Oliver Hazard Perry
1785 - 1819
The most important person to remember in the history of the U.S.
Brig NIAGARA is her relief commander during the Battle of Lake
Erie, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. It was Perry who penned
the famous report of victory, "We have met the enemy and they are
ours..." after the defeat of the British squadron.
Perry was born on August 23, 1785, at the Old Perry Homestead
in South Kingston, Rhode Island, of "Fighting Quaker parents." His
father was in the United States Navy and young Perry soon
followed. At the age of 13, Perry entered the Navy as a
midshipman, where his first assignment was in the Caribbean under
the command of his father aboard the sloop-of-war, GENERAL
Perry's subsequent voyages took him to Europe and Africa during the Barbary Wars. In 1805, at
the age of 20, Perry became a lieutenant and was given the command of a small schooner. Next, he
was called to oversee the construction of a number of gunboats ordered by President Thomas
Jefferson. When this job was successfully completed, Perry was given the command of the 14-gun
vessel REVENGE and cruised the northern- and mid-Atlantic waters of the Eastern United States.
In January 1811, Perry was ordered to survey a number of Rhode Island harbors. Unfortunately,
through faulty piloting and bad weather, REVENGE wrecked on a reef. Perry requested an inactive
status and an investigation. The court of inquiry found him blameless for the loss and actually
applauded him for his valiant attempts to save public property.
In May 1812, Perry returned to active duty and received a promotion to master-commandant. One
month later the United States declared war on Great Britain, citing British policies that infringed on
the American trade and freedom of the seas. He was given command of 12 gunboats at Newport
and New London. Perry lost interest in the relative inactivity of this post, and, in September 1812,
requested duty on the high seas or the Great Lakes.
In February 1813, he was ordered to Commodore Isaac Chauncey's command at Sacket's Harbor,
Lake Ontario. Perry reached Chauncey's headquarters on March 3. Because British attacks were
expected momentarily, Chauncey kept Perry with him for two weeks. The attacks failed to
materialize and Chauncey decided that Perry would be of better use in Erie, Pennsylvania, where a
fleet was being constructed to wrest control of Lake Erie from the British who already had a small
squadron there. Perry was fully briefed on the situation in Erie and was sent to command the
project. He worked well with Noah Brown, the master builder who Commodore Chauncey had
Although facing many adverse conditions, including lack of men and materials, Perry and his men
successfully completed six vessels by July 1813. These six were joined by others from Buffalo. Two
months later, on September 10, 1813, the American squadron commanded by Perry fought a
British squadron commanded by Captain Robert Barclay, RN.
The Battle of Lake Erie began with Perry aboard his flagship LAWRENCE. In the early stages of
the battle, however, LAWRENCE and her crew took most of the enemy's fire. LAWRENCE was
severely damaged and over 80 percent of Perry's crew were killed or wounded by concentrated
British gunfire. In an attempt to change defeat to victory, Perry, carrying his battle flag emblazoned
with Captain Lawrence's dying words, "Don't Give Up The Ship," transferred from LAWRENCE
to the lightly damaged NIAGARA in a small boat. He took command of NIAGARA and sailed her
into the British battle line. The British had also taken heavy casualties from the Lawrence' fire.
Broadsides from the fresh NIAGARA compelled their surrender within 15 minutes of Perry's
Immediately following his victory at the Battle of Lake Erie, Perry penned the famous words, 'We
have met the enemy and they are ours..." in his report to General William Henry Harrison.
Perry was the first in history to defeat an entire British squadron and successfully bring back every
ship to his base as a prize of war. Perry, at the age of 28, was hailed by the public as a national hero
for his victory on Lake Erie.
After his victory in the War of 1812, Perry was promoted to the rank of Captain and given
command of the new frigate JAVA. Then in 1819, as commander of JOHN ADAMS, Perry was
sent to Venezuela on a diplomatic mission. After completing his mission he contracted yellow fever
and died at sea near Trinidad on August 23, 1819, his 34th birthday. He was buried at Port of
Spain, Trinidad, with full military honors. In 1826, his remains were moved from Trinidad to
Newport, Rhode Island, where a monument in his honor was erected by the state.