Oliver Hazard Perry

OLIVER HAZARD PERRY, a distinguished American naval officer, was born at Newport, Rhode Island, in August, 1785. His father was an officer in the United States navy, and he was early destined to follow his father's profession. In 1798, he entered the service as a midshipman on board the sloop-of-war General Greene, then commanded by his father; and, when that vessel went out of commission, he was transferred to a squadron destined to the Mediterranean. He served during the Tripolitan war, and, though debarred, by his extreme youth, from an opportunity of distinguishing himself, he acquired, by his conduct, the regard and favor of his superior officers, and the friendship and esteem of his associates. Continuing sedulously attentive to his profession, he rose with sure and regular steps. In 1810, he was attached, as lieutenant-commandant, to the squadron of commodore Rodgers, at New London, and employed in cruising in the sound, to enforce the embargo act. In the following spring, he had the misfortune to be wrecked on Watch Hill reef, opposite Stonington, in consequence of having become enveloped in a thick mist, which prevented all possibility of ascertaining his course. By his intrepidity and coolness, however, he succeeded, in a great measure, in saving the guns and property, and got off all his crew. He was examined before a court of inquiry, at his own request, in relation to the loss, and not merely acquitted of all blame, but highly applauded for his conduct. He also received a very complimentary letter, on the occasion, from the secretary of the navy, Mr. Hamilton. Soon after this event, he returned to Newport, where he married the daughter of doctor Mason.

In the beginning of 1812, he was promoted to the rank of master and commander, and ordered to the command of the flotilla of gun-boats stationed at the harbor of New York. After remaining there a year, he grew tired of the irksome and inglorious nature of this service, and solicited to be removed to another of a more active kind. His request was complied with; and, as he had mentioned the lakes, he was ordered to repair to Sacket's Harbor, lake Ontario, with a body of mariners, to reinforce commodore Chauncey. Such was his 'popularity amongst the sailors under his command, that, as soon as the order was known, almost an of them volunteered to accompany him. The rivers being completely frozen at the time, he was obliged; at the head of a large number of chosen seamen, to perform the journey by land, which he safely accomplished. Not long after his arrival at Sacket's Harbor, commodore Chauncey detached him to take command of the squadron on lake Erie, and superintend the building of additional vessels. He immediately applied to increase his armament, and, with extraordinary exertions, two brigs, of twenty guns each were soon launched at Erie, the American port on the lake. When he found himself in a condition to cope with the British force on the same waters, although the latter were still superior in men and guns, he sought the contest, and, on the morning of the 10th of September, 1813, he achieved the victory which has given his name a permanent place in the history: of his country. The details of this famous action, the manner in which it was brought to a fortunate issue by the intrepidity of the commander , in exposing himself in a small boat, for the purpose of shifting his flag from a vessel no longer tenable to one in which he could continue the fight, and in which he did continue it until the enemy's pennant was lowered, are matters of history familiar to all. The merit of Perry is greatly enhanced by the reflection, that, whilst no victory was ever more decidedly the result of the skill and valor of the commander, this was the first action of any kind he had ever seen. The moderation and courtesy which he displayed towards the enemy, after the termination of the contest, were worthy of the 'gallantry by which it was gained, and caused the British commander, who had lost the battle by no fault of his, to say that the conduct of Perry towards the captive officers and men, was sufficient of itself to immortalize him.' In testimony of his merit, Perry was promoted to the rank of captain, received the thanks of congress and a medal, and the like marks of honor from the senate of Pennsylvania.