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October 3, 2013

Great Naval Victory

Cooperstown Crier

---- — From the Otsego Herald

for Saturday, Oct. 2, 1813

Compiled, with comments


Commodore Perry Captures Lake Erie

Letter from Com. Perry to Secretary of the Navy, 13th Sept., 1813.

SIR- In my last, I informed you that we had captured the enemy’s fleet on this lake.... On the morning of the 10th [September] at sunrise, they were discovered from Put-in-Bay, where I lay at anchor with the squadron under my command. We got under way...and stood for them. At 10 A.M. the wind hauled to S.E....formed the line [of our ships] and bore up. At 15 minutes before twelve, the enemy commenced firing; at 5 minutes before twelve the action commenced on our part.

Finding their fire very destructive, owing to their long guns and its being mostly directed at the Lawrence [Perry’s flagship], I made sail, and directed the other vessels to follow for the purpose of closing with the enemy. Every brace and bow-line, being soon shot away, she became unmanageable, notwithstanding the great exertions of the sailing master. In this situation she sustained the action upwards of two hours within canister distance, until every gun was rendered useless, and the greater part of the crew either killed or wounded.

Finding she could no longer annoy the enemy, I left her in charge of lt. Yarnall, who, I was convinced from the bravery already displayed by him would do what would comport with the honor of the flag.

At half past two the wind springing up, captain Elliott was enabled to bring his vessel, the Niagara, gallantly into close action; I immediately went on board of her when he anticipated my wish by volunteering to bring the schooners which had been kept astern by the lightness of the wind, into close action..... [The Lawrence soon afterwards surrendered to the British]

At 45 minutes past two the signal was given for “close action.” The Niagara being very little injured, I determined to pass through the enemy’s line, bore up and passed ahead of their two ships and a brig, giving a raking fire to them from the starboard guns and to a large schooner and sloop, from the larboard [port] side at half pistol shot distance.

The smaller vessels at this time having got within grape and canister distance, under the direction of captain Elliott, and keeping up a well directed fire, the two ships, a brig and a schooner, surrendered, a schooner and a sloop making a vain attempt to escape....

[Perry names those crew members of his little fleet who showed especial gallantry] Of Capt. Elliott already so well known to the government, it would be almost superfluous to speak. In this action he evinced his characteristic bravery and judgment, and, since the close of the action, has given me the most able and essential service.....

COMMENT: This was in many ways the most important battle of the War of 1812. By defeating the small British naval force on Lake Erie, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819) took command of Lake Erie. It was the first time in naval history that an entire British naval squadron (admittedly a small one) had been forced to surrender to an enemy. By taking control of Lake Erie, Perry broke the British military supply line, and forced the rather incompetent British Major Gen. Henry Proctor (1763-1822) to abandon Fort Detroit and retreat eastward through Upper Canada towards Niagara, suffering an ignominious defeat at the Battle of the Thames on Oct.5, in which the famous Indian leader Tecumseh was killed.

Commodore Perry became an instant American hero, praised especially for having gallantly moved from the damaged USS Lawrence to the USS Niagara in a small boat under constant enemy fire. Although Perry had praised the conduct of Captain Jesse Elliott (1782-1845) of the Niagara, some members of Perry’s crew denounced him for cowardice in not coming to the rescue. This led to a sometimes vicious squabble between the two families which lasted for years. When James Fenimore Cooper published his great “History of the Navy of the United States of America” in 1839, he tried to avoid the dispute—earning himself the enmity of the Perry family and the probably unwanted support of Captain Elliott.

The Two Squadrons

The British squadron, under the command of the one-armed Captain Robert Barclay (1786-1837), included two ships, one brig, two schooners, and a sloop, with a total of 63 guns. The American squadron included three brigs, five schooners, and a sloop, with a total of 54 guns. American losses included 27 killed (22 of them on USS Lawrence), and 96 wounded (61 of them on USS Lawrence).

COMMENT: These are the figures submitted by Captain Perry. British Captain Barclay, who had lost an arm fighting in Europe, was severely wounded in this battle.


Married, on the 26th [Sept.] by Elder Hulbert, Samuel S. Wood, of Springfield, to Miss Elsey Holcomb of Otsego, late of New-Durham.

COMMENT: Samuel S. Wood (1789-1842) had married Elsey Holcomb (1795-1871). Both are buried in the cemetery in Springfield Center. Samuel came from Rhode Island as a boy in 1797, with his father Robert, who was a Revolutionary Veteran. The couple had three sons and three daughters.

Blacksmith Wanted

NOTICE. The subscriber wishes to employ a JOURNEYMAN BLACKSMITH. One that can come well recommended will meet with liberal encouragement if application be made soon. Also, wanted two smart active boys, as apprentices to the blacksmithing business; those from 14 to 16 years of age will be preferred. EPHRAIM HANSON. Cherry-Valley, Sept. 29, 1813.

COMMENT: Ephraim Nicholas Hanson (1784-1837) was a member of the Cherry Valley Presbyterian Church until 1819. In 1810 he married Alida Schenck (1790-af.1880) from Livingston County, and they later moved to Cass County, Michigan, where he died. They had five sons and three daughters.