“We have met the enemy and they are ours.”—O.H. Perry
A collection of old newspapers, like GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is an essential resource for genealogists trying to find their family stories and capture the details of their ancestors’ lives. Old newspapers also help us better understand the times our ancestors lived in, and the events they were probably thinking about and discussing with their family and friends.
On this day in history, 10 September 1813: the tiny U.S. Navy defeated the mighty British Navy in a hard-fought battle on the waters of Lake Erie. Right after the fighting ended, American Commodore Oliver Perry wrote on the back of an old envelope his famous message to General William Harrison: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
During the 19th century the powerful British Royal Navy ruled the waves. However, during the War of 1812 one of the key clashes, the Battle of Lake Erie off the coast of Ohio, was a naval engagement in which the fledgling U.S. Navy completely defeated its British counterpart. On 10 September 1813 American Commodore Perry’s nine warships with 54 guns captured the entire British squadron of six warships with 61 guns led by Commodore Robert Barclay.
The nearly 3½ hour battle was hard-fought with similar casualties on both sides: the British lost 134 killed and wounded, the Americans 123. The battle did not start off well for the Americans, as Perry’s flagship Lawrence was badly damaged and most of its crew killed. He and his personal flag were rowed a half mile, while guns were roaring all around them, to take over the other large U.S. vessel, the Niagara. Perry dispatched the Niagara’s captain, Jesse Elliot, to command the smaller gunboats while he carried on the fight from the Niagara’s deck. Through sheer tenacity the Americans outfought the British, capturing all six ships and 306 men.
The American press quickly realized the significance of the morale-boosting victory.
The British had controlled Lake Erie since the outset of the war, and used this advantage to capture Detroit. However, after the Battle of Lake Erie the U.S. controlled the lake for the rest of the war, enabling them to recapture Detroit and prevail at the crucial Battle of the Thames.
Were any of your ancestors or relatives involved in the Battle of Lake Erie 200 years ago? If so, please share with us in the comments.