Oliver Hazard Perry facts for kids
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Oliver Hazard Perry
The Hero of Lake Erie
August 23, 1785|
South Kingstown, Rhode Island, United States
|Died||August 23, 1819
|Place of burial||
Island Cemetery, Newport, Rhode Island
|Allegiance||United States of America|
||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1799–1819|
|Awards||Congressional Gold Medal|
Oliver Hazard Perry (August 23, 1785 – August 23, 1819) was an American naval commander, born in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. As the best-known and most prominent member of the Perry family naval dynasty, he was the son of Sarah Wallace Alexander and United States Navy Captain Christopher Raymond Perry, and older brother of Commodore Matthew C. Perry.
Perry served in the West Indies during the Quasi War of 1798–1800 against France, in the Mediterranean during the Barbary Wars of 1801–1815, and in the Caribbean fighting piracy and the slave trade, but is most noted for his heroic role in the War of 1812 during the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie. During the war against Britain, Perry supervised the building of a fleet at Erie, Pennsylvania. He earned the title "Hero of Lake Erie" for leading American forces in a decisive naval victory at the Battle of Lake Erie, receiving a Congressional Gold Medal and the Thanks of Congress. His leadership materially aided the successful outcomes of all nine Lake Erie military campaign victories, and the victory was a turning point in the battle for the west in the war. He is remembered for the words on his battle flag, "Don't Give Up the Ship", which was a tribute to the dying command of his colleague Captain James Lawrence of USS Chesapeake. He is also known for his message to General William Henry Harrison which reads in part, "We have met the enemy and they are ours; ..."
Perry became embroiled in a long-standing and bitter controversy with the commander of USS Niagara, Captain Jesse Elliott, over their conduct in the Battle of Lake Erie, and both were the subject of official charges. In 1815, he successfully commanded Java in the Mediterranean during the Second Barbary War. So seminal was his career that he was lionized in the press (being the subject of scores of books and articles). He has been frequently memorialized, and many places, ships and persons have been named in his honor.
Childhood and early life
As a boy, Perry lived in Tower Hill, Rhode Island, sailing ships in anticipation of his future career as an officer in the United States Navy. He was the oldest of five boys born to Christopher and Sarah Perry. Perry came from a long line of accomplished naval men from both sides of his family. His mother taught Perry and his younger brothers to read and write and had them attend Trinity Episcopal Church regularly, where he was baptized by Reverend William Smith on April 1, 1794, at the age of nine. Reverend Theodore Dehon, rector of the church from 1797 to 1810, had a significant influence on the young Perry. He was educated in Newport, Rhode Island.
Through his father's influence, Perry was appointed a midshipman in the United States Navy, at the age of thirteen, on April 7, 1799. Perry sailed aboard USS General Greene, of which his father was commanding officer, on her maiden voyage in June 1799. The ship made its first stop in Cuba, charged with receiving American merchant ships and providing escort from Havana to the United States. Perry's service aboard General Greene continued during the Quasi-War with France. He first experienced combat on February 9, 1800, off the coast of the French colony of Haiti, which was in a state of rebellion.
During the First Barbary War, he served aboard USS Adams and later was first lieutenant (second in command) of USS Nautilus. He then served under Captain John Rodgers on USS Constitution and USS Essex. He was placed in charge of construction of gunboats in Newport and Westerly, Rhode Island.
Beginning in April 1809, he commanded the sloop USS Revenge, engaging in patrol duties to enforce the Embargo Act, as well as a successful raid to regain an American ship held in Spanish territory in Florida. On January 9, 1811, Revenge ran aground off Rhode Island and was lost. "Seeing fairly quickly that he could not save the vessel, [Perry] turned his attention to saving the crew, and after helping them down the ropes over the vessel's stern, he was the last to leave the vessel." The subsequent court-martial exonerated Perry, placing blame on the ship's pilot. In January 2011, a team of divers claimed to have discovered the remains of Revenge, nearly 200 years to the day after it sank. Cannons from Revenge were salvaged by the U.S. Navy in 2017.
