War of 1812people

Jesse Elliot


The Battle of Lake Erie

Jesse Duncan Elliott was orphaned at the age of nine, when his Revolutionary war veteran father was killed by Natives. Despite this, Elliot managed to pursue his studies and eventually joined the Navy as midshipman on the frigate Essex. Before the War of 1812, he served on various ships, most notably as the acting lieutenant on the Enterprise.

When the war broke out, Elliott was sent to serve on Lake Erie, where he won widespread recognition for capturing two British vessels in October of 1812. He moved to Lake Ontario when Oliver Hazard Perry was given command of the Lake Erie fleet. After taking part in the sack of York in July of 1813, Elliot was sent back to Lake Erie to serve under Perry. Elliott was unhappy serving under a commander whom he felt had less battle experience. He was critical of Perry’s choice of Presque Isle as the site for the U.S. shipyard.

Although Oliver Perry’s official report of the Battle of Lake Erie generously credited Elliott with playing a major role in the American victory, rumours about Elliot’s behaviour soon surfaced. Some officers said that Elliott deliberately kept his vessel, the Niagara out of the main battle, leaving Perry to take the brunt of the British fire. They charged that Elliot only came forward to engage the enemy once he believed Perry was dead and when he thought he could get credit for single-handedly winning the battle.

This was the beginning of a bitter controversy that eventually led Elliot to challenge Perry to a duel. Perry’s response was to publicly charge Elliot with misconduct during the battle. The emotionally charged debate became a political hot potato and carried on long after Perry and Elliott died.

After the War of 1812, Elliott’s continued in his troubled career. In the 1830s he was suspended for four years without pay, for mishandling the command of the Mediterranean fleet. Elliot died in 1845 while in charge of the navy yard in Philadelphia.