Posts Tagged 'Battle of Lake Erie'

Mt. Moriah’s Treasure

On a bitter cold day this past February during a trip to Philadelphia for the Tallships America conference Marc Burr and I drove to the far side of Old Philadelphia to the once famous Mt. Moriah Cemetery. We were looking for the final resting spot of Commodore Jessie Duncan Elliott. Elliott, as you know, was the Commandant of the Brig Niagara until Oliver Hazard Perry rowed from the Lawrence and took command from him changing the outcome of the Battle of Lake Erie and America’s future. Elliott would forever spend the rest of his career with the shadow of that day looming over him. For most of us Perry stands tall as an American hero but Elliott has faded into obscurity.


We were fortunate to be able to meet with Samuel Ricks from “Friends of Mt Moriah” at the eastern gate of Mt Moriah Cemetery. He led us up a hill on a broken down pathway through thick overgrowth of a once grand parkway to the far corner of this 350 plus acre site. Over 80,00 people, including Betsy Ross, were buried here starting around 1855. Many of Philadelphia’s older churches moved their ancient burial grounds here too. In 2004 the last living commissioner of Mt. Moriah Cemetery Association, Horatio Jones, passed away. A “perpetual care” fund set up in the 1950’s was soon depleted and Mt Moriah went out of business and was abandoned.

Today it looks like a gothic nightmare with once imposing mausoleums, elaborate family plots and giant statuary toppled by time, brambles, vandals and trees. Thanks to the Mt. Moriah friends group and a contingent of college students about 35% of the cemetery has been cleared of weeds, bramble and trees. In the back potion of this amazing place Sam Ricks showed us the Navy Asylum cemetery. In the 1800’s Naval Asylums were a mixture of hospital and nursing home and often the place of last refuge for dying sailors.

This Naval portion of Mt. Morriah is actually a cemetery within a cemetery where those who died at the Philadelphia Asylum were buried and is “owned” by the US Government. Within the Naval cemetery is small section of War of 1812 Veterans, which is where we found the final resting spot of Jessie Duncan Elliott. DSCN0158_01

Thanks to Mr. Ricks and his friends, this sacred Naval burial ground was pulled back from the brink of complete obscuration. The cemetery now finally has the US Government’s attention. Sadly, Elliott’s grave marker says “unknown” today because the Veteran’s Administration, tasked with oversight of the Navy plot, has been slow to verify those buried there and replace the decaying grave markers. But Sam Ricks and the board of “Friends of Mt Moriah” have continued the research to verify the men buried in this historic plot.

Many of the headstones have become hard to read, but with special techniques, effective research and a little sleuthing, the Friends of Mt Moriah have verified the final resting spots for several sailors aboard War of 1812 vessels including the Niagara, Lawrence, Constellation and Constitution. In fact Seaman Thomas Johnson, last survivor of the BonHomme Richard captained by John Paul Jones during the American Revolution, is buried here as well.

Mr. Rick’s stated to us “Our first priority on this project is to identify the sailor and marine graves, then go back and research their histories at a later date.” Two stories that he is working on are based on an 1893 Philadelphia Enquirer article about the Asylum. It mentions George Adams and John “Jack” Smith as the two sailors who rowed Perry from the Lawrence to the Niagara during the Battle of Lake Erie.

Sam has a copy of the pension papers of George Adams that shows that OH Perry personally vouched for Adams being wounded while rowing him from the Lawrence to the Niagara! There was also a Boatswain’s Mate from the Niagara, Edward Coffee who is buried nearby in the Naval Plot.  The Friends group has a page from his pension file that mentions his service during the Battle of Lake Erie, “Perry’s Victory”

As you can imagine, we couldn’t help but be drawn in by the facts and stories Sam Ricks shared with us. There is much more research to be done on the sailors buried here to find out which others may have served during the Battle of Lake Erie. The pension records for many who served on the Lakes during the War of 1812 are becoming more readily available on the internet, but most still require going to the federal archives for verification.

