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?