Posts Tagged '#battleoflakeerie'

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

Freeman, sailor, soldier Charles Smothers


Tony Burroughs-Genealogist

Author and War of 1812 historian Gerald Altoff wrote an insightful book several years ago (still available on entitled “Oliver Hazard Perry and Battle of Lake Erie”. His companion book “Amongst My Best Men”, took a more in depth look at African Americans in the War of 1812. Part of this later work focused on the African American sailors who were a part of Oliver Hazard Perry’s crew during the Battle of Lake Erie.

According to Altoff’s book many of the northern states stipulated “that each and every free able bodied white male, citizen of the respective states, resident there in, who is or shall be the age of eighteen … shall be enrolled in the militia.” While many of these states did not strictly forbid the enrollment of African Americans, they were not encouraged either. Ironically, the territory of Michigan and southern states like Virginia enlisted free men of color. In fact Louisiana had a long and proud tradition of black fighting men.

These free men enlisted in militia and rifle units that served honorably and bravely in many of the engagements of the War of 1812. It was no surprise that some of these men, probably 10-15 percent would become sailors, transferred by General Harrison and Commodore Chauncey to be crew aboard Oliver Hazard Perry’s ships.

So a few months back I got a call from internationally acclaimed and published genealogist Tony Burroughs of Chicago. Tony has quite a resume and has researched genealogy for notable African Americans like Oprah Winfrey, Al Sharpton and Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson.



Mr. Burroughs was researching the story of freeman and war of 1812 sailor Charles Smothers. It turns out that Tony Burroughs is a seventh generation descendent of Charles Smothers who Tony believed served in the Battle of Lake Erie under Perry. This is not an easy thing to prove since men like Charles Smothers were often left out or given limited documentation in the records kept during this time period.

Mr. Burroughs shared with me his research on his great-great-great-great grandfather. “Charles Smothers was born in 1784 in Henry County, Virginia. He was a farmer and migrated from Virginia to Davidson County Tennessee, near Nashville, sometime prior to 1813 when he enlisted in the military. Smothers enlisted in the Regular Army in March of 1813. He was assigned to the 24th U.S. Infantry [and] was transferred from his army regiment to the Lake Erie fleet on August 28, 1813.”

Following these leads Tony Burroughs needed to find records that acknowledged his ancestor’s service. He found one of those on the Battle of Lake Erie website ( that lists all the men who participated in the Battle of Lake Erie according to the purser’s records.



Mr. Burroughs’s had corroborated this fact about Smother’s by examining the official Prize List compiled by Purser Samuel Hambleton (Commodore Perry’s Purser) which was published in The American State Papers in 1814. Tony found that Hambleton’s official Prize List indicated that Smothers “may” have served aboard the “Schooner Scorpion.”

However Tony found that Charles Smothers had stated in his application for “Bounty Land” that he served on board the “Flagship Niagara.” This contradicted the pursers report and meant that further research was needed.


It was a common practice of the era for Veterans of the War of 1812 to earn “Bounty Land” as a bonus for their service. Mr. Burroughs had found documentation that Charles Smothers made a successful application for the Bounty Land and a warrant was awarded him based on his service in the War of 1812.



Mr. Burroughs’s research also revealed that Charles Smothers continued to serve with the Regular Army but was transferred to a unit called the “First Rifles” company led by Captain Edward Wadsworth, December 13, 1813. Charles was honorably discharged on June 3, 1815 in Buffalo, New York. Instead of returning to Tennessee, he decided to settle in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. There he married a white woman named Ruth and they had several children. Two sons served in the Civil War in the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry. One of them is named Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry Smothers.

Mr. Burroughs research was painstaking and still drives him on to find that last piece of written evidence that places Smothers aboard the Flagship Niagara. But the story of Charles Smothers, African American War of 1812 Sailor is now documented. If genealogy is your passion and if you think you might have an ancestor that was aboard one of the US Navy’s ships during the Battle of Lake Erie take the time to check out the celebration website ( Perhaps you will be inspired to sign up to be that person during the reenactment September 2nd.

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