On Sept. 10, 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and his United States navy fleet defeated a contingent of the British navy in the Battle of Lake Erie. Very few of the principals believed that Perry could pull a victory our of the battle, in that his men were not veteran seamen. while the British navy at the time was considered the greatest in the world — and even the small part of it that Perry faced was supposed by many to be invincible, by reputation.
We must consider, though, that this same British fleet had been repulsed twice at Fort Meigs near Perrysburg and again at Fort Stephenson in Fremont. Perry’s fleet had been built at Erie, Pa., the winter before, and much of the wood used was cut fresh from the forest.
The reason I call this battle vitally important is that if Commodore Perry had not won, northern Ohio would no doubt be British territory now and we’d be singing God Save the Queen at sporting events rather than The Star Spangled Banner.
The War of 1812 had been declared in June of 1812 and had gone very poorly for the Americans at first. The Fort Meigs and Fort Stephenson engagements had given encouragement, and Sept. 10, 1813, cinched it along with the Battle of the Thames in Canada a short time later. In that battle the great chief Tecumseh was killed, ending any Native American loyalty to the British. The War went on another year and saw the burning of the government buildings in Washington, D.C., but the “western” hostilities here in Ohio had ended and it was safe for American settlers to move into northern Ohio.
The Battle of Lake Erie had a great effect on the Firelands area. The few people here in 1813 lived near the lakeshore and were aware that the battle was planned. That day, many of them were outside and heard the distant noise of the cannons. Some of them were afraid to do too much work, because if the British won, then the Americans would have to leave for their own safety.
One man raised a great deal of garden produce on a farm north of Milan along the Huron River and when he learned that the Americans were victorious, he filled his sailboat with fresh vegetables and conveyed them to Perry’s ships at Put-in-Bay. The American fleet had anchored in that harbor before the battle and returned to it to bury the dead officers from both sides in what is now Rivers Park. Their remains were moved to the Peace Monument when it was built a century later.
At the end of the battle, Commodore Perry wrote his famous message to Gen. William Henry Harrison which began, “We have met the enemy and they are ours. ...” One other local connection with the battle is that a few days later, the Almon Ruggles family of Ruggles Beach east of Huron found the body of a sailor washed onto the beach near their home. He was buried in the family cemetery at Oak Bluff on Ohio 6 just west of Cranberry Creek. It is now marked with a government marker and is one of the few surviving reminders of the Battle of Lake Erie.
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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.
Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.