Following the court-martial, Perry was given a leave of absence from the Navy. On May 5, 1811, he married Elizabeth Champlin Mason of Newport, Rhode Island, whom he had met at a dance in 1807. They enjoyed an extended honeymoon touring New England. The couple would eventually have five children, with one dying in infancy.
War of 1812
At the beginning of the War of 1812, the British Royal Navy controlled the Great Lakes, except for Lake Huron, while the United States Navy controlled Lake Champlain. The American naval forces were very small, allowing the British to make many advances in the Great Lakes and northern New York waterways. The roles played by commanders like Perry, at Lake Erie and Isaac Chauncey at Lake Ontario and Thomas Macdonough at Lake Champlain all proved vital to the naval effort. Naval historian E. B. Potter noted that "all naval officers of the day made a special study of Nelson's battles". Oliver Perry was no exception.
At his request, he was given command of the American naval forces on Lake Erie during the war. Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton had charged prominent merchant seaman Daniel Dobbins with building the American fleet on Presque Isle Bay at Erie, Pennsylvania, and Perry was named chief naval officer.
Perry knew battle was coming, and he "consciously followed Nelson's example in describing his battle plans to his captains." Perry's instructions were:
Commanding officers are particularly enjoined to pay attention in preserving their stations in the Line, and in all cases to keep as near the Lawrence as possible. ... Engage your designated adversary, in close action, at half cable's length.—Oliver H. Perry, General Order, USS Lawrence
Hero of Lake Erie
On September 10, 1813, Perry's command fought a successful fleet action against a squadron of the Royal Navy in the Battle of Lake Erie. It was at the outset of this battle that Perry famously said, "If a victory is to be gained, I will gain it." Initially, the exchange of gunfire favored the British. Perry's flagship, USS Lawrence, was so severely disabled in the encounter that the British commander, Robert Heriot Barclay, thought that Perry would surrender it, and sent a small boat to request that the American vessel pull down its flag. Faithful to the words of his battle flag, "DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP" (a paraphrase of the dying words of Captain James Lawrence, the ship's namesake and Perry's friend), Perry, with Lawrence's chaplain and purser as the remaining able crew, personally fired the final salvo, and then had his men row him a half-mile (0.8 km) through heavy gunfire to transfer his command to USS Niagara. Once aboard, Perry dispatched Niagara's commander, Captain Jesse Elliott, to bring the other schooners into closer action while he steered Niagara toward the damaged British ships. Like Nelson's Victory at Trafalgar, Niagara broke the opposing line. Perry's force pounded Barclay's ships until they could offer no effective resistance and surrendered. Although he had won the battle aboard Niagara, he received the British surrender on the deck of the recaptured Lawrence to allow the British to see the terrible price his men had paid. Perry's battle report to General William Henry Harrison was famously brief: "We have met the enemy and they are ours; two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop."
This was the first time in history that an entire British naval squadron had surrendered, and every captured ship was successfully returned to Presque Isle.
Although the engagement was small compared to Napoleonic naval battles such as the Battle of Trafalgar, the victory had disproportionate strategic importance, opening Canada up to possible invasion, while simultaneously protecting the entire Ohio Valley. The loss of the British squadron directly led to the critical Battle of the Thames, the rout of British forces by Harrison's army, the deaths of Tecumseh and Roundhead, and the breakup of his Indian alliance. Along with the Battle of Plattsburgh, it was one of only two significant fleet victories of the war.
In fact, Perry was involved in nine battles that led to and followed the Battle of Lake Erie, and they all had a seminal impact. "What is often overlooked when studying Perry is how his physical participation and brilliant strategic leadership influenced the outcomes of all nine Lake Erie military campaign victories:
Capturing Fort George, Ontario in the Battle of Fort George; Destroying the British munitions at Olde Fort Erie (see Capture of Fort Erie); Rescuing five vessels from Black Rock; Building the Erie fleet; Getting the ships over the sandbar; Blocking British supplies for a month prior to battle; Planning the Thames invasion with General Harrison; Winning the Battle of Lake Erie; and Winning the Battle of Thames.
