In June 1812, United States President James Madison declared war against Britain, and the U.S. Congress supported the declaration after a bitter debate. Unlike the Revolutionary War, where patriots defended the colonies and Atlantic seaboard, this new conflict would be fought on the frontier. The Americans’ objective was to wrestle away British control and influence over the Great Lakes region and Canadian territory.
As dawn broke over Lake Erie on the morning of September 10th, 1813, the entire British squadron emerged over the horizon to the northwest of North Bass Island. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (age 27) boarded his flagship, the Lawrence, named in honor of his fallen friend Captain James Lawrence, and moved out from Put-in Bay with all his squadron, including the "Lawrence," "Niagara," "Caledonia", "Scorpion," "Porcupine," "Tigress," "Ariel," "Seiners," and "Trippe," to meet the British force, consisting of the "Chippewa," "Detroit," "Hunter, "Queen Charlotte," "Lady Prevost," and "Little Belt."
As the fleets approached each other at about eleven o'clock, the bugle sounded from the flag-ship, the men of the whole British line gave three cheers, and the long guns of the "Detroit" opened on the "Lawrence" at the distance of a mile and a half. By noon the battle began in earnest, in the form of a duel, the heaviest vessel in each fleet confronting the other. Being able to employ at once a heavier battery in a smaller space, Barclay had at first a manifest advantage With more enthusiasm than science, the gunners of the "Lawrence," depending too much on their carronades, fired too fast, and, overshooting their stumpy guns, were unable seriously to harm the "Detroit," though pitting" and denting her sides The "Lawrence." on the contrary, was reduced by the steady British fire to a hulk. After two hours only one gun was left mounted, the cockpit was crowded with wounded, and only eighteen unharmed men. including commander and surgeon, were left on board.
Meanwhile the most effective gunnery on the American side had been done by the heavy cannon of the "Caledonia," "Scorpion," and "Ariel," which had nobly assisted Perry, while the "Nigara", for some reason, had remained in the rear, and the more distant vessels were able to do little to prevent what seemed an imminent British victory. At this moment, with the audacity of genius, Perry called four sailors to man the boat, and with his brother Alexander, the famous battle flag (with the mortally-wounded Captain James Lawrence's inspiring words - "Don't Give up the Ship") wrapped round his arm, he left his ship. At first shielded by the battle smoke, and then safely escaping the volley of the enemy, he reached, after a fifteen minutes' pull, the "Niagara." Sending Captain Elliot to bring up the laggard vessels, he ordered sail to bring his best ship close to the "Detroit." The breeze now freshened, quickly speeding the "Niagara" and the American schooners into action. The "Queen Charlotte," in endeavoring to get a position for a broadside, to be followed by boarding the coining "Niagara," was disabled in her sail-gear by the langrage shot of Perry's carronades, and, falling foul of the "Detroit," the two ships became entangled. Taking advantage of this, the American schooners took raking positions.
The full battery of the "Niagara," joining in the steady and rapid fire, swept the British decks, and filled the air with canister, grape, ball, and scrap-iron, while the Kentucky riflemen in the tops, acting as marines, picked off every enemy visible. At three o'clock the British flag was hauled down, and for the first time in her history Great Britain lost an entire squadron, which surrendered to a young man of twenty-seven. On the deck of the "Lawrence" Perry dispatched to the secretary of the navy a brief account of the victory, and shortly afterward to General William H. Harrison, the famous line "We have met the enemy, and they are ours."
The Lake Erie Islands Historical Society has a genealogical database of more than 14,000 island residents and their ancestors/descendants. This collection covers all residents of the islands from early settlers to 20th century summer cottage residents. We also welcome family photographs and journals and we conduct oral histories for our archives.
Our two newest projects are "The Men Who Fought in the Battle of Lake Erie" and "Descendants of Oliver Hazard Perry."