If you’re interested in being involved in this important project and insuring that Elliott and all the 1812 Navy veterans get the attention they deserve I urge you to write to the VA area director (for Washington’s Crossing that services the Naval Plot) Gregory Whitney (  The Perry Group continues to work on sighting a permanent marker to properly commemorate Commodore Jessie Duncan Elliott as well as the Niagara and Lawrence sailors buried at the Mt. Moriah Naval Plot. For more information about Mt. Moriah go to

Sail Training Scholarship

By Peter Huston

It is an amazing experience to be aboard a tall ship like the Brig Niagara as her sails unfurl and the hull begins to surge forward, the rig creaking as the sails fill. Just being a passenger aboard as the ship begins to move ahead under sail is an inspiring moment. You can feel the power in the rig, and the excitement on the deck as the crew busily works all around you to hoist, trim, adjust and secure the lines in a repeated symphony of orchestrated commands and responses.

The Brig Niagara is one of the most majestic of tall ships designs from the early19th century. Two hundred years ago ships like it shared the waterways with graceful schooners, brigantines, and barques. Standing on its’ deck you can let yourself imagine for just a moment that you have gone back in time.

People of all ages are often amazed and spellbound by tall ships when they come into port. For many just going aboard for the first time is an eye opening experience. Some wonder about the life at sea and consider the romantic notion of being a volunteer or perhaps taking courses to become trained crew.

Raising the sails

Raising the sails

But even though I have been sailing aboard small boats since I was a young boy, I quickly recognized when I first went aboard a tall ship that it is altogether different from my other sailing experiences. It takes a large crew of trained sailors to carry out the wishes of the captain. There is a complex set of skills and verbal commands required and an absolute need for teamwork and communication to make this ship sail effectively.

Perhaps a little known fact about the current US Brig Niagara is that the ship’s primary mission is sail training. “Sail Training” is a step-by-step process designed by the Brig Niagara staff to train willing students to become a crewmember. Over the past 30 years the Niagara has trained hundreds, perhaps thousands of crew. Many of their crew has gone on to sail aboard other tall ships going around the globe or transporting “semester at sea” students around the Caribbean. Some have become mates, even captains.

Over the years the National Park Service, the Perry Group, Chamber of Commerce and the many businesses here in Put-in-Bay have embraced the Brig Niagara as a crucial part of sharing our unique history with others visiting the islands. No other ship embodies the teamwork and skill required to sail a tall ship, any tall ship. The crew and officers of the Brig Niagara are known around the world for their premier sail-training program. We are working hard to promote their ongoing mission on the great lakes.

It is incumbent upon us, the supporters of the Brig Niagara, to keep the sail-training program healthy and growing. Part of that mission is to find and train new young students the basics about sailing aboard a tall ship. The Perry Group, along with the help of Flagship Niagara League are interested in promoting this amazing connection between the Brig Niagara and Lake Erie Islands by establishing and underwriting an annual scholarship for one student from our area to be aboard the Brig Niagara for 4 weeks during the summer.

We think this is one of the most important educational projects we can promote and participate in, a that will not only help a student learn a new skill, but promote the Brig Niagara which is so important to our history and tourism here in Put-in-Bay. If you’re between 16 and 23 or know someone how is and want to learn more about this scholarship let us know. This scholarship will require an essay and a keen interest in learning seamanship.

And if you’re a parent or philanthropically inclined and would like to support this scholarship we want to hear from you. Email us at

Jessie Elliott, villain or victim?


Jessie Duncan Elliott

Now that all the festivities are over, related to the Battle of Lake Erie, I wanted to take one last look at the controversy surrounding Captain Jessie Duncan Elliott, who captained the Brig Niagara during most of the Battle of Lake Erie. Born in Hagerstown Maryland in 1782, Elliot enlisted as a midshipman in 1804 at the age of 22. He rose through the ranks quickly to Lieutenant and in 1810 was given charge of building up a fleet on Lake Erie. In October of 1812, serving under Captain Nathan Towson, Elliott distinguished himself in an intense battle with the British fleet near Fort Erie. Together, Elliot and Towson captured both the HMS Caledonia and Detroit. (The Caledonia would later be an important part of Perry’s fleet.)

Jessie Elliott was decorated by congress for his actions and promoted to Commandant. Unfortunately for him, Oliver Hazard Perry had been given the same promotion only a month earlier and was given command of the Lake Erie Fleet construction effort. Elliot was then made Perry’s second in command. Upon completion of the two identical brigs, Elliot was given command of the Niagara.

On the day of the battle, Perry issued three commands to his fleet’s captains; stay in line, don’t overtake the boats ahead of you, and don’t engage with the enemy until you’re in range. The wind was light as the battle began, but increased and shifted favoring the US fleet. Perry, aboard the Lawrence led the attack, while Elliott on the Niagara brought up the rear. British artillery pummeled the Lawrence while the Niagara remained largely out of range until Perry transferred his command to the Niagara and won the day.