The Battle Flag
"Don't give up the ship", a phrase repeated by Captain James Lawrence during his dying days after being wounded by enemy fire aboard the Chesapeake on June 1, 1813, became the battle cry of Oliver Hazard Perry. Perry learned of Lawrence's demise upon arrival at Presque Isle and commanded that Lawrence would be honored with the name of a brig, which would simply be called Lawrence. A battle flag would also be needed, and the words of Perry's good friend Lawrence would be just the battle cry suited for the coming days. A woman named Margaret Forster Steuart, resident of Erie Pennsylvania, wife of Army Captain Thomas Steuart and sister to Thomas Forster, both friends of Perry's, Forster being commander of the Erie Light Infantry that had guarded the fleet, was enlisted to make the battle flag. With the help of her two daughters, three nieces, and a cousin, she had the flag ready for Perry within just a few days. As of July 2009, Perry's flag, Steuart's work, and Lawrence's dying words can still be seen today, as the flag has been placed on display in Bancroft Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
While Nelson had Collingwood, Perry had Jesse Elliott, and was considerably less well served. Elliott, while serving with Isaac Chauncey at Lake Ontario, was tasked to augment Perry's squadron with 11 officers and 91 men, "and none were sent but the worst." Subsequently, detailed by Chauncey to command Niagara, Elliott stated "that if he could have foreseen that he himself should be sent to Lake Erie, his selections would have been different." Elliott then appropriated the "best of the worst" for Niagara; and Perry "in the interest of harmony" accepted the situation, though with growing ill-will.
In his initial post-action report, Perry had praised Captain Elliott's role in the American victory at Lake Erie; and as news of the battle spread, Perry and Elliott were both celebrated as national heroes. Soon after, however, several junior officers publicly criticized Elliott's performance during the battle, charging that Elliott allowed Lawrence to suffer the brunt of the British fire while holding Niagara back from the fight. William Vigneron Taylor, Perry's sailing master, in a letter to Taylor's wife, put it thus:
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.—William Taylor, 15 September 1813
The meeting between Elliott and Perry on the deck of Niagara was terse. Elliott inquired how the day was going. Perry replied, "Badly." Elliott then volunteered to take Perry's small boat and rally the schooners, and Perry acquiesced. As Perry turned Niagara into the battle, Elliott was not aboard. Elliott's rejoinder to history's criticism of inaction was that there had been a lack of effective signaling. Charges were filed, but not officially acted upon. Attempting to restore his honor, Elliott and his supporters began a 30-year campaign that would outlive both men and ultimately leave his reputation in tatters.
In Perry's report to Secretary of the Navy William Jones, written three days after the battle, he mentioned Elliott in what, at first, seem to be complimentary terms, but, when read carefully, betray his disdain for Elliott. Perry wrote, "In this action he evinced his characteristic bravery and judgement; and, since the close of the action, has given me the most able and essential assistance."
Congressional Gold Medal
On January 6, 1814, Perry was honored with a Congressional Gold Medal, the Thanks of Congress, and a promotion to the rank of Captain. This was one of 27 Gold Medals authorized by Congress arising from the War of 1812.
Elliott was also recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal and the Thanks of Congress for his actions in the battle. This recognition would prove to fan the flames of resentment on both sides of the Elliott–Perry controversy.
In recognition of his victory at Lake Erie, in 1813 Perry was elected as an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati.
Mission to Venezuela and death
In 1818 Perry purchased a large house on Washington Square in Newport which was built in 1750 for merchant Peter Buloid. The house remained in the Perry family until 1865 and now serves as an antique bookstore.
