Thursday, July 17, 2014

The War of 1812 . . . Year Three, Part 1 . . . Don't Give Up the Ship!

Our full first day of War of 1812 immersion year three was centered around Erie, Pa. and a good deal of that was related to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry.  

Specifically what brought us to Erie was the US Brig Niagara . . . sunk, raised, sunk, raised and restored for the centennial in 1913 and yet restored a couple of more times.  What remains original of the Niagara is not much.  Still, it is grand to at least have what exists today.  I should add that it was intentionally sunk all those times (the first time being in 1820) for preservation.  Atop the mast flies Perry's famous battle flag emblazoned with "Don't Give Up the Ship, " which had been James Lawrence's dying words during the USS Chesapeake action against the HMS Shannon earlier in the war.  Malc was really dismayed that I appropriated and bastardized the quote by continually exclaiming "Don't Give A Sh!t" for much of our trip.

Now, when I say what brought us to Erie was the US Brig Niagara, I need to elaborate on that and explain that we sailed on the blasted thing!  We were on the ship for just over six hours, going up and down Lake Erie.  It was amazing to watch all of the rigmarole that ensues to sail the ship.  There is a complex (what appears to be) tangle of ropes and such . . . far too much for my feeble brain make sense of.

And the trip was very much participatory.  The man who appears to be passed out drunk in the top-left of the above photo is actually the captain of the ship.  Fortunately he was not drunk, but only scanning the crew climbing around up above us amongst the sails, or maybe he was just observing the wind.  What I can unequivocally state is . . . he was not reenacting the actions of the captain of the Exxon Valdez.  

I should mention that the Niagara was not Perry's flagship . . . that being the Lawrence.  Now ensconced into US lore, Perry had his battle flag removed from the disabled Lawrence during the battle and was transported at great daring and risk to the Niagara where he took command and made it his relief flagship.  There is a bit of controversy surrounding all of this, especially regarding the Lawrence's actual captain (Jesse Elliott), but I am not gonna get into that.  That can be your homework.  As you can tell from the sky, we had great weather for it.

At one point, the crew fired off a round from the carronade.  Fortunately for the rich folk out sailing in their puny (compared with our massive warship!) sailboats it was only a blank.

Malc very excited to view Perry's personal compass.  During the trip, we actually got to view many items attributed to him.

The Perry Monument at Presque Isle State Park.  During the war, six of the nine ships in Perry's fleet were constructed at the Presque Isle Naval Base, which no longer exists.  However, there is this 100' monument which commemorates Perry and his base of operation. The plaque on the monument states, "Erected by the State of Pennsylvania to commemorate the victory of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie. September 10th, 1813."

The monument is situated next to Misery Bay, so named because of the many hardships endured by Perry's men during the winter of 1813-1814, many of which suffered from smallpox.  Misery Bay was also the location where the Niagara and the Lawrence were sunk for preservation.

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