Looking back on the outcome of the battle, we need to remember that Perry and Elliot took quite different paths on the way to the 10th of September 1813. Of course we know Oliver Hazard Perry came from a privileged Rhode Island family with a long line of distinguished Naval service. Young Perry’s unconventional approach to command had branded him as brash, yet brave. His family’s political and financial connections assured him of command even after his fateful loss of the USS Revenge and subsequent court martial proceedings.

Meanwhile, already fighting the British here on the Great Lakes, Jessie Elliot continued to distinguish himself in a series of key battles and skirmishes. According to Wikipedia, he was transferred to Lake Ontario, and served under Commodore Isaac Chauncey on board the flagship USS Madison and took part in the Battle of York in April of 1813 and the Battle of Fort George later that May. This all led up to his assignment as second in command under Perry in July of 1813. Elliott had earned his way up through the ranks. He had extensive combat experience but was publicly critical of Perry’s decision to use Presque Isle to construct the fleet. Being second in command to OH Perry may have been a very tough pill to swallow for Elliott.

So when Perry rowed from the Lawrence to the Niagara and relieved Elliott of his command late in the Battle that September 10th, what ensued was a 30 year controversy over the exact reasons why Elliott hung back during the battle. Was it insubordination, lack of communication, or was Elliott simply following orders? We know Elliott continued to distinguish himself in service well after the Battle of Lake Erie. He was later commended, in writing, by Perry for his efforts during the battle.

In 1833 Elliott was appointed Commander of the Boston Navy Yard and then the Mediterranean Fleet in 1835. He had some issues with junior officers in 1838, (he may not have been that popular back in Washington), but in 1843 President John Tyler still thought highly enough of Jessie Elliott to appoint him Commander of the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Elliott died in December of 1845 and was buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery, near the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

In 2012 Jessie Duncan Elliott’s unmarked grave was rediscovered. Marc Burr, President of the Perry Group, and funeral director, happened onto the interesting story of Elliot’s final resting spot. According to Samuel Ricks, Graves Registrar Pennsylvania Division Sons of Confederate Veterans, he is in an unremarkable grave, part of a Naval Asylum plot in Pennsylvania.

Interestingly, the Naval Asylum Plot is a National Cemetery plot owned and “maintained” by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) inside an abandoned private cemetery, Mount Moriah.  The Naval Plot has 5 sections with approximately 1,900 Navy and Marine graves from the Revolutionary War (Continental Navy) through the Korean War.

The Naval Asylum Plot is situated in the back of an abandoned cemetery, an “oasis surrounded by jungle”.  The VA cuts the grass.  There is not even a flagpole with a US Flag flying.  Many of the grave markers are illegible.  Elliot is buried in the “Officer’s Plot,” Naval 5, Grave 1(GPS: 39.93687 N, -75.23899 W) at the Naval Asylum Plot inside the Yeadon, Delaware County side of Mount Moriah Cemetery (which spans two counties).


Marc Burr and the Perry Group think that regardless of what you may believe about Jessie Duncan Elliott, he deserves a proper marker for his grave. Marc has begun the process to get approval to have a new grave marker commissioned and installed at Elliott’s grave. Members of The Perry Group are making plans to visit Mount Moriah, to oversee the installation of the gravestone on the way to the Bicentennial events at Fort McHenry (Baltimore) September 12-14. If you would like to join us on this once in a lifetime trip email me at


The Curious Case of Hezekiah Gear

Hezekiah Gear
This past year has brought me some very unusual stories about the Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial from even stranger sources. Such is the case of one Hezekiah H. Gear, a very successful lead mine entrepreneur from Galena Illinois. Last fall when a group of visiting Road Scholars (formerly Elder Hostile) was in town bird watching, I was talking to one of the scholars. This fellow told me that they had recently been on a trip to Galena Illinois and seen “Commodore Perry’s Battle Flag” from the Battle of Lake Erie on display at the Galena-Jo Daviess Historical Society & Museum.