In 1819, Perry sailed for the Orinoco River, Venezuela, aboard of the frigate John Adams with the frigate Constellation and the schooner USS Nonsuch, arriving on July 15 to discourage piracy, while still maintaining friendly relations with Republic of Venezuela and the Republic of Buenos Aires. Shifting his flag to USS Nonsuch, due to its shallower draft, Perry sailed upriver to Angostura to negotiate an anti-piracy agreement with President Simón Bolívar. A favorable treaty was signed on August 11 with Vice-President Francisco Antonio Zea in the absence of Bolivar (who was engaged in the liberation of New Granada), but when the schooner started downriver, many of her crew, including Perry, had been stricken with yellow fever.
Despite the crew's efforts to reach Trinidad for medical assistance, the commodore died on board USS Nonsuch on August 23, 1819, his 34th birthday, as the ship entered the Gulf of Paria and was nearing Port of Spain. He was buried in Port of Spain with great honors while the Nonsuch's crew acted as honor guard.
His remains were later taken back to the United States in 1826 and interred in Newport, Rhode Island. Originally interred in the Old Common Burial Ground, his body was eventually moved to Newport's Island Cemetery.
Perry's parents were Christopher Raymond Perry (1761–1818), who was also born in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, and Sarah Wallace Alexander (1763–1830). Through his mother, Perry was a direct descendant of the uncle of Scottish nobleman and military leader William Wallace (d. 1305), whose life was the inspiration for the movie Braveheart.
Perry married Elizabeth Champlin Mason in 1811. They had five children, four of whom lived to maturity. They were:
- Brigadier General Christopher Grant Champlin Perry, RIM (April 2, 1812 – April 5, 1854), commander of the Artillery Company of Newport from 1845-1854, m. Murial Frances Sergeant of Philadelphia (great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin); their daughter Margaret Mason Perry married the artist John LaFarge;
- Oliver Hazard Perry II (February 23, 1813 – March 4, 1814), died in infancy;
- Lieutenant Oliver Hazard Perry, Jr., USN (February 23, 1815 – August 20, 1878), m. 1) Elizabeth Ann Randolph (1816–1847) (Virginia Randolph family) and m. 2) Mary Ann Moseley;
- First Lieutenant Christopher Raymond Perry, USA (June 29, 1816 – October 8, 1848), never married;
- Elizabeth Mason Perry, m., as his 2nd wife, the Reverend Francis Vinton, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newport.
Perry's son Christopher Grant Champlin Perry was a physician, and served as commander of the Artillery Company of Newport from April 1848 until his death in 1854. In May 1849 he was commissioned as a brigadier general in the Rhode Island Militia and given command of the 1st Brigade encompassing Newport and Bristol Counties.
Perry's son Oliver Hazard Perry, Jr. entered the Navy as a midshipman in 1829, rose to the rank of lieutenant and resigned in 1849. He served on the United States Exploring Expedition under Captain Charles Wilkes from 1839 to 1842. Although he is buried in the same cemetery as his parents, for unknown reasons, he is not buried in the same plot with his parents.
Perry's son Christopher Raymond Perry graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1842. He served during the Mexican War and fought at the Battle of Palo Alto on May 8, 1846, and at the Battle of Resaca-de‑la‑Palma on May 9, 1846. He died on active duty as a 1st lieutenant in 1848.
His extended family's descendants include Commander John Rodgers, the second person to become a United States naval aviator, and well known civilian aviator Calbraith Perry Rodgers, the first person to fly an airplane—the Vin Fiz—across the United States.
Perry's nephew by marriage, George Champlin Mason, Sr., was a noted architect and historian.
Oliver Hazard Perry La Farge (December 19, 1901 – August 2, 1963), Perry's great-great-grandson and namesake, was an American writer and anthropologist, best known for his 1930 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel Laughing Boy.
His great-grandnephew Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont (November 12, 1858 – June 10, 1908) from Buffalo, NY was an American socialite and United States Representative from New York.
Perry's great-grandniece, Ruth Black (November 1893 – September 3, 1964), married Gulf Oil executive Willard F. Jones.
