History buffs hope to create memorial for Lawrence Township’s namesake

If Lawrence Township history buffs have their way, there will be a memorial to U.S. Navy Capt. James Lawrence, the township’s namesake, somewhere in the municipality.

The township’s Historic Preservation Advisory Committee made that request to the Township Council earlier this year and advisory committee member Leona Maffei brought it up again at the council’s Oct. 15 meeting.

Municipal officials appeared to be receptive to the idea. If a memorial is created, it would occur 200-plus years after the municipality’s name was changed from Maidenhead Township to Lawrence Township. The name change took place in 1816.

Maidenhead Township was settled in the late 1600s by English settlers, many of whom came from Maidenhyth, a small town southeast of London on the Thames River. Maidenhead Township was incorporated in 1797.

It was the Rev. Isaac van Arsdale Brown, who founded the Academy of Maidenhead, the forerunner of The Lawrenceville School, who led the effort to change the name of the township from Maidenhead to Lawrence. The school opened in 1810.

Meanwhile, Maffei told council members that over the years, she has met many people who do not know about Lawrence or how the township came to be named for him. Lawrence was killed in battle in the War of 1812.

Lawrence led his ship, the USS Chesapeake, into battle against the British warship HMS Shannon outside Boston, Mass. A British sharpshooter fatally wounded Lawrence. His last command, “Don’t give up the ship,” became the the motto for the U.S. Navy.

“When I tell people we do not have anything for Capt. Lawrence, they say we should have something. Maybe we need some kind of memorial for him,” Maffei said.

A committee is being formed to address the issue of creating a memorial for Lawrence and Maffei said she wanted council members to know about it. There are plans to make it into a nonprofit group for fundraising purposes. A memorial would be paid for out of private funds.

Township Historian Brooke Hunter, who is a history professor at Rider University, wrote to the council earlier this year to urge it to create a memorial to Lawrence. Doing so would help to explain why there is a tall ship on the township’s seal, she wrote.

The Lawrence Historical Society also wrote to the council earlier this year in support of a memorial, pointing out it would be in line with the society’s mission “to research, preserve and promote the richly diverse history of Lawrence Township by building a bridge from the past to the future.”

A memorial would provide the opportunity to share new research about the township and the War of 1812, including local soldiers who served, the political landscape, and the homefront experience and memory, society representatives wrote in the letter.

Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski said the township has a history of trying to honor Lawrence.

“We will have something permanent to honor Capt. Lawrence,” Nerwinski said.