Historical Spotlight: Purser Samuel Hambleton

BY LT. CMDR. JIM JACOBS, SC, USNR Navy Supply Corps […]

BY LT. CMDR. JIM JACOBS, SC, USNR Navy Supply Corps School

The U.S. Navy has many famous quotes as part of its heritage, including “I have not yet begun to fight,” “Damn the torpedoes… full speed ahead,” and “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

Did you know that one such quote was immortalized by way of the Supply Corps community?

In 1806, Samuel Hambleton became one of the first pursers in the Navy, and in 1812 he was assigned aboard USS Chesapeake during the early part of the War of 1812. In the battle with the British ship HMS Shannon on June 4, 1813, his commanding officer, Capt. James Lawrence, was mortally wounded and uttered in his dying breath, “Don’t give up the ship,” as the vessel fell into distress and was eventually lost.

Hambleton, now acting lieutenant, received orders to USS Lawrence, a new 493- ton Niagara class brig named in honor of Lawrence. His new commanding officer, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, needed a signal flag to communicate with his fleet when to engage the enemy during the pending Battle of Lake Erie. Hambleton suggested the phrase, “Don’t give up the ship,” be placed on a flag that could be hoisted for all to see.

Having the full confidence of Perry, Hambleton commissioned the flag to be made by the women’s guild of Erie, Pennsylvania, and on the evening prior to the battle, Perry distributed the flags to his fleet. The Battle of Lake Erie commenced on Sept. 10, 1813. Hambleton distinguished himself when USS Lawrence took direct fire and fell into distress. Along with Perry, he manned the last working cannon aboard Lawrence, as most of the men aboard were either wounded or dead. As the battle ensued, Hambleton sustained severe injuries from a cannonball that fell from the mast when he received orders to abandon ship. Hambleton then transferred to USS Niagara where he continued to work for days after the battle without seeking immediate medical attention. When the wound became infected, and too painful to endure, it was lanced by the doctor aboard. When the doctor cut into the wound, several pieces of shattered bone ejected. He sent one home in a letter to his mother describing the events of the battle. For his actions at the Battle of Lake Erie, Hambleton received the Congressional Gold Medal. Hambleton’s Navy career spanned from 1806 to 1832, where he served on USS Chesapeake, USS Lawrence, and USS Niagara during the War of 1812, USS Java and USS Columbus in the Mediterranean, and USS John Adams and USS Erie in the West Indies. USS Hambleton (DD 455) was named in his honor. Hambleton is part of the Navy Supply Corps’ lore, and his legacy lives on through the immortal words, “Don’t give up the ship.”

Samuel Hambleton portrait by St. Memin. –Naval History and Heritage Command