbon and gold balls, threatened to blow away. Afterward we retired to the warm inside of the society headquarters for an awards ceremony for an essay contest held by the local newspaper for schoolchildren who had written essays on the meaning of "Don't Give Up the Ship."

Then I talked on the icons of the War of 1812, including Lawrence's words, other slogans and artifacts such as "Free Trade and Sailors' Rights," Old Ironsides, and the Star-Spangled Banner. My point was that although in truth the War of 1812 itself was a stalemate, with neither the United States nor Great Britain clearly winning and battles won by both sides, major symbols came out of the war and the conflict ended with the United States being united and having a new national identity which it did not display beforehand, being more competing states before the war.

Although the Kodak carousel slide projector (yes I am still in the dark ages) jammed partway through my talk, I continued the talk without a hitch to an interested and engaged audience. My talk was followed by one by Admiral Tobin (USN, retired), head of the Naval Historical Center, who spoke about Lawrence and other US Navy commanders. He also delighted the audience by showing them the first US flag that had flown at Iwo Jima after the famous battle which he and his wife had brought with them. During a refreshments period at the end of the event, I sold copies of my book Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay and promoted the Journal of the War of 1812 which I edit.

I had traveled up that morning by Amtrak to Philadelphia 30th Street Station and thence by New Jersey local transit rail and light rail to Burlington. A long and complicated series of changes but I made it in time to have a pleasant brunch with white zinfandel at the Gallery Café overlooking the Delaware River where reenactors of different periods were braving the wind, loosing off cannon fire and musket volleys.

The following poem was written on the rather cold journey back to Philadelphia on those local lines:

Under a Cut Penny Moon

I am stranded in Lindenwold
this freezing evening

on a deserted platform waiting
for the gambler's train.

Papa won't be coming home
to make bambino tonight.

I'm waiting for some hot tips,
my lucky number to turn up.

Instead I've got a defective
platform light flickering

above my head, my thighs cold.
On the one-line train track

I see a Wendy's styrofoam cup,
the paper's real estate section.

I bang the light pole,
make the halogen flicker

for a while inside
its fly-specked glass.

I am stranded in Lindenwold
waiting for a hot number.

Papa won't be coming home
to make bambino tonight.

Christopher T. George


About the Group said...

Hey Boss,

I was happy to discover your blog. With your permission, I'll chime in from time to time. See ya on the Moon.


Christopher T. George said...

Hi Scott

Chime in any time. Glad to have you visit!


Janet said...


I'm a new visitor, too...because of a comment you made on my favorite linguistic blog. I'm in the reverse situation to you -- American-born but living in Oxfordshire. Your blog looks very interesting, and I'll enjoy coming by from time to time.


PS OH...and I was especially attracted to this particular post because my family name is "Lawrence"!


Christopher T. George said...

Hello Janet

Very nice to hear from you. I always say when I give a talk that I have divided loyalties on the War of 1812 which provokes a nice laugh from the audience. Actually, one of the things that does interest me is the culture clash between the Americans and the British back then and even now. I hope life is treating you well in Oxfordshire. One of my favorite parts of the UK. I will be sure to check out your blog.