Oration delivered by Hon. Rufus P. Spalding during the corner laying ceremony for Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial. This memorial commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie fought on September 10, 1813, one of the most significant naval battles during the War of 1812, and the lasting peace between the United States, Great Britain, and Canada after the war.
U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office
It has been very properly said, that " among the noblest of a nation's possessions, is the memory of her great men."
With equal propriety, it may be affirmed, that the chief claim of a country to enduring fame, is the evidence of its great deeds.
The wonderful Pyramids of Egypt are still standing as monuments of human grandeur: They are as nearly indestructible as any production of man's art and invention. But tell me the name of the mighty potentate who projected the plan, or put in requisition the incalculable amount of muscular and mechanical force necessary to their completion!
Yea; tell me, if you can, in what age of the world, and for what significant purpose, they were created?
You may conjecture: Many have conjectured. But,
“'Tis far off;
And rather like a dream than an assurance,
That my remembrance warrants."
In Grecian history, "the retreat of the ten thousand" is made more enduring than marble by the writings of Xenophon; but who does not perceive that "Marathon" and "Salamis" will be synonyms with heroism and patriotism long after the names of Miltiades and Themistocles shall have faded from classic lore.
In our own youthful land, we have no lack of historic men or historic deeds, but who will not bear me witness, that, while the battle of Bunker's Hill will continue to be the "key note" to our country's patriotism, there is reason to believe that the name of Prescott may be forgotten?
The occasion which calls us together, fellow citizens, is intended to perpetuate the knowledge of one of the most brilliant and beneficial "feats of arms" that has signalized any nation — the battle of Lake Eric, in our last war with England.
It will be pardoned me if I shall advert to one or two causes of bitterness that preceded the declaration of h ; made by the United States against Great Britain, on the 18th day of June, 1812.
We may be permitted to justify our national character, and to indulge in sober exultation upon a signal display of American valor, without doing violence to the friendly relations that now so happily subsist between the people of the two nations.
During her long continued and stupendous struggles with the French Republic and Empire, England had increased her naval force, until she assumed a superiority upon the seas, that no single European power had the ability to question.
The romantic heroism of her " Nelson and Bronte." and his triumphant success in the " Battle of the Nile " and at " Trafalgar,"' had rendered the English armed marine, in the judgment of all Christendom, invincible.
True, they had a rising competitor for the ocean-scepter, in that hardy and enterprising people of whom their great orator said, when speaking of their whale-fisheries:
" While we follow them among the tumbling mountains of ice, and behold them penetrating into the deepest frozen recesses of Hudson's Bay and Davis' Straits, — while we are looking for them beneath the Arctic Circle, we hear that they have pierced into the opposite region of polar cold — that they are at the Antipodes, and engaged under the frozen serpent of the South. Falkland Island, which seemed too remote- and romantic an object for the grasp of national ambition, is but a stage and resting place in the progress of their victorious industry.
"Nor is the equinoctial heat more discouraging to them than the accumulated winters of both the poles. We know that while some of them draw the line and strike the harpoon on the coast of Africa, others run the longitude, and pursue their gigantic game along the coast of Brazil. No sea but what is vexed by their fisheries. No climate that is not witness to their toils.
“Neither the perseverance of Holland, nor the activity of France, nor the dexterous and firm sagacity of English enterprise, ever carried this most perilous mode of hardy industry to the extent to which it has been pushed by this recent people — a people who are still, as it were, but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood.''
It is believed, that during the years that distinguished the latter part of the administration of Jefferson, and the first part of the term of Madison, her great naval superiority had rendered England supercilious in her intercourse with other nations : She was especially so with the Uni-
ted States, which last government had never been regarded with favor by George the Third, since the event had occurred which so essentially lessened his royal importance, and to which poetic allusion was had by the elder Pitt, when he said, in the British Parliament —
"If his majesty continues to hear such counselors, he will not only be badly advised, but undone. He may, indeed, continue to wear his crown; but it will not be worth his wearing: — Robbed of so precious a jewel as America, it will lose its lustre, and no longer beam that effulgence which should irradiate the brow of majesty."
For a series of years, the commerce of the United States had been subject to depredations by both the great belligerent powers of Europe. They both, in their treatment of neutrals, totally disregarded their rights, and adopted principles of policy unknown to the law of nations, and subversive of the plainest maxims of justice. Each claimed the right of destroying the commerce of the other, by interdicting the trade of neutrals with their opponent.
Hence the British orders in council, and the French " Berlin and Milan" decrees of 1806-7, under which millions of property was wrongfully captured and confiscated, belonging to citizens of the United States. Great Britain put forth, and attempted to enforce another claim, which
threatened to destroy our commerce, and sap the foundation of our national independence.