First you might wonder like I did, “Where the heck is Galena?” Well Galena is in the most northwestern part of Illinois just a few miles east of the Mississippi River and just south of the state of Wisconsin. It was barely an encampment on the river at the time of the Battle of Lake Erie. It later became a town of some prominence on the shoulders of the many lead veins that were discovered and subsequently mined in the surrounding area in the mid to late 1820’s. Today It is a beautiful serene “New Englandesque” town and certainly worth visiting (
Our part of the story centers round Hezekiah H. Gear, oldest of 8 children born in Connecticut in 1791. The version that has been told about young Hezekiah is that he enlisted into the Massachusetts Militia at about the age of 19 or 20 for a very short stint that may have included being in or assigned to the US Navy. We have no documentation that Gear was ever aboard the Lawrence or any of the ships used in the Battle of Lake Erie. Not in the Captain or pursers log or even in any historical retellings of that fateful day. But like many stories from this period in history it has been retold and perhaps embellished over time.

By many “post war” published accounts I received from the Galena-Jo Davies Historical Society, Hezekiah was aboard the Brig Lawrence with Commodore Perry during the Battle of Lake Erie. As the ship and crew became overwhelmed by enemy fire, most of the crew dead or mortally injured, Commodore Perry prepared to move his command to the Niagara. Just as he was about to depart, young Hezekiah bravely turned back to fetch the captain’s “ensign”. In this case a hand-sewn American flag with fourteen (and later seventeen) randomly placed stars and nine red and white stripes. Often this type of “Captain’s” burgee or ensign was flown on board when the commanding officer was present and had great sentimental value for its owner.

According to an account in the Galena Museum about the flag, written by Curator Daryl Watson, Gear was a hero. He wrote, “Amid a hail of enemy fire, he frantically climbed the rigging and snatched the flag. Dropping back to the deck, he raced to Perry’s side, where the young Captain wrapped the tattered cloth over his arm as the abandoned ship”.


Supposedly, soon after the battle, safe on the shores of Put-in-Bay Commodore Perry presented the tattered flag to Hezekiah for his bravery. Some accounts have this actually taking place years later and not by Perry at all. Never the less, he kept the cherished flag in his personal affects and the legend of the flag traveled with Gear.

Young Hezekiah Gear went west 1827 after the war filing a claim for land that might be mined for lead. Both the Native Americans and the US Government disputed the land’s ownership. Both believed it was theirs through a treaty. After much court wrangling and even a short stint in jail Gear prevailed and was awarded clear title. The land was very fruitful and Gear became “one of Galena’s most prosperous and philanthropic citizens. He became an Illinois State Senator and commander of the Illinois “Young America” Militia.

Today the ensign remains on display at Galena-Jo Daviess Historical Society Museum, though its provenance is now unclear. It has traveled to other museums at times as part of War of 1812 exhibit adding to its lore. The real story of the flag remains a bit murky but the story provides a “great and glorious” picture of the times. What we know for certain is that Gear spent a very short time in the Massachusetts Militia, though in 1871 he was declared eligible for a pension. Before he died in 1877 Hezekiah transferred ownership of the flag to the Customs House near Galena under the watchful eye of the “Young America” and “Wide Awake” guards. In a short address to “Young America” Hezekiah Gear kept the legend of the flag aloft evoking Perry’s bravery in his address “long may it wave over your heads and may the same Almighty Being that shielded the brave Perry and gave him victory in defense of your country and your countries cause”. He closed his speech with those immortal words “we have met the enemy and they are ours.” As Napoleon Bonaparte once said “history is written by the victors”.


“No time to rest”

By the end of November 1812, as the war with the British staggered on, our 4th US president, James Madison, had been re-elected. The American fleet and our militia had suffered numerous defeats to British and Canadian forces. To make matters worse several strategic ports in South Carolina and Georgia were being successfully blockaded by the British Fleet. By December of 1812 Madison’s Secretary of War, William Eustis, was forced to resign in disgrace.

Oliver Hazard Perry was still on a leave of absence after being exonerated in his 1811 court martial case for the sinking of the USS Revenge. According to Wikipedia “On May 5, 1811, he [Perry] married Elizabeth Mason of Newport, Rhode Island, whom he had met at a dance in 1807. They enjoyed an extended honeymoon touring New England.”

I am certain that news of the various American Fleet setbacks reached very patriotic Perry and motivated him to finally end his extended honeymoon and ask for a return to active duty. In March of 1813 Perry was given his new command and he was sent to Presque Isle to build a fleet to challenge the British control of Lake Erie. And as we know that important decision changed the course of US history. The summer of 2012 was the start of a three-year observance of the War of 1812 and especially the Battle of Lake Erie. For us this was a chance to create a buzz for things to come.

