History Bytes: The Log of the Lawrence

September 9, 2020

Portrait of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819). 1885.1, Collection of the NHS

Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie, fought on September 10, 1813 during the War of 1812. The battle was a turning point in the war with the British, giving American forces control of Lake Erie and setting the stage for the recapture of Detroit from British forces.

September 10, 1813 entry from the log for Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship, USS Lawrence. 21.5, Collection of the NHS

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, commander of the fleet during the battle, was raised in Newport, RI. His father Christopher served in the Continental Navy during the American Revolution and his younger brother Matthew served in the United States Navy through several conflicts, he is best known for his role in the opening of Japan to the western world in the 1850s.

Perry served in the US Navy his entire adult life, beginning as a midshipman in 1799 at the age of thirteen. He is most widely recognized as the commander of the Battle of Lake Erie. During the conflict, the flagship Lawrence sustained heavy damage early. Rather than surrender the ship, Perry rowed through the gunfire to transfer command to the USS Niagara, where he fought the remainder of the encounter. True to his battle flag, “Don’t give up the ship”, Perry accepted the surrender of the British squadron on the deck of the Lawrence. His report to General William Henry Harrison following the conflict is famously brief, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

This ship’s log details the actions of the Lawrence under the command of Perry from July-September 1813. It includes descriptions of the activities of the ship/crew, the weather and updates of the state of the war.