Milepost 100.0 – Eastbound Between Exits 91 and 110
County: Sandusky How it got its name
During the War of 1812, a young naval commander, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, fought a decisive battle with the British on Lake Erie and successfully brought that body of water under the American flag. By smashing the British hold on Lake Erie, Perry prevented them from landing any troops on the Ohio shore and opened the way for General William Henry Harrison to recover Detroit and invade Canada. The scene of the historic battle is in the area of the Lake Erie Islands only a few miles north of the Commodore Perry Service Plaza.
As early as 1810 the Shawnee chief Tecumseh and his brother, the “Prophet,” bitter about the Treaty of Greene Ville made with the Indians 15 years before by General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, gathered together small bands of discontented Indian warriors and began raiding white settlements. General Harrison, Governor of Indiana Territory, who had learned the art of frontier fighting under General Wayne, acted before Tecumseh had time to make a concerted move against the Americans. He marched against the towns of the Shawnees on the Wabash, and in 1811, at Tippecanoe dealt the Indian forces a severe blow.
In Europe, at the same time, Napoleon with his forces were challenging the British in a mortal struggle. In the United States Senate, it was argued that America should declare war on the British because of the manner in which British sea captains had treated American sailors.
In June 1812, war was declared, and this immediately placed the state of Ohio in a difficult position since it was so close to British-held Canada. With the Indians hostile to the Americans and friendly to the British, the Ohio Valley was certain to see heavy fighting.
The opening months of the war were not encouraging. Detroit, which was under the command of aging Governor William Hull of Michigan Territory, was surrendered to the British without a fight.
It was then that Harrison was made general in command of all the American forces by President Madison. General Harrison was able to safeguard Ohio against invasion from Canada, except for one obstacle – the possession of Lake Erie by the British.
Commodore Perry, who at this time was serving with the American navy on Rhode Island, saw the importance of wrestling control of Lake Erie from the British fleet. At his suggestion, a small fleet was built at Erie, Pennsylvania, in preparation for the encounter with the British. The task was a tremendous one since all the wood for the ships had to be hewed from the virgin forest and shaped by a very small band of carpenters, while all the cannons to equip the ships had to be dragged 400 miles from Albany to Erie.
Then only 28 years old, Perry enthusiastically undertook the construction of his ships and readied his fleet by midsummer of 1813. There were nine ships in all, chief among them the “Lawrence” and the “Niagara.”
Perry arrived at South Bass Island on Lake Erie on August 17, 1813, with his ships. His flagship the “Lawrence” carried at its masthead a flag that Perry had made himself which bore the words of Perry’s friend, James Lawrence, who dying in battle pleaded with his crew, “Don’t give up the ship.” This flag today is one of the priceless relics in the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
Dropping anchor at South Bass Island in what became known as “Put-in-Bay,” Perry conferred with General Harrison, and on September 10 sailed northwest to the Sister Islands to engage the British.
At noon on that momentous day Perry was fired upon by the enemy. With their 64 guns roaring, the British blazed at the Americans, who outgunned but undaunted under Commodore Perry’s leadership, gave them back in kind. The “Lawrence” was so battered in the fray that Perry was forced to abandon it and row with his men to the “Niagara.” Once on board he again placed at the masthead his “Don’t give up the ship” flag.
Maneuvering the “Niagara” among four of the enemy’s ships, the Americans poured broadsides at close range into them. In the melee the ships were so close that it is difficult to imagine how any of the crews survived.
After three hours of battle the British flagship “Detroit” lowered her flag in surrender to the indomitable Perry whose courage and exploits won for him a high place among the heroes of the American navy. The Battle of Lake Erie was the first – and only – time in history a British fleet surrendered.
General Harrison, who was waiting with his troops at the mouth of the Portage River to hear the outcome of the battle, received from Commodore Perry a stirring message which has become part of the folklore of our country: “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”
The victory removed the only barrier between Harrison’s army and the British at Malden and left Harrison free to invade Canada. He proceeded with his troops, and on the bank of the river Thames in Ontario fought one of the greatest battles of his career. Tecumseh was among the Indians who died as Harrison’s men routed them and the British regulars.
Commodore Perry’s victory in the Battle of Lake Erie is commemorated by a national monument, a 352-foot shaft that stands on South Bass Island and dominates the waters in which the battle was fought.