She insisted upon the right of boarding and searching the vessels of all nations, and taking therefrom any of the sailors who might be suspected of being British subjects.
The enforcement of this claim upon vessels of the United States, operated with peculiar hardship, on account of the difficulty of distinguishing between the citizens of our country and the subjects of Great Britain; their language and manners being alike.
Hundreds of native-born Americans were thus impressed into the English navy, and were there made to drag out a miserable existence.
Not unfrequently, the manner of its enforcement indicated an entire insensibility, on the part of the British cruisers, to the convenience or even safety of the vessels overhauled. The just national pride of an American citizen, was, in every way, set at naught, and contemptuously disregarded.
On the 25th of April, 1806, the British ship of war Leander, while off Sandy Hook, fired upon the sloop Richard, a coasting vessel of the United States, and killed the man at her helm. The sloop proceeded to New York, where a jury of inquest was held upon the dead body, and a verdict of willful murder pronounced against the captain of the British ship.
The excitement occasioned by this barbarous act of aggression, upon a defenseless and unoffending coaster, was immense.
But insolent and aggressive assaults like this, were not confined to the unarmed merchant vessels of the United States.
On the 22d of June, 1807, the American frigate Chesapeake, Capt. Gordon, bearing the broad pennant of Commodore Barron, got "under way " from Hampton Roads, bound to the Mediterranean.
The Chesapeake was a small frigate of thirty-eight guns. She is said to have been roomy and convenient, but not sufficiently strong for a vessel of her dimensions, and her sailing qualities were indifferent: so much so, in fact, that she had received from the sailors the sobriquet of "the old wagon."
A British squadron was then lying at anchor in Lynn-haven bay.
At the time the Chesapeake "let fall her courses," one of the vessels of this squadron, the Leopard, of fifty guns, lifted her anchor and stood out to sea. When three leagues distant from Cape Henry the Leopard having the weather gauge, bore down upon the Chesapeake and hailed her, saying "she wished to place on board of her, dispatches for the Mediterranean." Commodore Barron replied that he would "heave to," and receive a boat.
Both ships came to the wind, when Captain Humphreys, who commanded the Leopard, sent an officer on board and demanded the surrender of a portion of the Chesapeake's crew, whom he claimed as deserters from the British squadron.
Commodore Barron replied that he had given orders to his recruiting officer to enlist no man who might be supposed to be a deserter from the English navy, and he had no knowledge that he had any such persons on board his ship. He said, further, that he would not suffer his crew to be mustered by any but his own officers.
So soon as this reply was communicated to Capt. Humphreys he opened a fire upon the Chesapeake, which was kept up for about fifteen minutes, and resulted in the surrender of his ship by Commodore Barron, after the return of a single gun, which was discharged by a gallant
son of Rhode Island, Lieut. Wm. H. Allen, by means of a coal taken from the galley, and held in his fingers. So wholly unprepared was the Chesapeake for action, that "no match, locks or loggerheads were in readiness for the occasion.
After she had struck her colors, the Captain of the Leopard sent an officer on board the Chesapeake, who mustered the crew and took from them four persons, claimed to be deserters from British men-of-war.
Three of these men were afterwards proved to be native American citizens, who had been wrongfully impressed into the English naval service.
The Chesapeake had three men killed by the fire of the Leopard, and eighteen wounded: she was so much cut up, in her hull and rigging, as to be unable to proceed on her voyage.
We are now prepared, I trust, to understand the full import of the rallying cry, afterwards flung to the breeze from many a gallant ship —
" Free Trade and Sailors' Rights! "
The motto is, in itself, an epigrammatic exposition of the points in contest between England and the United States, in the war of 1812.
The original plan of operations for this war contemplated the speedy subjugation of Upper Canada by the United States army; and if this project had been crowned with success, there would have been no such marked event in the history of our country as " Perry's Victory on Lake Erie."
The inglorious surrender of the North Western Army, by General Hull, at Detroit, and the disastrous defeat of General Winchester at the River Raisin, had filled the border inhabitants of Ohio and the Western Territories with anxiety and alarm.
Large numbers of Indians were now seen going over to the British, who, under other circumstances, would have remained neutral from choice, or have been awed into submission by force.
The situation of the people on the borders of Lake Erie was especially alarming. The British army, under the lead of Proctor, with its savage allies led by Tecumseh, was in force at the head of the Lake, with all its navigation subject to their control.
