Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Perry's New Year Resolution and the Detroit

Filming We Have Met The Enemy alongside the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry in Newport, RI

Sailing School Vessel (SSV) Oliver Hazard Perry is a new training ship based in Newport, Rhode Island.  Two events that started in January 1813 led to her creation – and part of these events will always sail with her.

On New Year’s Day 1813, Oliver Hazard Perry, desperate for a new command, wrote the commander of the US Great Lakes Fleet, imploring him for a position.  Perry’s resolution to join the fighting in the War of 1812 got him the job to take command of US naval forces at Lake Erie. 

That same January, the British began work on a sloop-of-war at their naval base at Amherstburg on Lake Erie.  Launched in July that year, this ship, HMS Detroit, became the flagship of the British Royal Navy Squadron on Lake Erie.  In September of 1813, Rhode Island native Oliver Hazard Perry captured HMS Detroit after fierce combat in the Battle of Lake Erie (In 1841 the original Detroit was floated over Niagara Falls as a publicity stunt – its disintegrating remains flowed over time, from the Great Lakes into the Atlantic Ocean). 

Perry and his role in the Battle of Lake Erie have been honored with a replica of his flagship, the Niagara, which sails out of Erie, PA.  Likewise, in the spirit of preserving the equally proud heritage of Britain and Canada in the war of 1812, construction of a replica of the Detroit was commenced at Amherstburg, Ontario in the 1990’s.  For financial reasons however, only the hull of the new Detroit was completed.  That hull was eventually floated back to Rhode Island from Lake Erie along much the same route Perry himself took. The hull of the new Detroit then became the hull of the new SSV named in honor of Oliver Hazard Perry.

Perry made his New Year’s Day plea from his home in Newport.  As was Perry, the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry is an ocean going Newport sailor which will always be connected to the Great Lakes.

Today the spirits of Perry and his former adversaries, the British and Canadians who fought against him on the Detroit, are joined and embodied in the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry.  The new ship and its crew are a working legacy of Perry’s exemplary conduct at Lake Erie and the proud heritage of Britain and Canada.  With its pedigree and namesake, SSV Oliver Hazard Perry is destined to be an ambassador of the finest virtues of maritime service and is a constant reminder of the epic Battle of Lake Erie and its importance.

We Have Met The Enemy website

Monday, December 5, 2016

Watch Hill Reef

Pivotal historical events  here make Watch Hill, Rhode Island the first stop on the Perry Trail
On January 9, 1811, Oliver Hazard Perry was awakened by crewmen warning of shallow water.  In minutes his 14 gun schooner slammed into the Watch Hill reef just offshore Washington County, Rhode Island.  Despite the heroic efforts of Perry and most of his crew, the USS Revenge would sink on the shallow reef.

This small, yet catastrophic nautical event altered the course of Perry's career and in turn, the destiny of North America.

As Captain of the Revenge, Perry was court martialled for its loss.  Although it was found that the ship's pilot was at fault, the wreck of a ship under his command nonetheless tainted Perry's reputation.  The Secretary of the Navy however, wrote, "This accident will no doubt present to Lieut. Perry considerations that may be useful to him in future command... An officer, just to himself and to his country, will not be depressed by defeat or misfortune, but will be stimulated by either cause to greater exertions."

When the War of 1812 came a year later, Perry was stuck in the lowly job of defending Newport harbor. With his naval colleagues earning fame and prize money in battle with Britain's Royal Navy on the high seas, Perry desperately sought and was appointed to the much less prestigious Great Lakes Fleet.

Watch Hill and Washington County were not just the scene of Perry's personal disaster, they were also his birthplace and a cradle of his youth. Perry was born in South Kingston, RI.  He later lived just miles from Watch Hill in Westerly, RI, where as a youngster he played  naval war games with his friends on the Pawcatuck River.

