Posts Tagged '#warof1812'

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

The Golden Rule, America’s First Peace Boat

Veterans For Peace Golden Rule Project

Veterans For Peace Golden Rule Project

“Thinking outside the box” is an often written and spoken accolade applied to Oliver Hazard Perry for defeating the British in the Battle of Lake Erie. He did not follow the “engagement” conventions of the day. Inspired, his men continued to fight until the Lawrence was just too damaged to continue. Perry refused to give up, transferred his command from Lawrence to the Niagara and won the day. We still marvel at his tenacity, bravery and strategy. The 1958 efforts of the four sailors aboard the 30-foot ketch “Golden Rule” known as America’s First Peace Boat, shares a very similar, albeit less known, result of challenging and defeating powerful opponents in an unconventional way.


It was the summer of 1958 and the world was caught up in the tensions of the cold war. According to the “Golden Rule” web site ( ) “Horrified by the ongoing, open-air nuclear bomb tests and the threat of nuclear war, the four-man crew of the “Golden Rule” sailed from California toward the Marshall Islands. Their intention, publicized around the world, was to nonviolently place their bodies in the way of planned nuclear bomb blasts.”


These four brave men sailed aboard the “Golden Rule” from Honolulu harbor towards the testing area. They were stopped and arrested by the U.S. Coast Guard before they could get to the test site. However, the publicity surrounding their arrest, trial and imprisonment helped ignite public outrage against aboveground nuclear weapons testing and their efforts alerted the world to the health hazards of nuclear testing fallout.


Thanks in part to the “Golden Rule”, in 1963; the Partial Test Ban Treaty was enacted, banning above-ground nuclear testing by the two Superpowers. Several years later the voyage of the “Golden Rule” and her crew inspired a similar anti-nuclear voyage by another bold group that would eventually become known as Greenpeace.


After the Battle of Lake Erie, the Niagara and Lawrence found themselves useless relics of war. They were both left neglected and finally scuttled. Like the Brig Niagara, the “Golden Rule” (which was passed on from owner to owner for many years) became neglected and finally sank in Humboldt Bay, near Eureka California. Left for salvage, boat yard owner Leroy Zerlang realized it was something to save and pulled it up on shore. He stabilized the hull and donated it the local Veterans for Peace group.


I would never have known anything about the “Golden Rule” if it had not been for friend, Sandusky Maritime volunteer and Perry’s Longboat rower AJ “Skip” Oliver of Sandusky. Skip, who is a Viet Nam War veteran, member of Veterans For Peace, sailor, and retired Heidelberg University professor, followed his convictions to Eureka California to help reconstruct the infamous anti-nuclear peace boat “Golden Rule” back in 2011.


Skip was one of our first Longboat volunteers and rowers. Last spring he jumped right in and started sanding and painting the longboat as we worked feverishly to get it ready for the summers events. His countless hours of time and effort to help finish our Perry Longboat underscored his dedication to boating history. He challenged us all to think about the connections between Perry’s actions in war and the ultimate peace we enjoy as part of the legacy of that bloody battle of 1813. I don’t know if his work on “Golden Rule” propelled Skip’s interest in boat building and restoration but we want to return the favor on his “Golden Rule” project.


Skip’s efforts to raise money and awareness about the “Golden Rule” is proof that our efforts do matter, that the time we spend centered on our convictions is what we today call “the purpose driven life” not so very dissimilar to the convictions of young OH Perry in the War of 1812. Unlike Perry and the Niagara, the “Golden Rule” never physically fired a shot, but it did strike a major blow and won a victory we still honor today.


Courtesy of the Albert Bigelow Papers, Swarthmore College Peace Collection

Courtesy of the Albert Bigelow Papers, Swarthmore College Peace Collection

The longboat is a visual icon of Perry’s bravery. We all enjoyed being apart of the longboat project and the peace it continues to symbolize. The “Golden Rule” is also an icon of peace. There is an opportunity to once again be a part of history. Help Veterans for Peace launch the “Golden Rule’ again. If your interested help us to restore the “Golden Rule”.  Please visit the Indiegogo website and make a donation today.

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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