The enemy was accustomed to spare neither age, sex nor condition; and there was not a village, nor a dwelling, within twenty miles of its southern shore, where the inhabitants could rest in security for a single night.
It became, then, a matter of weighty importance, that a competent force should be put in requisition to command the navigation of the Lake, whether considered as a measure of defense or of aggression.
The important and arduous task of creating a fleet, armed and equipped for the emergency, was confided to Oliver Hazard Perry, Esq., Master and Commander in the U. S. Navy.
Commodore Perry was born at South Kingston, in the State of Rhode Island, on the 23d day of August, 1785. He was the son of Christopher Raymond Perry, who was himself a Post Captain in the Navy, appointed during our troubles with France in 1798.
The subject of our notice received his warrant as a midshipman in April, 1799, and made his first cruise at sea with his father, on board the U. S. Ship Gen. Green, a small frigate of 28 guns.
The beginning of the year 1813 found our hero at Newport, Rhode Island, in command of a flotilla of gun boats. Possessing an ardent patriotism, and eager for an opportunity to acquire distinction in his profession, young Perry addressed a letter to Commodore Chauncey, then in command at Sackett's Harbor, and tendered his services, whenever they could be made useful to the country.
On the first of February he received a letter from Commodore Chauncey, informing him that an application had been made to the Secretary of the Navy to have him ordered to the Lakes. " You are the very person," writes the Commodore, "that I want for a particular service, in which you may gain reputation for yourself, and honor for your country."
On the seventeenth day of February, he received orders from the department to proceed to Sackett's Harbor, and report for duty to Commodore Chauncey, the senior naval officer upon the lakes.
He continued at Sackett's Harbor, with his senior in command, until the sixteenth of March, when he received orders to repair to Erie, Pennsylvania, and hasten the construction and equipment of a squadron of armed vessels, at that port.
He arrived at Erie on the twenty-seventh of March, where he found two-gun boats nearly planked, one gun boat nearly ready for planking, and the keels of two twenty-gun brigs just laid. These were under the charge of sailing-master Dobbins, who had commenced the building of the vessels, and Mr. Noah Brown, who was the master shipwright.
On the 28th of May, Commodore Perry was directed to repair to Black Rock, and take from thence to Erie some small vessels, belonging to the government, which were intended to form a part of his fleet.
With almost incredible labor-, those vessels were taken up against the current to Buffalo, and got under way, at that place, for Erie, on the 14th of Juno. They consisted of the brig Caledonia, the schooners Somers, Tigress and Ohio, and the sloop Trippe.
By the most watchful vigilance and expert seamanship, Commodore Perry succeeded in avoiding the superior force of the enemy, then on the alert to intercept his progress, and reached Erie with his little squadron on the evening of the eighteenth of June.
During the previous month of May, the two twenty-gun brigs, one called the "Lawrence" and the other the "Niagara," and the three gunboats, had been launched, and were now in a rapid state of completion.
The timber that entered into the construction of these vessels was found in the trees growing on the spot ; and it was no uncommon thing to chop down a sturdy oak in the morning, and use it for planking in the evening.
On the fifteenth of July, Commodore Perry received orders from Washington, to co-operate with General Harrison in the movements he was about to make for the recovery of Michigan, and for the invasion of Upper Canada.
His fleet was equipped and ready for sailing, but he had no men.
He remained in this state of embarrassment several weeks, and employed his time in writing letters, and supplicating both Commodore Chauncey and the Secretary of the Navy to send him officers and men.
In the meantime, the enemy had been essentially reinforced: Their fleet had received a new commander, in the person of Captain Barclay, a naval officer of great experience and undaunted courage, who had fought at Trafalgar, and acquired distinction under the eye of Nelson. He had brought with him several accomplished officers, and a goodly number of prime sailors.
Our young Commodore was sufficiently restless under the neglect of those whose duty it was to supply him with men: but when Commodore Barclay showed him the British ensign off the harbor of Erie, his impatience knew no bounds. He snatched his pen, and thus he addressed his chief-in-command at Sackett's Harbor.
"The enemy's fleet of six sail are now off the bar of this harbor. — Give me men, Sir, and I will acquire both for you and myself honor and glory, on this Lake, or perish in the attempt.
I hope that the wind, or some other cause, will delay the enemy's return to Maiden until my men arrive, and I will have them."
After many and severe trials and disappointments, Commodore Perry received his men, passed his vessels over the bar in the face of the enemy, and made his way to the bay of Sandusky; where, on the nineteenth of August, he entertained General Harrison and his staff, and Generals Cass and Mc Arthur, on board his flag-ship, the Lawrence.
