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?

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