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|Oliver Hazard Perry
the first American naval commander to capture an entire British fleet
Oliver Hazard Perry was born at South Kingstown, Rhode Island, on August 23, 1785. He went to sea at the age of 14, gaining appointment as a midshipman aboard the USS General Greene thanks to the influence of his father, Captain Christopher Perry. Over the next six years he participated in the undeclared war with France and the Tripolitan War against the Barbary pirates. During that period he served on such notable ships as the Adams, Constellation, Nautilus, Essex, and Constitution, but was not involved in any of those ships' memorable battles.
After a stint spent supervising construction of small gunboats in Rhode Island and Connecticut, Perry finally received his first seagoing command, the 14-gun schooner Revenge, in 1809. The Revenge spent the summer and winter of 1809 patrolling the North Atlantic, but saw little action. In June of 1810, while enroute to Charleston, South Carolina, for refitting, the Revenge encountered a severe storm and suffered severe damage. On January 8, 1811, while surveying harbors along the southern New England coast, the Revenge was sailing through Block Island Sound in heavy fog when she struck a reef near Watch Hill Point and sank. A court-martial cleared Perry of any blame for the ship's loss.
When war with Great Britain was declared on June 18, 1812, Perry was assigned to command a squadron of tiny gunboats at Newport, Rhode Island. Although he was promoted to the rank of Master Commandant on October 6, 1812, Perry disliked this assignment and requested duty on the Great Lakes under Commodore Isaac Chauncey, an old friend. On February 8, 1813, Perry got his wish and was ordered to report to Erie, Pennsylvania, to supervise the building and equipping of a fleet to challenge British control of Lake Erie.
On September 10, 1813, Perry's fleet defeated and captured the British fleet. Perry's flagship, the Lawrence, was badly damaged during the battle, but he simply boarded a lifeboat, rowed to the undamaged Niagara, and continued leading his fleet. This victory marked the first time an entire British fleet was forced to surrender. When the British surrender was complete, Perry sent this message to Major General William Henry Harrison: "We have met the enemy and they are ours."
Promoted to Captain after the Battle of Lake Erie, Perry resumed duties with the gunboat flotilla at Newport, in November 1813. In July 1814, he was given command of the Java, a 44-gun frigate then under construction in Baltimore. Peace was declared before he could get the ship to sea, but the Java did serve in the Mediterranean for a time, helping quell continuing problems with the Barbary pirates.
In 1819, while on a diplomatic mission to South America, Perry contracted yellow fever. He died aboard the USS Nonsuch, near Trinidad, on August 24, 1819. He was buried with full military honors at Port of Spain, Trinidad. In 1826, his remains were removed to Newport, Rhode Island, where a monument in his honor was erected by the state.
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to the Civil War, 1775/1783-1861
19th Century, 1845-1861
Madison's Administration, 1809-1817
This page was last updated on September 25, 2017.