War of 1812people

Oliver Perry


Perry's Medal

Like many naval officers of his generation, Oliver Hazard Perry started his career as a midshipman at the age of fourteen. It is not surprising that he found himself in the navy. He was born in South Kingston, Rhode Island, the son of a navy captain, and first went to sea on a ship commanded by his father.

Besides learning the skills needed to rise through the ranks of the navy, Perry took an interest in fencing and horseback riding. He also became a skilled flutist and an avid reader.

Perry was promoted to the rank of lieutenant at the young age of seventeen. At twenty-two, he was chosen to supervise the construction of gunboats in Newport, Rhode Island. By the age of twenty-four, he commanded the schooner Revenge. The ship was wrecked off the coast of Rhode Island and Perry was suspended pending the hearing that exonerated him in 1811.

At the time of the outbreak of war with Great Britain, Perry commanded the squadron of gunboats he had built five years earlier. This position promised little action though, and Perry regularly petitioned for a more active station.

He got his wish in early 1813 when he was assigned to command the Lake Erie squadron. He was ordered to sail the squadron’s small boats past the British guns at Fort Erie and out into the lake itself. He also got permission to build two new ships. The new vessels would change the balance of power on the lake and help him defeat the the British squadron under Lieutenant Robert Heriot Barclay.

Commodore Perry was tall and well-proportioned; “every inch a man” according to some who knew him. He was also capable of inspiring tremendous loyalty in those who served under him. He had one strange phobia however, he was terrified of cows. He was said to prefer slogging miles through knee-deep mud rather than face a cow.

Perry was considered by his contemporaries to be so lucky that a phenomenon was to be named “Perry’s Luck” after him. It would be talked about long after his death. His luck certainly held when he attempted to move his squadron out into Lake Erie. The British were temporarily forced to abandon Fort Erie and Perry sailed unscathed under the fort’s guns. Better yet, he managed to sail undetected eighty miles up the lake to Presque Isle.