From this time until the engagement, the general place of rendezvous for our little fleet was " Put-in-Bay," the beautiful sheet of water here spread out before you. The Commodore occasionally left his moorings, and ran down to Sandusky, to communicate with the army, or up to Malden to look after the enemy, but Put-in-Bay was his favorite road stead.
Here, on the tenth of September, it was ascertained by the look out that the British fleet, in battle array, was approaching. It was made up of the Detroit, of 19 guns; the Queen Charlotte, of 17 guns; the Lady Prevost, of 13 guns; the Hunter of 10 guns; the Little Belt of 3 guns; and the Chippewa of 1 gun: a total of 63 guns, with an effective force of five hundred men.
So soon as the fact of the enemy's approach was reported to Commodore Perry, he ordered the signal made — " Under way to get! "
Directly, the whole squadron was under canvas, beating out of the harbor, with a light wind from the south west, and boats ahead to tow. It consisted of the Lawrence, of 20 guns; the Niagara, of 20 guns; the Ariel, of 4 guns; the Caledonia, of 3 guns; the Scorpion, of 2 guns; the Somers, of 2 guns; the Porcupine, the Tigress and the Trippe, of 1 gun each: making a total of 54 guns, with a nominal force of 500 men, — one hundred of the number being on the sick list.
To get the weather gauge of the enemy, it was important to pass to windward of yonder island. The wind was ahead and baffling, and the Commodore became impatient. He ordered his sailing master, Mr. Taylor, to put up his helm and pass to leeward. " In that case," replied the master, "we must fight the enemy from the leeward." "I don't care," cried our hero, "to windward or to leeward, they shall fight to-day? As they were about to fill away, the wind suddenly hauled to the eastward, and the fleet was enabled to weather the island, as they desired.
At ten o'clock Commodore Perry had his line of battle formed, with the Scorpion, Captain Champlin, ahead, and the Ariel, Lieut. Packet, on his weather bow. Then came the Lawrence, to engage the flag ship Detroit. The Caledonia, Capt. Turner, followed next to try her mettle with the Hunter; then came the Niagara, Capt. Elliott, whose business it was to engage the Queen Charlotte; and, lastly, the Somers, the Porcupine, the Tigress and the Trippe, which were to engross the attention of the Lady Prevost and the Little Belt.
At this time the British fleet was distant about five miles.
When about to bear down upon the enemy, Commodore Perry mounted a gun-slide, and unfurling his battle flag, called his crew around him, and said, "My brave lads! this flag contains the last words of Captain Lawrence; shall I hoist it?" "Aye, aye, Sir!" was the. unanimous response; and instantly from the royal masthead, streamed forth the blue held, inscribed with letters of light,
"Don't give up the Ship!"
The flag was hailed with loud and repeated huzzas from the whole line, and then— all was still. The hostile fleets were closing
"Closer, still closer creep the squadrons on,
Nearer, yet nearer frowns the shotted gun:
And now the sea-bird's wild, prophetic scream,
(As o'er the waves his snowy pinions gleam,)
A moment starts each palpitating crew,
And bids all hearts express the last adieu."
At a quarter to meridian, the notes of a bugle on the deck of the Detroit, which bore the Commodore's pennant, called forth cheers from the whole British fleet. Then a gun from the same ship told that the battle had commenced. A second shot took effect upon the Lawrence, when the firing became general along the whole British line.
Commodore Perry ordered his ships to close up and engage; and immediately crowded the Lawrence into action, and she became the mark for the greater part of the enemy's guns.
He was most nobly sustained by the Ariel and Scorpion on his weather bow, and the Caledonia had gallantly closed with the Hunter; but the Niagara did not engage with the Queen Charlotte.
For a time, the Lawrence received the fire from the long guns of the Detroit, and the Queen Charlotte, with occasionally the shots from the Hunter. She continued the unequal contest for more than two hours directing her batteries, now against the Detroit, and then against the'
Queen Charlotte, and at times an after gun at the Hunter, until her rigging was shot away, her sails torn to pieces, her spars wounded and falling, her braces and bow-lines cut away, and all her guns but one were dismounted.
Then, and when twenty-two of his brave men were killed, and sixty-one lay wounded, out of a hundred and one that were reported for duty in the morning, our hero did not shrink from the bloody contest.
He called to his assistance the purser and chaplain, and with his own hands worked the spare gun until it, too, was dismounted, and then- he gave up the ship. He gave her into the hands of Mr. Yarnall, his gallant first Lieutenant, and, gathering his battle-flag around him,' descended to his boat.