Here in Put-in-Bay our summer of 2012 was one of great hope and success. The National Park Service staff got things rolling here on the island in June with the “Declaration of War” observance. Shortly after that the Perry Group got underway with building Commodore Perry’s iconic “Long Boat”. The longboat, which is now fully planked, is slowly working it’s way through the final stages of its’ completion.

On August 30th beautiful weather made the excursion from Put-in-bay to Cleveland’s Navy week a huge success. The “transfer of command” from The Brig Niagara to Perry Class Frigate USS DeWert capped off the day’s festivities at the Navy’s kick off event for the Battle of Lake Erie Celebration. The summer ended with Historic Weekend hosted by Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, and included re-enactors, carronades, marching bands and parades. Historic weekend would not be complete without music and included an outstanding performance by the Toledo Symphony.

Saturday evening ended with the “Lights of Peace” Harbor Illumination. On Sunday morning a solemn ceremony was held at the placement of the permanent “Battle of Lake Erie” buoy by the US Coast Guard at the battle site.

The upcoming 2013 Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial celebration planning is well underway. The Perry Group and the National Park Service are preparing for a summer of memorable events here in Put-in-Bay and the Western Basin of Lake Erie from August 30th through September 10th. We have 19 tall ships scheduled to make their way to our area next August 29th. Eleven ports have signed on to be hosts, including Put-in-Bay, Middle Bass Island, Kelley’s Island, Pelee Island, Catawba Island, Port Clinton, Monroe, Windsor, Leamington, Kingsville, and Amherstburg. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, The Perry Group and the eleven host ports cities will host Twelve days of activities, both on the water and on land.

But we can’t rest yet. Get out your calendars, because on Martin Luther King weekend January 17-21st, the Lake Erie Maritime Association has invited The Perry Group along with the NPS to host a weekend Battle of Lake Erie Celebration preview at the Cleveland Boat Show. We will have the newly completed Perry’s Longboat on site, re-enactors, authors and period musical performers gathered together to help raise the awareness level of our 2013 roster of summer’s event one more notch. Stay tuned!

“And his flag was still there”

Don't Give Up The Ship

Perry’s legacy

If we remember just one thing about the War of 1812 from grade school hopefully it is that Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner, actually just the lyrics, in the form of a poem called “The Defense of Fort McHenry”. So while Fort McHenry was being bombarded by British Royal Navy ships in the Chesapeake in 1814, Key penned what would be come our most identifiable American song. (Ironically the tune for the national anthem would come from a British Social Club song called “”To Anacreon in Heaven”.) It was several years later before the lyrics he scrawled on the back of an envelope would become an anthem and it was not until 1931 when Herbert Hoover declared it our national anthem. Today every school kid in America should know the stirring words “And the rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there”.

To me, Key’s lyrics evoke an image of survival, perseverance and an emotional victory that in many ways reminds us of the second most notable event of the war (my opinion), Perry’s transfer of command from the Lawrence to the Niagara with his iconic flag. If just one idea lingers in our memory after this Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial is over it has to be “Don’t Give Up the Ship”. This slogan and flag is Commodore Perry’s most important contribution to our collective historic consciousness.

Perry’s flag story in simplest terms… Oliver Hazard Perry was a young, smart, impressionable sailor from Rhode Island, from a family of brave sailors. Oliver went off to serve his country filled with patriotism and guile for the British. He was aboard the USS Chesapeake when his commanding officer, Captain James Lawrence, was mortally wounded during a confrontation with the British ship “HMS Shannon”. Young Perry was influenced and guided by his service with Lawrence. As Lawrence lay dying he implored young Perry to not give up the ship. Perry was so moved by the moment soon after he went and had a personal flag with “Don’t Give up the Ship” made which he carried with him into battle on several occasions and most notably during the Battle of Lake Erie.

We may not remember or even know the back-story that propelled Perry to create his flag or carry it with him into battle, but I can tell you first hand that maritime gift shops from Boston to Put-in-Bay, Virginia to San Diego have “DGUTS” flags for sale. Many of the shop owners and clerks may be challenged to explain where the slogan came from exactly, but there is no other more important and identifiable Naval slogan today that I know of.

