Posts Tagged 'Commodore Perry'

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


Know Change

Perry's 1814 Congressional Gold Medal Coin

Perry’s 1814 Congressional Gold Medal Coin

“Know Change” is one of those kitschy phrases that has made its way into our current inspirational dialog. But you can truly make change happen on Saturday April 20th amid fanfare, interested onlookers and a gaggle of numismatists. Commodore Perry will begin a new voyage through the purses, banks, pants pockets, and cash registers of America as the newest US quarter.

This was not the first time Perry’s likeness has graced a coin. In 1814 the US Congress minted a special gold coin medal with Perry’s likeness for his bravery and courage under fire in the Battle of Lake Erie. On the backside it said “Viam Invenit Virtus Aut Facit”, Valor finds a way.

Interestingly, the congress also created one for Jesse Elliot, who was the Captain of the Niagara as the battle began to unfold the morning of Sept 10th. Elliot is often left out of the discussion about the Battle of Lake Erie. There are virtually no towns or counties named after him. No stamps or Marble statues, or 350 ft high memorials. His story remains clouded in controversy on that important and fateful day.

The issuing of those coins in 1814 fanned a growing controversy between Perry and Elliot that emerged after the Battle was over. What we know is that in March of 1813, due to timing, Perry out ranked Elliot when Perry was given the commission to build the fleet in Erie. (They had both received recent promotions.) Both were decorated leaders on the rise among commissioned officers. Perry did an admirable job getting the fleet built a head of schedule, though he had ruffled some feathers in the process up the command chain.

As day broke on September 10th Perry was heading out to complete a task never done successfully before, to defeat the British Navy. Not just a single vessel, but an entire fleet. This was a heavy load on the shoulders of a young commandant. Perry issued his orders to the fleet. Stay in line, don’t overtake the ship in front of you, and don’t fire until you are with in range. Perry led the fleet aboard the Lawrence into Battle.

Shortly after the battle was over in a letter to his wife William Taylor, Perry’s Sailing master wrote “The Lawrence alone rec’d the fire of the whole British squadron 2 1/2 hours within pistol shot—we were not supported as we ought to have been. Captain Perry led the Lawrence into action & sustained the most destructive fire with the most gallant spirit perhaps that was ever witnessed under similar circumstances”.


With the Lawrence in tatters, Perry boarded the longboat we see in so many depictions and headed to the Niagara, which had lain back during the initial fight. As Perry assumed command aboard Niagara, Perry historian Gerard Altoff noted “The meeting between Elliott and Perry on the deck of Niagara was terse. Elliott inquired how the day was going. Perry replied, “Badly.” Elliot then volunteered to take Perry’s small boat and rally the schooners, and Perry acquiesced.”  Perry then ordered Niagara into the battle.

Jesse Elliot’s response to history’s criticism of his inaction, according to Naval History Magazine, was that there had been a lack of effective signaling. Court martial charges were filed but were not officially acted upon.

According to author David Curtis Skaggs, “friends and supporters mounted a campaign that attempted to restore Jesse Elliot’s honor. They embarked on a 30-year campaign that would outlive both Elliot and Perry and ultimately leave Elliot’s reputation in tatters.”

In the final tally, Elliot challenged Perry to a duel, though Perry refused to engage. Perry wrote a letter of commendation for Elliot that praised his valor. Still the smoldering fire of controversy continued. Finally Elliot  requested a court martial hearing.  He was found “not guilty”.

Today Oliver Hazard Perry’s courage and unconventional approach to the Battle is heralded and unchallenged. Perry remains a hero, he defended Elliot’s honor and ultimately was promoted to Commodore. There is “no change” in Perry’s place in history; we are privileged to share in the honor of his actions with this new coin. The US Mint quarter honors both Perry and the memorial, which was built to remember all who gave their lives to ultimately promote a new era of peace. The quarter release event starts at 11:30am at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial upper plaza. What a wonderful way to “change” history and be a part of the bicentennial celebration.