He was rowed to the Niagara, and as he planted his foot on her deck, the cheers of the enemy proclaimed the surrender of the Lawrence! The triumph of the foe was of short duration.
Our gallant Commodore, finding himself in a sound ship, run up his flag, hove out his signal for close action, and bore down upon the British line. As she approached -the Detroit, that vessel attempted "to ware," and in doing so "fell foul" of the Queen Charlotte, when both vessels received from the Niagara a deadly fire of grape and canister, at half-pistol shot from her batteries.
Almost at the same instant, the Niagara poured her larboard broadside into the Lady Prevost and Little Belt. Her marines, too were taking off every Englishman that showed his head above the railing of
Commodore Perry now passed under the lee of the two ships that had been foul, and bringing the Niagara upon the starboard tack poured a tremendous broadside into the Queen Charlotte and the Hunter.
By this time our small vessels had come up, and the contest was decided. At three o'clock the Queen Charlotte displayed a white flag, and – THE BATTLE WAS WON.
Commodore Perry retired to his cabin, and wrote the famous dispatch to General Harrison, which has no parallel in any language save one :
“Dear General.— We have met the enemy, and they are ours. Two ships two brigs, one schooner and one sloop."
On the morning of the eleventh, the America, fleet, or rather the combined British and American fleet, made sail for Put-in-Bay, where the next day, the officers who had fallen in battle were interred, with suitable solemnities, equal respect being paid to those of both nations.
In the battle, the British has forty-one killed, and ninety-four wounded; the Americans twenty-seven killed and ninety-six wounded.
The naval action of Lake Erie was productive of great results. The first and more immediate was, the defeat of the British and Indians, under Proctor and Tecumseh, in the battle of the Thames; and the restoration of a sense of security to the defenseless inhabits of our widely extended frontier.
The more extended and general benefit was found in the fact that England, who has so long and so loudly proclaimed herself “Mistress of the Seas,” was thenceforth content to hold a divided empire on the ocean with the young American Republic.
“Free Trade,” was respected, and “Sailor’s Rights” were secured.
A word of respectful salutation to the honored survivors of the brave men who were so eminently their country’s benefactors, on the day we meet to commemorate.
Venerable men! You need no welcome, in words, from the grateful thousands who now surround you. The throbbing of the heart – the becoming of the eye – the pressure of the hand – all give evidence that you are here regarded as no ordinary men. They look upon you – as the pilgrim looks upon his shrine, or the devotee upon his idol with ardent love and reverential homage.
The people of the Lake country have been taught for years to regard Perry's Victory as the great palladium of the bold pioneers, who encountered the hardships of the wilderness, and made "darkness light before them, and crooked things straight." They regard the victims of the battle as martyrs to the cause of public peace and domestic security; and the survivors they look upon as being in the likeness of "just men made perfect." They know not how, sufficiently, to do them honor.
"Some shout him — and some hang upon his car,
To gaze in his eyes and bless him ; Maidens wave
Their 'kerchiefs, and old women weep for joy."
Venerable men! This countless multitude greet you on this joyful occasion : They desire to make an offering of their hearts' devotion for the unspeakable blessings that were vouchsafed to their fathers, and, by inheritance, to themselves, and to succeeding generations, through the sufferings, and sacrifices, and heroic exertions, of Perry and his compatriots, on the 10th of September, 1813.
Fellow Citizens: The association having in charge the grateful work of making a monument of stone, significant of the men and deeds that have now been faintly delineated, have adopted a design, presented to their hands by T. D. Jones, Esq., a distinguished sculptor of Cincinnati.
It represents a naval column, one hundred and sixty feet in height adorned with a capital of "ship's prows," and surmounted by a statue of Perry, standing on a "capstan."
If carried to completion, it will rise two hundred feet above the sur- face of Lake Erie, and speak "in granite tones" to myriads yet unborn, the story of its great naval battle.
They have chosen this anniversary occasion as the time, and yon Gibraltar Rock as the place, from which the monumental pile shall begin its rise.
The Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in Ohio, finding the corner stone to bs "well formed, true and trusty," will this day lay it in its resting place, with that peculiar skill
"That none but craftsmen ever knew."
“With solemnities suited to the occasion; with prayers to Almighty God for his blessing, and in the midst of this cloud of witnesses, we have begun the work."
By the united efforts of a great and prosperous people, let the shaft ascend, in ample dimensions and in chaste proportions, until the completed structure shall be significant of the strength of virtuous resolution, and the loftiness of heroic enthusiasm, and the purity of patriotic devotion, that so pre-eminently distinguished our beloved countrymen, who enacted the achievement it will serve to illustrate and perpetuate.