Two hundred years ago on the 10th of September 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (United States Navy) met and decisively defeated a British Royal Navy squadron in the Battle of Lake Erie (also called Battle of Put-in-Bay). The Battle is often thought of as the turning point in the War of 1812. The victory enabled the United States to not only seize control of Lake Erie for the remainder of the war; but, also to ensure the recapture of Detroit. More importantly, the victory was a major contributing factor in the United States defeating Tecumseh and his Confederation of Native Americans one month later on 5 October 1813 at the Battle of the Thames.
However, the victory was not easily won. Even though the Americans had nine vessels to the British six; the British had superior guns and range. Commodore Perry stated “If a victory is to be gained, I will gain it!” and then proceeded to do just that. Despite his flagship the USS Lawrence taking a terrible pounding Perry refused to give up the ship and surrender. He remained faithful to the words of his battle flag “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP”. Reportedly the last words uttered by his friend Captain James Lawrence, for whom Perry had named his flag ship!
When the flag ship became untenable, Perry took the battle flag and rowed at least a half-mile to the USS Niagara thus transferring the flag and continuing the battle. With the exchange of gunfire initially favoring the British, Commodore Perry took a page from Lord Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar and split the British line and proceeded to pour a constant stream of metal rain into the British squadron. The tactic worked forcing the British to cease resistance and surrender. It was then that Perry dispatched his now famous report: “We have met the enemy and they are ours; two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.”
It was the first time in British Naval history that an entire naval squadron had surrendered! The victory was so sufficient that for generations thereafter, many families named one of their sons Oliver Hazard Perry, or just Oliver Perry. In my own family, my 2nd great grandfather was given the name of Oliver Perry.
Even though the Battle of Lake Erie was a huge victory for the United States; the battle continues to this day. Instead of weathering a blistering assault of round shot and chain; the pension records of the Sailors and Marines are being pounded with excessive exposure to light, air pollution, high humidity, and deterioration, thus making the papers yellow and brittle with age. So what can you do?
With the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) has initiated the PRESERVE THE PENSIONS-WAR OF 1812 PENSION PROJECT. FGS is proud to be leading the national fundraising effort to support this project and is actively seeking donations from genealogical and historical societies, patriotic and military heritage societies, as well as interested corporations and individuals. Ancestry.com and Fold3 are providing a dollar-for-dollar match of each donation through a provision of services. To learn more and contribute to the Preserve the Pensions project, visit www.preservethepensions.org.
This multi-year project consists of scanning the pension files at the National Archives in
Washington D.C. and creating a searchable index to the digital images. FGS has
targeted the War of 1812 Pension Applications as a high priority project based on the
value of the content for genealogists and historians as well as the importance of preserving the fragile records. At present two digital cameras are in operation with only three percent of the files digitized. The files contain documentation submitted in support of a claim, such as the original application form, affidavits, and statements from witnesses.
The collection is available for FREE as a digital collection on Fold3’s website www.fold3.com/title_761/war_of_1812_pension_files/.
We are calling upon the Navy and Marine Corps community as well as all others to help lead the charge to generate enough donations to employ more cameras at the National Archives to help in this effort to digitize and preserve the pension files of the Naval and Marine Corps heroes’ who fought and often bled in such battles as the Battle of Lake Erie. Let us show the nation that we can rally as did Oliver Hazard Perry on 10 September 1813, and proudly say “We have met the enemy and they are ours!”
- Honorverse, “Battle of Lake Erie.jpg,” Wikia (http://honorverse.wikia.com/wiki/File:Battle_of_Lake_ Erie.jpg: accessed 31 July 2013), Image of Battle of Lake Erie; digital image reprint from Painting by William Henry Powell
- Wikipedia, “File: Capt. James Lawrence, at jameslawrence.jpg,” Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Capt._James_Lawrence,_at_jameslawrence.jpg: accessed 31 July 2013), Portrait of Capt. James Lawrence, USN; obtained from a website maintained by the United States Navy: http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/pers-us/uspers-l/j-lawrnc.htm
- Bible Page, Rebecca Collins, widow’s pension application no. 12288, certificate no. 28893; digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com: accessed 15 April 2013); William Collins (Fifer, Capt William Thompson’s Co Pa Mil, War of 1812); imaged from War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files M313 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives [n.d.]), no roll number cited.