Oliver Hazard Perry Throck Morton (August 4, 1823 – November 1, 1877) (no relation)—the 14th Governor of Indiana, a famous Republican politician and U.S. Senator, who was a leader among the Radical Republican reconstructionists—was named in his honor.
Dates of rank
- Midshipman – 7 April 1799
- Lieutenant – 15 January 1807
- Master Commandant – 28 August 1812
- Captain – 10 September 1813
Although Perry is often referred to as "Commodore Perry," it should be kept in mind that, prior to the American Civil War, commodore was not a rank in the U.S. Navy but, rather, the title of an officer in command of a squadron of two or more ships. Perry first held the title of commodore when he took command of the Lake Erie squadron in 1813.
- Midshipman, USS General Greene – April 1799 to May 1801
- Acting Lieutenant, USS Adams – June 1802 to November 1803
- Second Lieutenant, USS Constellation – May 1804 to July 1805
- First Lieutenant, USS Nautilus – July 1805 to December 1805
- Acting Lieutenant, USS Constitution – December 1805 to c. July 1806
- Second Lieutenant, USS Essex – c. July 1806 to c. October 1806
- Officer in Charge of Gunboat construction in Newport and Westerly, RI – October 1806 to April 1809
- Commanding Officer, USS Revenge – April 1809 to January 1811
- Commanding Officer, Gunboat Squadron, Newport, RI – c. 1811 to January 1813
- Commanding Officer, Lake Erie Squadron – March 1813 to c. October 1813
- Commanding Officer, Gunboat squadron, Newport, RI – May 1814 to July 1814
- Commanding Officer, USS Java (under construction) – July 1814 to August 1815
- Commanding Officer, USS Java (in commission) – August 1815 to c. May 1817
- Senior Naval Officer, Newport, RI – c. May 1817 to May 1819
- Commanding Officer, Venezuelan diplomatic mission – June 1819 to August 1819 (deceased)
Note – Time gaps between assignments were probably in a "waiting orders" status.
Many locations, both in Rhode Island and near Lake Erie, are named in his honor, including:
- Oliver Hazard Perry Elementary School, Cleveland, OH
- Perry Elementary School, Erie, PA
- Commodore Perry School District, including Perry Township, Mercer County, Pennsylvania
- Oliver Hazard Perry Middle School, Providence, RI
- Training Ship Oliver Hazard Perry, Newport, RI
- All of the ten Perry counties in the U.S.
- Perryville and Perry County, Missouri
- The hamlet of Perrysburg and the surrounding township; and the Village of Perry, New York and the surrounding township,
- The city of Perry, Michigan in Perry Township
- The city of Perry, Georgia
- The town of Perry, Maine
- The village of Perry, Illinois
- The cities of Perrysburg, Perrysville, North Perry and Perry; Perrysburg Township; and Perry County, Ohio.
- The unincorporated hamlet of South Perry, in Perry Township, Hocking County, Ohio.
- Perry Township, between Canton and Massillon in Stark County, Ohio. The local high school is also named in his honor.
- The borough of Perryopolis and Oliver Township, within Perry County, and Oliver Township and Perry Township in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania.
- The village of Perryville in the town of South Kingstown, Rhode Island. The portion of U.S. Route 1 near Perryville is named the Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry Highway. Perry Street in Newport is also named after him.
- The City of Hazard in Perry County, Kentucky.
- Perry County, Tennessee
- Perry Street, New York
- Fort Perry in Box Springs, Georgia
- The Perry Hotel in Key West, Florida, is named after Oliver H. Perry's brother Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who planted the first US flag in Key West on March 25,1822.
An eastbound service plaza along the Ohio Turnpike is named the Commodore Perry Service Plaza, located in Sandusky County, Ohio.
Inn at Perry Cabin, St Michael’s, Maryland. 4 star Hotel. Also Stars restaurant 4 star. Purser’s pub. Exquisite resort as well as Links at Perry Cabin golf course.
The national monument commemorating Perry is the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial at Put-In-Bay, Ohio. Its 352 ft (107 m) tower, the world's most massive Doric column, was constructed by a multi-state commission between 1912 and 1915.
