The Perry monument, a 101-foot obelisk at Crystal Point on Presque Isle, was built in 1926 to honor Oliver Hazard Perry, Master Commandant, who was appointed both station and squadron commander of a new American Lake Erie fleet being built at Presque Isle/Erie in 1812/1813. This fleet’s assignment was to engage the British, who controlled the Great Lakes, and with luck gain control of the lakes.
On March 15, 1813, Perry was sent to Erie to lead the effort on Lake Erie. When he arrived, work was already underway on four ships. In all, two brigs and four gunboats were being constructed at two separate shipyards within the safety of the Erie harbor. Under the direction of master builder Noah Brown, the keels of the brigs had already been laid, and crews were working on the framing. In addition, two other gunboats were nearly complete; however, the two other gunboats were yet to be started.
At this time, Daniel Dobbins, whose idea, it was to build the fleet at Erie, kept the men and supplies needed by Brown flowing. The team of Brown, Dobbins and Perry worked well together, even though they constantly faced many adverse conditions, including lack of men and material. Perry and his men completed six fine vessels by July of 1813.
It was September 10, 1813, and Perry was aboard his flagship the Lawrence in the early pale dawn. As the American squadron was anchored at Put-in-Bay, Ohio and the crews were eager for battle, the lookout high in the masthead of the Lawrence peered into the distance, looking for any sign of the enemy.
Where was the British Navy Squadron? Suddenly, the lookout saw a shape, in the distance. “Sail Ho!” he cried. Before long, it was clear that the British fleet was underway as six ships made their way into the lake. Perry quickly ordered his ships into action. As the 10 American ships emerged from behind Rattlesnake Island and moved into the Lake Erie waters, it must have been an impressive sight as a now spectacular sunrise bathed the lake’s waters.
In the early stages, the rolling thunder of cannon unleashed by both sides made it seem as though heaven and earth were at loggerheads. According to Usher Parsons, the surgeon aboard the Lawrence little could be heard but the deafening thunder of the ship’s broadsides from the decks above, the crashing of balls though the timbers, and the shrieks of the wounded on both sides. After two hours of this the Lawrence was severely damaged with most of its crew either killed or badly wounded. At this point, Perry carrying his battle flag with the words,
“Don’t give up the ship,” transferred to the almost undamaged Niagara, which for unknown reasons, had been sailing outside the battle.
Immediately, upon taking command of the Niagara, Perry turned it and three of his smaller gunboats back toward the British fleet and sailed them right down the middle of it with short-range cannonade cannons blazing from both sides of the Niagara. Due to the angle and power of these particular type cannons, the British fleet was quickly devastated. As Perry turned his ship around to make a last run though the British ships, they struck their colours and surrendered. It took Perry less than 30 minutes to silence the guns of the ships, the Detroit, the Queen Charlotte, the Lady Provost and the Hunter. Just like that, the Battle of Lake Erie was over.
Immediately following his victory, Perry penned these famous words: “We have met the enemy, and they are ours…” in his report to General William Henry. Perry became the first Naval Commodore in history to defeat an entire British squadron and bring back every ship as a prize of war.
While the U.S. Navy’s victory was the result of Perry’s leadership and his sailors’ skills, it would not have been possible without the efforts of many men working with broadaxes, adzes, and mallets. The real miracle of this battle was that the ships of Perry’s fleet had been trees standing in the forests surrounding the Erie area just a few months before the victory.
There is much more to this story than I can relate in this short blog article. So if you are interested in a more complete story, I would suggest you consider two books just release on the subject, which are:
The Lake Erie Campaign of 1813 – - by Walter P. Rybka (Current Captain of the Niagara)
Perry’s Lake Erie Fleet- After the glory – - By David Frew
To get to the Perry Monument, you will need to follow the main Presque Isle road for 3.8 miles to the Ysplit where it veers to the right toward the Presque Isle Bay side of the park. Next, follow that road, and travel 1.5 miles, and you will come to the Perry Monument parking lot.
Over the following year, you will see major changes to the Perry Monument complex as the Perry 200 committee, DCNR and the Presque Isle Partnership co-ordinate improvements to the area. Stop by and watch the progress over the next year as the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie approaches.
See you on the park!!
This post was written by admin