A lot of people are surprised to learn that there was a Battle of Lake Erie… but it was one of the most important victories in U.S. Naval history. It happened during The War of 1812. The British Navy controlled the great lakes and could rapidly move troops and supplies, so the Americans built a fleet of ships at Erie Pennsylvania to challenge the British on Lake Erie.
"The battle was fought about 10 miles west of Put-n-Bay, Ohio. The Americans had 9 vessels under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry…The British had six vessels under command of Robert Harriet Barclay," says Walter Rybka, Senior Captain of the modern day replica of the Brig Niagara.
"The British cannot re-supply either their Indian allies or themselves in the Detroit River, once Perry is on the Lake. And so it is they who come out to fight. Perry is waiting at Put-n-Bay and on the morning of the 10th of September 1813 begins to work his way toward the British Squadron," says Dr David Curtis, author of biographies on both Oliver Hazard Perry and William Henry Harrison.
"Perry needed to get in close range to the British fleet. The British with their long guns could shoot farther, so as Perry was approaching the British line, they started to fire on Perry and his flagship the Lawrence, " says Sue Judis, Chief of the Interpretation at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial.
She says The Lawrence was named in honor of Capt James Lawrence who was killed in a naval battle earlier in the war of 1812. It was Lawrence who told his men “Don’t Give Up the Ship” a motto that Oliver Hazard Perry adopted for his battle flag.
The British battered the Lawrence to pieces because the other American brig, the Niagara did not join the battle, yet somehow, Perry survived.
"He pulled down his battle flag, which had the words, “don’t give up the ship” jumped into the little cutter and sailed across to the Niagara," says Judis.
"Perry’s transfer is one of the best-known episodes in US Naval history," says Walter Rybka. "His motto flag was “don’t give up the ship!” In the eventuality the only way to win the battle was to give up the ship and go to the next one. The real motto was “Don’t give up!”"
Perry took command of the undamaged Niagara and captured the entire British fleet… He later wrote to General Harrison, “We have met the enemy and they are ours, two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.
A hundred years after the battle, Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial was built at Put-N-Bay, a 352 foot granite column that towers over Lake Erie.
"Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial was built not only to designate this area as the site of the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, but also it is a Peace memorial to celebrate the peace between the United States and Canada. It’s also a gravesite. Because the officers that died in the 1812 Battle of Lake Erie, were moved from our park to that location in the 100-year celebration of the Battle of Lake Erie in 1913," says Susie Cooper of the Lake Erie islands Historical Society.
Put-n-Bay is accessible from the Ohio mainland by ferry boat from Catawba, Sandusky and Port Clinton.
Download an audio tour and explore it on your own. Just visit SeeOhioFirst.org and click on The New Ohio Guide.
The New Ohio Guide is produced by the Ohio Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.