Like so many stories that make up the fabric of our national history, they become just fragments of a larger story that survives to become part of our collective American memory. And because the US Navy uses, promotes and displays the “DGUTS” flag, and the slogan is prominently featured throughout our country’s Naval Bases, ships and recruiting stations, we see it and recognize its’ importance. It rings true not just for our Navy, but for all boaters and patriots I believe.

In late August, Navy week comes to the Cleveland waterfront to commemorate the War of 1812. And so in the late afternoon of Thursday August 30th one of Commodore Perry’s direct descendants will be aboard the longboat we have built to ceremonially recreate that iconic transfer of command. As the longboat embarks on a short journey across the harbor from the Brig Niagara to the USS De Wert, it symbolically connects us to this important moment in time, the afternoon of September 10th, 1813 when Oliver Hazard Perry changed the outcome of the war and American history.

Hopefully thousands will be on hand as this important event unfolds. Perhaps providing the visual reference we so often need to understand the importance of great days in history and why the flag Perry created was such a big part of that moment. I look forward to that moment as we witness again that Oliver Hazard Perry’s flag “is still here”.

Illuminating Peace

It is hard to believe that we are closing in on two hundred years of peace with Canada and Great Britain. So we are excited about creating a harbor illumination this summer, something everyone can participate in to celebrate. This is an event that will capture the imagination and memories of islanders and visitors, something that connects us to our history but extends to our personal celebration as well.


Our Battle of Lake Erie bicentennial observance, which begins this summer, is the prelude to that important anniversary. It was on the eve of Christmas in 1814 when we signed the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812. Perhaps we take it for granted that the two hard fought wars between the United States and Great Britain left us as firmly entwined allies not enemies. That alliance has been important through out the years, not just during wartime but during peaceful times as well.

As a very young child I lived just out side Buffalo, New York. My Uncle and Aunt lived in a small community in Ontario Canada near the north shore of Lake Erie in a community known as Point Abino. During the summers we would often head to their lakeside house to escape the heat of the summer and enjoy the sandy shores of Crystal Beach. It seemed to me that going to Canada was effortless, no passports, border guards or customs officer.

It was way beyond my understanding at the time to realize that the Treaty of Ghent had solidified that open border that we still enjoy today. In fact in Put-in-Bay we welcome our northern friends every summer that come from Port Stanley, Leamington, Amherstburg and beyond to visit our island.
My Aunt and Uncle have long since passed away, but the memories of those wonderful summers in Point Abino still shine brightly in my mind. I want to remember not only my Aunt and Uncle, but also my mother and father who brought me here to Put-in-Bay for many, many wonderful summers after we moved to Columbus.

So this summer in Put-in-Bay we are going to celebrate our good fortune, that feeling of security we enjoy that has come with an open border and enduring peace, by staging an illumination of the inner harbor. This potentially spectacular event will take place at dusk on September 8th after the Toledo Symphony has concluded its performance.

From the edge of the Monument property to Stone Lab and along the shores of Gibraltar we will have flares deployed every 15 feet. At a prescribed time all the flares will be lit providing an illumination of the harbor that will be visible by land, boat and air. The flares will burn for about 20 minutes allowing for great photos, quiet moments and some heart felt remembrances to be shared.

But in order to have this happen we need your help. Perry’s Victory, Stone Lab and the Village of Put-in-Bay have given us permission to stage this event, but we need your thoughtful involvement as well. Buy a flare, maybe two for your lost loved ones, or for your family that enjoys life here in the Bass Islands. They cost just $10 each and you can write a special quote or memory in our online logbook for the event. Plan to invite friends and family to our island for Historic Weekend and celebrate the Bicentennial.

This first year of the illumination we hope to have at least 500 flares lit. Call, write, go online or email us if you’re onboard, $10 a flare for a memory and moments of thankfulness. We need volunteers, supplies and helpful cooperation from all the businesses and homeowners along the waterfront.
Now, when I think back to the events that unfolded during the War of 1812, I am especially thankful for the bold and brave actions of our Navy and Commodore Perry on that fateful day in September of 1813. Their sacrifice is embodied in our enduring peace with Great Britain and Canada today. Come celebrate!

