Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry: Quotes & Biography

Instructor: Matthew Hill
Oliver Hazard Perry was a naval commander who fought in the Quasi-War with France, the First Barbary War, and the War of 1812. His most famous victory was the Battle of Lake Erie.

Beginning of a Naval Career

Oliver Hazard Perry lived at an extraordinary time in history when the young United States was in search of great naval leaders. Perry was one of these early leaders. Perry was born in 1785 in Rhode Island. He was the oldest of eight children. His father, Christopher, served with distinction in the Navy during the American Revolution and the Quasi-War against France. When he was twelve, he sailed with his father to the West Indies and so gained an early taste of naval life. His famous brother was Matthew C. Perry, best known for his two diplomatic expeditions to Japan. Perry entered the navy in 1799, and fittingly he first served on his father's ship, the General Greene.

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry
Portrait of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry

The Quasi-War

Perry got an early taste of combat during the Quasi-War against France. Two notable events stand out here. While docked in Cuba, his crew grew ill with yellow fever, and he was forced to return to Rhode Island to treat both the crew and the ship for contamination. Returning to combat, he was stationed in Santo Domingo. One of his missions was to provide naval cover for the revolutionary leader Toussaint L'Ouverture, who was in revolt against French rule.

First Barbary War

During the First Barbary War against the Tripolitan pirates, his ship, the USS Nautilus, supported the landing party of William Eaton and Presley O'Bannon's Marines in the Battle of Derna. This was significant as it is considered the first battle the U.S. fought on foreign soil.

The Battle of Derna
Battle of Derna

Perry Gets Command

In 1809, Perry got his first command, the USS Revenge, but it nearly ended his career. The ship ran patrols off the eastern seaboard, but one night in 1811, his ship ran aground off the coast of Rhode Island due to heavy fog. No one was killed, and the cargo was salvaged, but the ship sank. Perry was court-martialed for negligence although he was cleared of all charges. Though he would recover from this, it put a damper on his career. A highlight of this year was that he married Elizabeth Mason, and the two had five children together.

The War of 1812

During the War of 1812, Perry was given command of naval forces on Lake Erie by Commodore Isaac Chauncey. This was a crucial assignment, as Lake Erie protected the northwestern territories, and he was tasked with building enough ships to repulse a British invasion. This was improbable, given the British had the most formidable navy in the world. On September 10, 1813, he fought the British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie with nine ships. In the ensuing battle, his flagship, the _USS Lawrence, suffered serious damage when struck by a cannonball. Perry did not panic, but quickly boarded a rowboat and scurried his way through the dueling warships to the USS Niagara, where he took command from Jesse Duncan Elliot. During the fray, the two British warships, the Detroit and Queen Charlotte, collided together. In the ensuing chaos, Perry captured the entire British fleet. When the battle was over, Perry wrote to General William Henry Harrison, the famous words, 'We have met the enemy, and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop.'

Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie
Image of Perry the Battle of Lake Victory

Perry did not rest and escorted General Harrison's troops to Detroit which resulted in Harrison's victory in the Battle of Thames over the Native American, chief Tecumseh, in October 1813. With these twin victories, the British abandoned Fort Maiden in Ontario because they could no longer protect it. Although no single victory was decisive in the War of 1812, these victories demonstrated that American naval forces could match the British on the interior lakes.

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