This Day in History, 10 September 1813: U.S. Wins Battle of Lake Erie

“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.”

article about the U.S. winning the Battle of Lake Erie over the British during the War of 1812, American and Commercial Daily Advertiser newspaper 23 September 1813

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 23 September 1813, page 2

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.

Commodore Perry, American and Commercial Daily Advertiser newspaper article 25 September 1813

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 25 September 1813, page 3

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.

Revolutionary War Recollections in Newspapers: Remembering General Putnam

Don’t fire until you see “the color of their eyes”—Colonial General Israel Putnam.

Isaac Basset fought with General Putnam at the Battle of Bunker Hill near Boston on 17 June 1775, an early battle in the American Revolutionary War. Although technically a British victory, they suffered more than twice as many casualties as the Colonial forces—who proved by their fierce fighting throughout the battle that they were willing and able to stand up to the experienced British troops.

Isaac Basset remembered the fighting well, and the stirring command of General Putnam that the Colonial troops not “fire on the enemy till they could see the color of their eyes, and then for every man to make sure of his mark.”

Years later, Basset and other soldiers who fought to gain America’s independence gave their recollections of their experiences in the Revolutionary War.

Revolutionary War recollections about General Putnam, Boston Centinel newspaper article 5 August 1818

Boston Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 August 1818, page 1

General Putnam was one of the true heroes of the Revolutionary War, and was even briefly in command of all the American forces before George Washington took over. He is honored to this day: parks, towns and taverns are named for him.

illustration of Revolutionary War hero General Putnam escaping the British at Greenwich, Connecticut

Image: General Putnam Escaping the British at Greenwich, Connecticut. Credit: Wiki Commons, Israel Putnam, Project Gutenberg eText 17049.

Get more recollections about General Putnam and other famous Revolutionary War heroes in historical newspaper articles at GenealogyBank.

Last Revolutionary War Widow Receives Final Pension—in 1906!

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about the last Revolutionary War pension being paid in 1906—131 years after armed conflict began between Great Britain and its American colonies.

It seems hard to believe, but the last Revolutionary War pension was paid in 1906—131 years after the Battles of Lexington and Concord began the American Revolutionary War in 1775. That link to our country’s birth ended with the death of Esther (Sumner) Damon, the widow of Noah Damon and the last widow of the Revolutionary War to receive a pension.

Esther died 106 years ago (in 1906), having married her spouse 6 September 1835 when he was 75, and she, 21.

Death of Widow of Veteran of 1776, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article, 12 November 1906

Obituary for Esther (Sumner) Damon, Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 12 November 1906, page 5

Noah served as a private with the Massachusetts troops, and applied for a war pension 13 November 1848 as a resident of Plainfield, New Hampshire. He died five years later, as shown in this death notice found in a historical newspaper.

Death notice for Noah Damon, New Hampshire Patriot newspaper article, 24 August 1853

Death notice for Noah Damon, New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 24 August 1853, page 3

The first pension Act was in 1776, so why didn’t Noah receive a war pension until 1848?

One might assume he wasn’t eligible for the government pension benefits, failing to meet one of the many requirements imposed by the legislature, such as disablement, rank or length of service.

“In CONGRESS August 26, 1776.

…Resolved, That every commissioned officer, who shall lose a limb in any engagement, or be so disabled in the service of the United States of America as to render him incapable, afterwards, of getting a livelihood, shall receive during his life, or the continuance of such disability, the one half of his monthly pay, from and after the time that his pay as an officer, or soldier, ceases; to be paid by the Committee as hereafter mentioned…”

Damon’s pension application stated he might have applied earlier, but had been a resident of Canada and “ignorant of his right.” He wrote that he

 “received a bayonet and wound in his right thigh, from the effect of which he has since suffered much pain and inconvenience the scar of which is very apparent to the present day.”

So how many pension acts were there?

Numerous—with each pension designed to accommodate the needs of soldiers and/or survivors.

Over time, the ranks of the public dole swelled—up to 1878, when Congress passed the final act (which also included the War of 1812).

It was an amazingly generous pension act, allowing a pension for just a minimum 14-day service for honorably discharged veterans, and imposing a short time period for the application process.

You could read about these pension acts for war veterans and their survivors in various historical sources, or you can delve into them yourself in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives to see how these acts were presented to the public at the time they were enacted.

As an example, here is an old newspaper article describing the important pension act of 1780—the first to address the provision of war pensions to widows and orphans.

newspaper article about the 1780 pension act, Pennsylvania Packet newspaper, 19 September 1780

Article about the 1780 pension act, Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 19 September 1780, page 3

To help you with your Revolutionary War and War of 1812 pension research on your ancestors, here is a list of the dates for each pension act of Congress:

Pension Acts and Amendments

  • August 26, 1776
  • May 15, 1778
  • September 29, 1789
  • March 18, 1818
  • May 15, 1823
  • June 7, 1832
  • August 24, 1780
  • August 26, 1776
  • May 15, 1778
  • August 24, 1780 (first to address pay for widows and orphans)
  • October 21, 1780
  • March 22, 1783
  • September 29, 1789
  • March 23, 1792
  • April 10, 1806
  • March 18, 1818 (first to grant pensions for service only)
  • May 1, 1820
  • March 1, 1823
  • May 15, 1828
  • June 7, 1832
  • July 4, 1836
  • July 7, 1838
  • July 29, 1848 (widow marriage requirement prior to January 2, 1800)
  • March 9, 1878

Today in History: 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812

In September 1783 the newly-formed United States of America and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the American Revolutionary War. Less than 29 years later, however, the two countries were fighting once again when the U.S. declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812, beginning the three-year conflict known as the War of 1812.

Despite a much-smaller regular army and navy, the U.S. once again defeated the world’s superpower—aided by the fact that Great Britain was busily fighting the French during the Napoleonic Wars at that time. Having twice asserted its independence, the United States in the decades following the War of 1812 built itself up into one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world.

On this day in history that marks the War of 1812 bicentennial, we remember the brave American soldiers that have served our country throughout its history, fighting to protect our liberty. Historical newspapers are a terrific resource for finding information on your military ancestors and other ancestors who lived in times of war. You can not only find specific details about their individual lives, you can also read about the times they lived in and what wars and other current events were affecting their thoughts and actions.

If your ancestors were living in America on June 19, 1812, then they may well have picked up their local newspaper and read the following article about the U.S. declaration of war against Great Britain—no doubt with keen interest, and perhaps a mixture of excitement and apprehension:

article from the Alexandria Gazette newspaper, 19 June 1812, about the U.S. declaring war on Great Britain: War of 1812

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 19 June 1812, page 3

GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives contain more than 6,100 newspapers from all 50 states, from 1690 to the present: over one billion articles to help with your family history research!

Search these historical newspaper archives and see what you can discover about your ancestors—and the times they lived in.