The Perry Group PO Box 484 Put-in-Bay, Ohio 43456, 419-285-2491

Building an Icon

Magazines, television and roadside billboards are awash with iconic images like the coke bottle, martini glass, Eiffel Tower, Einstein’s hair, Mickey Mouse “ears”, and the VW Beetle. But for many of us our passion for history takes us deeper into American imagery. The stopped tank in Tiananmen Square (1989), The plaintive woman in Kent State shooting photo (1970), and the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jimo (1945) are gripping memorable iconic images that resonate with us. Americans attach their own interpretation or meaning to these icons, for the “greatest generation” that photo from Iwo Jima stands for all that we fought so hard for in the Second World War. Before photojournalism, these iconic moments were captured by artists.

For me Commodore Perry aboard a rowing gig transferring his command from the Brig Lawrence to the Brig Niagara during the Battle of Lake Erie is one of these powerful iconic American scenes, the most famous painted by Ohio artist William Henry Powell in 1857. The scene has been painted repeatedly and it is “the image” that we attach to the Navy’s most steadfast motto, “Don’t give up the ship”. And while Perry is not the originator of that slogan, his love for his fallen friend James Lawrence, commander of the “Chesapeake”, propelled him to create the “DGUTS” flag that has made it one of our most well known historical American folklore images. Surprisingly, today the “DGUTS” flag image stands alone from the Battle of Lake Erie. For many Americans the slogan, the flag, even the painting are not necessarily attached to the heroic events that made Perry’s success in the Battle of Lake Erie become legendary in his own day.

There are dozens of versions of this iconic scene. From the black and white lithograph from Yale’s collection to the most famous Powell version that adorns the rotunda outside the halls of congress. When you see the painting of Commodore Perry being rowed from the Lawrence to the Niagara it is easy to identify immediately with the “never say die” outside the box thinking that made Perry an enshrined hero of the early American Republic.

About a year ago, The Perry Group had a notion that maybe this iconic image, this moment in time, could be recreated. What if we could build a replica of the rowing gig that Perry used to transfer his command and make it a part of the celebration for the Battle of Lake Erie bicentennial? We started to research these paintings to identify the type of boat he might of used. Since no one made sketches of the battle that September day in 1813, artistic license was employed in the various depictions.

Some of these paintings have as few as 6 men aboard, while others have as many as 10. Some show Perry carrying the “DGUTS” flag, others have the American Colors flying from the bow. One thing we can be fairly certain about, when Perry was being rowed to the Niagara the battle was still raging all about him. He probably did not have many able bodied men left after the Lawrence had been pummeled practically into splinters. I would also bet he did not want to draw overt attention to himself. Never the less the image we hold dear today is what we are after, but as historically correct as possible.

I can’t believe how lucky we are to have the opportunity to build one or our regions, perhaps the country’s most iconic historical Navy symbols. Our journey to find out more about this infamous boat, took us to Boston, Burlington (VT), Newport (RI) and Erie. We enlisted the expert eye of Bob Reynolds Grandson of Scott Matthews (Matthews Boat Company) to help us in this quest.

At first we were just looking for what appeared to be similar. The long boat, pilot gig, and jolly boat are all rowing vessels of the time period that came in various sizes and lengths. Some were designed for speed, others for carrying supplies, still others were for getting crew to and from shore. Since no one can be sure of what exact rowing gig had been aboard the Lawrence we started to research various styles that were common to the British fleet in those days.

On our fact-finding trip to the Erie Maritime Museum we interviewed Walter Rybka, current captain of the Niagara and naval historian. Walter set us on a quest to find an 18’6” six man rowing gig based on lines he shared with us from the Brig Grampus. That was the turning point in our search. After returning from Erie, Bob found a copy of the plans that had been drawn up for the construction of the Brig Niagara, which was “rebuilt” in the 1980’s. It turned out that the naval architect in charge of that reconstruction was Melbourne Smith from Annapolis area. He had done considerable research before drawing those plans. His research included a gig that would have been aboard the Niagara. We contacted him and he has been helping us to create a final plan for our new gig. This ongoing process will begin next month. Construction will be carried out by Riddle Boat Works of Vermilion, with the help of the Sandusky Maritime Museum and Bob Reynolds. We have only just begun to recreate an icon. We have secured a challenge matching grant to get started but we still need funds and materials to build this iconic craft. But I promise you will see it with your own eyes this year, in all its glory once again on the lake once again. Get involved, follow this amazing quest on our blog site “Chasing Perry’s Victory” ( or on twitter @theperrygroup.

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