Posts Tagged 'Bicentennial'

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

“199 and counting”

September 10th, 2012

Today as I write this column it is the 199th anniversary of Oliver Hazard Perry’s Victory in the Battle of Lake Erie. This past historic weekend (September 8th and 9th) we celebrated along with the National Park Service, US Navy, US Coast Guard, Boy Scouts of America, the community of Put-in-Bay and all our friends who came from near and far the opening salvo to the 200th anniversary in 2013.

Just a little over one hundred years ago, newspaper man Webster Huntington and engineer John Eisenmann and group of interested citizens began a success campaign to build a monument of national importance to honor Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s incredible accomplishments in the Battle of Lake Erie before the Centennial Year (1913) began. They formed a multi-state commission to raise the funds for building the monument we see today. In 1911 President Howard Taft signed a bill to conditionally fund the monument. Various designs were considered but on July 4th 1913 the cornerstone was laid, not just for a monument, but a truly fitting tribute to Oliver Hazard Perry and the men that collectively changed the course of our history and the enduring peace and friendship we have enjoyed since with Great Britain, Canada and the First Nation.

In June of 1915 the International Peace Memorial was completed and opened to the pubic (thought it did not actually become a National Park Service site until July of 1936), providing a view to the battle site, and a call out for generations to come, reminding us why September 10th 1813 was a turning point in the War of 1812.

So Sunday morning (September 9th) a group of 50 or so people headed out past Rattle Snake Island to the far corner of the western basin of Lake Erie aboard the Coast Guard vessel “Mobile Bay” to the Battle of Lake Erie site to set a permanent mark. At around 11:30 while stationed on the battle site, we witnessed Bicentennial Chairman Dave Zavagno, who was given the privilege by Captain Stone of the USCG vessel “Mobil Bay” to order the buoy release, the beautiful “Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial buoy” set in place. The buoy is now located at the precise coordinates of 41-44-50.00 N by 083-02-00.00 W.

Now Perry’s monument view is connected exactly to the place and time where so many men died for a fledgling country, and where Perry accepted British Commander Barclays’ surrender. And not far from where Perry scribbled the words “we have met the enemy, and they are ours…” A sacred place is now properly marked for the 200th Anniversary.

The Buoy ceremony had capped off a week of activities to denote the advent of the celebration to come in the year ahead that kicked off on Thursday August 30th when over 250 people boarded the Jet-Express 2 in Put-in-Bay and headed to Cleveland’s Navy Week. This year’s Navy Week in Cleveland was especially important since US Navy had designated Cleveland as one of 15 port cities that are part of its’ official observance of the War of 1812.

So on that balmy day in Cleveland, Blue Angles streaking by overheard and the Brig Niagara on hand after a day of sailing, the Friends of Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial coordinated a special observance that included a moving “Transfer of Command” from the Brig Niagara to the USS DeWert. Oliver Hazard Perry Cabot, a direct descendant of Commodore Perry was rowed from the Niagara to the docked USS DeWert just across the Port of Cleveland Channel. He presented his “Don’t give up the ship flag” to Rear Admiral Greg Nosal. This connection of the past to the present was a poignant symbol of a amazing progression from Perry’s first ever-fleet victory for the fledgling Us Navy to the modern Navy’s current peacekeeping mission. Despite the difference of vessels and costume, Perry’s motto (DGUTS) still resonates just as strongly today as it did 199 years ago.

Historic weekend’s festive parade, the NPS ceremonies featuring Rear Admiral Joseph Horn Jr., the Toledo Symphony and the evenings quietly moving “Lights of Peace” Harbor Illumination capped off a wonderful 199th anniversary. As we count the days until the 200th anniversary we are thankful for the sacrifices made on our behalf and savor the continued sacred peace we all enjoy here in Ohio.

Driven By History (Leisure Living Article Spring 2012)

Get ready, because they say that gas prices may hit new record highs this summer. So as you sift through your vacation ideas I want to suggest how one tank of gas, American history, men (and women) in costumes and warm summer breezes might fit in. This year begins a multi-year observance of the War of 1812. The bell rings, literally, on June 18th as the Re-Declaration of War is read out loud at 1812 Communities across the country.

For people here in Northwestern Ohio, there are dozens of great events, costumed re-enactments and historic sites to visit this summer starting with Fort Meigs (Dayton), Battle of Frenchtown (The River Raison Michigan), Fort Malden (Amherstburg Ontario) and especially Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, Put-in-Bay the staging site for Commodore Perry’s fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie.

When I was a kid we lived in Columbus (founded by the way in 1812!). Many summers my mother and I would drive to various family events and on our way we would always detour to include a historic site. We toured battle sites of the Civil War from Antietam to Gettysburg, We visited pre-revolutionary war sites like The Cumberland Gap (Fort Patrick Henry), Boonesborough ( Daniel Boone home) and Fort Necessity (French and Indian War). On one especially memorable trip we saw Perry’s Monument, the Flagship Niagara (in Erie Pennsylvania), and Fort McHenry in Baltimore where on a momentous night in 1814 Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner!

As a child these excursions made history come alive for me. Seeing first hand the important sites mentioned in history class was an awakening, and cemented my understanding of the connections between our past and the present. For the next couple of years American history comes alive in our own back yard. With so many important sites integral with the War of 1812 this close by, no need to spend big bucks to travel.

So where to go? 200 years ago California was a sparsely settled land with a sprinkling of Spanish missionaries and Russian fur trappers. The Gulf Coast and Carribean were controlled by French and Spanish Ships of War, and in Colorado Zebulon Pike had just accidentally “discovered” Pikes Peak. But here in the Midwest, where the real expansion westward was causing endless battles for land control between the French, British and the Shawnee Nation, you can visit dozens of sites and see first hand the real effects of war and now peace. So forget about California, Florida or Colorado (all nice places to visit) it’s all right here in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, (and Ontario).

During the next three years not only will the American and Canadian governments be actively involved in the retelling of this struggle but many of the First Nation will also participate sharing their point of view as well. (As an aside-The great Chief Tecumseh, who died in the War of 1812, made his home in the Ohio region. He is the subject of a spectacular outdoor drama in Chillicothe Ohio called “Tecumseh”. ) We’re all just a short drive from Lake Erie where the September 2013 Battle of Lake Erie Celebration will take place and a bevy of activities scheduled for this summer that will extend along both sides of the border from Amherstburg to Buffalo, Dayton to Put-in-Bay. So fill up the tank and take a trip to any one of these great destinations.

I am particularly partial to having you come visit Put-in-Bay this summer. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial will be host to a series of special events from May’s Seeds of Peace to the planned reopening of the Observation deck at the monument in June. Then Francis Scott Key will make an appearance here for the July 1st Symphony concert at the Monument and at the end of the summer you will really want to be here September 8th and 9th for Historic Weekend.

This year at Historic Weekend we begin celebrating 200 years of peace with Canada and Great Britain. On Saturday September 8th join costumed re-enactors, the US Coast Guard, and the Toledo Symphony for a moving musical celebration of peace. This will be followed by a twilight Harbor Illumination. A moving remembrance of family, loved ones and our military as the sun sets over the bay. Then next summer get ready for the Tall Ships to return to Lake Erie and Put-in-Bay as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie. 12 days of events from August 30th –September 10th. This is where America became a country. Fill up the tank and drive. If you love history like I do (or just want to see something different) Lake Erie is the place to be this summer.

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