(from Ohio Historical Society)
Oliver Hazard Perry was born in Rhode Island in 1785. Oliver was the oldest of five boys born to Christopher and Sarah Perry. Perry’s ancestors on both sides were accomplished naval men. His mother taught her boys to read and write and made sure that they attended church.
By the age of twelve, Perry had sailed with his father to the West Indies. By the age of fourteen, Perry was a commissioned midshipman on his father’s ship. In 1807, he became a commissioned lieutenant in the United States army. He used his time in the army to refine his naval skills.
At the beginning of the War of 1812, the United States sent Perry to command the American forces on Lake Erie. When he arrived in Presque Isle (modern-day Erie, Pennsylvania), Perry commissioned several carpenters to build a fleet of ships. Within a year, he had nine ships. However, only two, the Lawrence and the Niagara, were fit for battle. Perry had also assembled a force of about five hundred men to serve under him, and after several months of drilling, they were a capable naval unit.
In September 1813, Perry set sail for Put-In Bay to meet the British fleet. The English were anticipating an easy victory. On September 10, 1813, the Battle of Lake Erie took place. Early in the battle, the British were taking a heavy toll on the American ships. TheLawrence was destroyed. Perry took the ship’s flag and sailed for the Niagara. The battle began to turn for the Americans. The British ships had taken heavy cannon fire and were unable to effectively fight the Niagara. The Niagara rammed the British lead ship while the sailors fired rifles at the British seamen. By nightfall, the British had lowered their flag and surrendered to Perry, who was only twenty-seven years old.
Perry sent a dispatch to General William Henry Harrison, recounting the details of the battle. In the dispatch, he wrote, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”
Perry also took part in the Battle of the Thames, contributing to the American victory. After the War of 1812, Perry received a medal of honor from Congress. The United States also promoted him to the rank of captain.
He continued to serve the United States army, commanding ships in the Mediterranean and the West Indies. While in the West Indies, he contracted yellow fever and died in 1819.