Other monuments include:
- Memorial plaque, Trinity Episcopal Church, Newport, Rhode Island, dedicated by Perry's widow on August 23, 1855, the 36th anniversary of his death.
- Perry Monument, Public Square, Cleveland, Ohio, monument and statue by William Walcutt, dedicated on September 10, 1860, the 47th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie. Walcutt's marble statue was replaced with a bronze copy in 1929. The monument was relocated to Fort Huntington Park in 1991.
- Walcutt's marble Perry statue is on long-term loan to the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial.
- Oliver Hazard Perry by William Greene Turner, Eisenhower Park, Newport, Rhode Island, dedicated September 10, 1885, the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie.
- Oliver Hazard Perry by Charles Henry Niehaus, Front Park, Buffalo, New York, dedicated on September 25, 1916.
- Perry Monument, Perry Square, Erie, Pennsylvania, designed by Paul Philippe Cret, 1925, features a bronze copy after William Greene Turner's 1885 statue.
- Oliver Hazard Perry Memorial Gateway, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, dedicated April 1925. Captain Henry E. Lackey, the United States Navy representative at the dedication, arrived aboard the newly commissioned light cruiser USS Memphis (CL-13).
- Perry Monument at Misery Bay, Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania, dedicated in 1926.
- Oliver Hazard Perry (bronze copy after William Walcutt), on the south front of the Rhode Island State House, Providence, Rhode Island, dedicated in 1928.
- Perry Monument, Perrysburg, Ohio, dedicated in 1997, features a bronze copy after William Walcutt's 1860 statue.
- The reverse of the 2013 "Perry's Victory" quarter shows William Walcutt's statue of Perry (1860) with the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial in the distance.
- The family farm in South Kingstown, where Perry was probably born and later built a house, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
- A larger than life portrait of Commodore Perry hangs in the Executive Chamber of the Rhode Island State House.
- Perry's Victory on Lake Erie (1865) by William Henry Powell, Rotunda, Ohio Statehouse, Columbus. Dimensions: 12 ft × 16 ft (3.7 m × 4.9 m).
- Battle of Lake Erie (1873) by William Henry Powell, United States Capitol, Washington D.C. Dimensions: 16.76 ft × 26.63 ft (5.11 m × 8.12 m).
- Portrait of Oliver Hazard Perry (1900), by Gari Melchers, Executive Chamber, Rhode Island State House.
- Battle of Lake Erie (c. 1911) by Edward Percy Moran.
- Battle of Lake Erie, 10 September 1813. (1959) by Charles Robert Patterson and Howard B. French, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.
In 2016, principal photography began on We Have Met the Enemy, a feature-length documentary produced by Lou Reda (Vietnam in HD, The Blue and the Gray), for a planned spring 2017 release.
Commodore Perry has been repeatedly honored with ships bearing his name.
- USS Perry (1843), a sailing brig 1843–1865
- USS Commodore Perry (1859), an armed side-wheel ferry built in 1859 by Stack and Joyce, Williamsburg, New York and purchased by the Navy on October 2, 1861; and commissioned later in the month, Acting Master F. J. Thomas was in command
- USS Perry (DD-11), a Bainbridge-class destroyer (1900–1919)
- USS Perry (DD-340), a Clemson-class destroyer converted into a high-speed minesweeper and re-designated DMS–17 effective November 19, 1940. Served 1921–1944; sunk in Battle of Peleliu.
- SS Oliver Hazard Perry, a Liberty ship. See List of Liberty ships (M–R).
- USS Perry (DD-844), a Gearing-class destroyer (1945–1970)
- USS Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7), a guided-missile frigate (1976–1997), and the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, of which it was a member, are named in his honor. The Navy built 51 of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, with the first going into service in 1977, and the last to be finally moth-balled in 2015. See also USS Perry.
- SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, a Rhode Island Educational Foundation tall ship
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