The Watch Hill reef incident redirected Perry's naval career. Not only did it lead to his Great Lakes assignment, it motivated him and placed him in a position where failure was not an option.  The 27 year old's accomplishments in 1813, especially in the Battle of Lake Erie, are a testament to the quality of his upbringing, military training and a special character forged with adversity. His actions resulted in a victory that preserved the United States and laid a foundation for more than two centuries of peace with Great Britain and Canada.

Perry's story is indeed one for the ages and the waypoints of the Perry Trail mark the highlights of his incredible and inspiring journey.   Perry's story and trail both begin at Watch Hill.

USS Revenge found?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Model for Veterans and Remembrance Days

The Model for Veterans and Remembrance Days

Model for the Oliver Hazard Perry statue in Buffalo, N.Y.
Owned by the US Navy War College Museum in Newport, R.I.
November 11th is Veterans Day in the US and Remembrance Day in Canada, Great Britain and other Commonwealth countries. The basic intent of these days is to honor veterans of the nations’ wars especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

A veteran is someone who has served in the armed forces. The highest form of that service is exemplified by those who exhibit the qualities cherished by all armed services; duty, honor, courage, perseverance and compassion.

We call Oliver Hazard Perry, America’s greatest naval hero for a reason. During the 10 month Lake Erie campaign of 1813, Perry performed incredible feats of courage, leadership, management and fortitude in building a fleet of ships in the wilderness - ships that fought a battle to decide the fate of a continent. In that battle, naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison said that Perry had, “…shown the mark of a really great military commander – the ability, in a fluid, uncertain tactical situation, to make a decision that snatched victory from defeat.”
His triumph and compassionate treatment of a defeated foe, enabled the US to reunite and grow into its full potential.  In the Autumn of 1813 it brought a very divided American people together. It laid the foundation for a peace that has lasted over 200 years.

November 11th was made a legal holiday by the US Congress in 1938.  Not just a day to remember veterans it was also promulgated to be, “…a day dedicated to the cause of world peace...”

There is no better example of a veteran’s service than Perry’s front line combat leadership. There is no better example of how peace can be spawned from war than the ultimate results of the battle of Lake Erie – two centuries of peace between the US, Canada and Great Britain.

Oliver Hazard Perry and the peace resulting from the battle of Lake Erie are the models for the true spirit and intent of Veterans Day. As well, the story of his magnanimous victory, that brought his countrymen together, is a beacon for a divided nation to follow today.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Friendship That Gave the US Navy Its Motto~

Captain James Lawerence
Image result
Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry

"Don’t Give Up The Ship”                
Are the paraphrased words of a dying Captain James Lawrence just before his ship the USS Chesapeake surrendered to the HMS Shannon in 1813.  Lawrence had been a good friend of Oliver Hazard Perry:

·         Lawrence was four years older than Perry; they first served together against the Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean
·         Lawrence (together with Stephen Decatur) was on the court martial of Captain Barron after the infamous Chesapeake Leopard affair of 1807 (the disgraced Barron eventually killed Decatur in a duel)
·         Later, Perry and Lawrence each commanded a division of gun boats in defense of New York Harbor
·         Afterward they each commanded a ship in the same squadron based out of New York – Lawrence the Argus; Perry the Revenge.  Lawrence would achieve early recognition for his actions in the Atlantic in 1812 while Perry, who had lost the Revenge on a reef would have to beg for a job with the lowly Great Lakes Fleet
·         At the beginning of the War of 1812 Lawrence set examples of compassionate treatment of captured sailors that Perry would later emulate after his victory in the Battle of Lake Erie
·         Lawrence was made a Captain (highest rank in the Navy) at age 32 and was given command of the ill-fated USS Chesapeake
·         Lawrence was captured with his ship after a rash encounter with the HMS Shannon off Boston in June 1813 (at the time, Perry was kedging ships up the Niagara River to Buffalo). Lawrence admonished his crew, “Don’t give up the ship …Lawrence died four days after the battle with the Shannon
·         In July 1813 the US Navy ordered that one of the brigs being built in Erie be named for Lawrence; Perry chose this ship as his flagship
·         In July 1813 the phase, “Don’t give up the ship, was on every tongue.” At a July 4th banquet in Baltimore it was said “May the inspiring words of the illustrious Lawrence “Don’t give up the ship be the eternal motto of every American.”
·         Perry commissioned the creation of the Don t Give Up The Ship banner for his flagship Lawrence
·         A popular verse of that time:

Up went the union jack, never up there before,
Don’t give up the ship was the motto it bore,
and as soon as that motto our gallant lads saw,
they thought of their Lawrence, and shouted huzzah!
Lawrence's grave is the most prominent in
 Manhattan's Trinity Church Cemetery

·         First buried in Halifax, Lawrence was given a full military funeral by the British (as would Perry years later). The British then allowed Lawrence’s remains to be returned for burial in New York City. Just days after the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813, Lawrence was re-interred in Trinity Cemetery where it is said 30,000 people attended his funeral procession
·         Lawrence’s conduct, death and “Don’t give up the ship” admonition, inspired the nation at the time. The victory on Lake Erie avenged not only the disgraceful American surrender of Fort Detroit but also the death of Lawrence and the insult to and loss of the USS Chesapeake
·         In 1820 the Chesapeake was broken into timber that was used to build a mill – that structure still exists in England with the battle-scarred wood of the ship still visible

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Perry @ Fort Schlosser

Ft Schlosser’s Old Stone Chimney, just above Niagara Falls, NY.  Perry and his men most likely warmed themselves before this fireplace on the way to the Battle of Ft. George 203 years ago.

Upon hearing of American plans to attack Ft. George in Canada, Oliver Hazard Perry set off in a four-oared open boat at Erie, Pennsylvania to join the American assault forces near the mouth of the Niagara River. The 100 mile, 24 hour trip brought him and his men to Ft. Schlosser ( on May 25, 1813.

By Perry’s own account, “As we arrived at Schlosser it rained violently. No horse could be procured. I determined to push forward on foot; walked about two miles and a half, when the rain fell in torrents I was obliged to take shelter in a house at hand…”
Perry’s sailors found him a horse and he eventually joined the successful attack on Ft. George where he was complimented on being, “…present at every point where he could be useful, under a shower of musketry, but fortunately escaped unhurt.”

Fort Schlosser is one of the stops on what we call the Perry Trail. The trail starts at the site of the sinking of his ship, USS Revenge off Watch Hill, Rhode Island in 1811. It extends through Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Michigan, Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland where Perry had command of the newly constructed frigate USS Java during the failed British attack on Ft. McHenry (site of the” Star Spangled Banner”) in 1814.

Perry’s trail represents one man’s journey from the depths of disgrace, through duty and adversity, to redemption and the heights of glory. The trail has many waypoints, such as Ft. Schlosser, and a number of others hidden amidst modern development. But each historic stop along the way has its own part of the whole story to tell. Indeed, Perry's exploits make for ​one of the great stories in history – one that we are bringing to the medium of motion pictures for everyone’s entertainment, education and inspiration.

There are statues of Perry, a massive monument to his victory at Put-In-Bay, Ohio and innumerable books and articles about him and the Battle of Lake Erie. The recent bicentennial commemorations, particularly at Erie and Put-In-Bay, again brought attention to the man and the momentous events of 1813. Yet in 2016, few people have any knowledge of this history and why it matters.

Motion pictures are the most powerful and memorable art form. Bringing the story of Oliver Hazard Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie to film, with all its emotional impact, is certainly the best way of re-telling this story to a worldwide audience, now, and for generations to come.

The process of making Perry/Battle of Lake Erie films has been a journey with its own trail. Along the way our team has encountered writers, historians, re-enactors, historical societies, museums, Perry descendants, community and business leaders, local, state and US elected officials, the US Navy, Hollywood and television professionals.  Our film production team continues to expand and move forward, together with growing support from many other people in the US and Canada appreciative of a true super-hero.
 With this blog we will be sharing the rest of the journey and quest to bring back to life, on film, the characters and character of the man that decided the fate of four nations and set the bar for bravery and service that has never been surpassed.