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

Book’em Dano

There have been literally hundreds of books written about Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry over the years. Yet I would be willing to bet you that the majority of Americans today might be hard pressed to tell you who he was or have ever read even one of those books. Born in Rhode Island in 1785, Oliver was just 34 when he died from Yellow Fever on a mission to the Orinoco River in the Amazon.

Son of US Navy Captain (Christopher Perry) he was a direct descendant of William Wallace, (Brave Heart)! After the Battle of Lake Erie he was often lionized in the press and received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Perry has had monuments, naval vessels, towns, and beer named after him. In 1894 he even had a US stamp issued in his honor. According to Silas Farmer’s 1886 book “The History of Detroit” Perry is quoted saying just prior to the Battle of Lake Erie “If a victory is to be gained, I will gain it.” Now that was bold.

Perry’s bigger than life boast puts him in a league with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders “Charge up San Juan Hill” or Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in game three of the 1932 World Series when he famously pointed to center field and then hit a home run there. Perry became hugely famous in his day. It is hard to understand how he has slipped into relative obscurity these days, relegated to an asterisk* in a war almost no one has learned about in school.

In 1840, shortly after Perry’s untimely death a two-volume biography, written by heralded author Alexander Slidell Mackenzie appeared in print. Today there are many scholarly books about Perry, but there’s never been a Hollywood film or Broadway play recounting of his life. Perry’s story has popped up in some unlikely places as a plot device in other Bass Island based books such as “My Sweetest Libbie” by Jean Gora, “Phantom Victory” a children’s adventure novella by Pamela Service and Bob Adamov’s “Rainbow’s End”. But if you want to read a definitive book on Commodore Perry, go no further than former Monument Superintendent Gerald Altoff’s “Oliver Hazard Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie”. Luckily in our small island oriented Perry-centric world, Oliver Hazard Perry is still a major hero.

But, in an era of instant online gratification, mindless reality shows, and downloadable disposable books history is often last on our list of things to watch or read. So it was refreshing to find a humorous first person narrative that tells the story of Commodore Perry when we need it most. The book is called “Chasing Oliver Hazard Perry: Travels in the Footsteps of the Commodore Who Saved America” by Craig Heimbuch. His self-described website bio says “Craig J. Heimbuch is the Editor-in-Chief of He is an award winning journalist, father of three, husband of one and the author of the award-winning travel book “Chasing Oliver Hazard Perry.” He’s all thumbs when it comes to home improvement, makes a decent shrimp fried rice and is an assistant coach on his son’s t-ball team”.

Craig is from Cincinnati and like so many kids, had a childhood memory of coming to Put-in-Bay and visiting the Monument. It might not have been 100% clear to him at the time what the monument was built for or why his dad brought him here, but the memory lingered and his unfulfilled college ambition to write a travel novel kept that vivid experience stored away waiting for the opportunity to realize his dream. Finally he convinced a friend of his, who was a publisher, to do a book about Perry and he was off and running, literally. The book opens with a vision we so often see, a family walking on a hot summer day from the Miller Ferry to downtown. You can almost hear the bickering that ensued. He calls his opening chapter “My First Mistake”.

The book takes you on an unforgettable journey of self-discovery across country and provides the reader with a sense of Oliver Hazard Perry and his accomplishments in a way that is funny and painless. Craig’s final chapter helps us to put Perry in his rightful public light. “Perry would never again be just a picture on a beer bottle or a guy who lent his name to schools and towns and nuclear power plants…I can tell you that, having learned more about him, I still see Perry as the kind of person I admire-brash, bold and daring.”

His book was released in 2010, but is completely relevant for many years to come. One way or another if you are looking for some reading fun and want to get a little history by accident, get your hands on a copy of Craig Heimbuch’s book (You can buy or download a copy at I am hoping that we can get Craig to the island this summer to share his story with us in person. In the inimitable words of Steve McGarrett from that other oh so famous tropical island, Book’em Dano. To learn more, contact me at

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Perry's Victory Heritage FestivalSeptember 10th, 2015
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