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The Battle of Lake Erie, sometimes referred to as the Battle of Put-in-Bay, was fought on 10 September, 1813, in Lake Eriemarker off the coast of Ohiomarker during the War of 1812. Nine vessels of the United States Navy defeated and captured six vessels of Great Britain’smarker Royal Navy. This ensured American control of the lake for the remainder of the war, which in turn allowed the Americans to recover Detroitmarker and win the Battle of the Thamesmarker to break the Indian confederation of Tecumseh. It was one of the biggest naval battles of the war of 1812.



When the war broke out, the British immediately seized control of Lake Erie. They already had a small force of warships there: the sloop of war Queen Charlotte and the brig General Hunter. The brig Lady Prevost was under construction and was put into service a few weeks after the outbreak of war. These vessels were controlled by the Provincial Marine, which was a military transport service rather than a naval service. Nevertheless, the Americans lacked any counter to the British armed vessels. The only American warship on Lake Erie, the brig Adams, was pinned down in Detroitmarker by the British batteries at Sandwich on the Canadian side of the Detroit River. Major-General Isaac Brock used this superiority to defeat an American army at the Siege of Detroit.

The British took the Adams when Detroit was surrendered, renaming her HMS Detroit. Together with the brig Caledonia, which had been commandeered from the Canadian North West Company, she was boarded and captured near Fort Eriemarker on 9 October, by American sailors and United States Marines under the command of Lieutenant Jesse Elliot. Detroit went aground on an island in the middle of the Niagara Rivermarker and was burned to prevent her being recaptured. Caledonia was taken to the navy yard at Black Rock and commissioned into the United States Navy. Also present at Black Rock were the schooners Somers and Ohio and the sloop-rigged Trippe, which had all been purchased by the United States Navy and were being converted into gunboats. While the British held Fort Eriemarker and the nearby batteries which dominated the Niagara River, all these vessels were pinned down and unable to leave Black Rock.

Late in 1812, Paul Hamilton, the Secretary of the Navy had received long-time American lake mariner Daniel Dobbins, who had escaped capture at Detroit and brought information on the British forces on Lake Erie. Dobbins recommended Presque Islemarker (present-day Erie, Pennsylvaniamarker) as a naval base on the lake. (“Presqu’isle” is French for “peninsula,” literally “almost an island”). Dobbins was despatched to build four gunboats there, although Lieutenant Elliot objected to the lack of facilities. Commodore Isaac Chauncey had been appointed to command of the United States naval forces on the Great Lakesmarker. He made one brief visit to Presque Isle on 1 January, 1813 where he approved Dobbins' actions and recommended collecting materials for a larger vessel, but then returned to Lake Ontariomarker where he thereafter concentrated his energies.


In January 1813, William Jones (the newly-appointed Secretary of the Navy) had ordered the construction of two brig-rigged corvettes at Presque Isle, and transferred shipwright Noah Brown there to take charge of construction. Other than their rig and crude construction (for example, using wooden pegs instead of nails because of shortages of the latter), the two brigs were close copies of the contemporary USS Hornet. The heaviest armament for the ships came from foundries on Chesapeake Bay, and were moved to Presque Isle only with great difficulty. (The Americans were fortunate in that some of their largest cannon had been despatched shortly before raiding parties under Rear-Admiral George Cockburn destroyed a foundry at Frenchtown on the eastern seaboard.) However, the Americans could obtain other materials and fittings from Pittsburghmarker, which was expanding as a manufacturing center, and smaller guns were borrowed from the Army.

Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry had earlier been appointed to command on Lake Erie, through lobbying by the Senior Senator from Rhode Islandmarker. He arrived at Presque Isle to take command at the end of March. Having arranged for the defence of Presque Isle, he proceeded to Lake Ontario to obtain reinforcements of seamen from Commodore Isaac Chauncey. After commanding the American schooners and gunboats at the Battle of Fort Georgemarker, he then went to Black Rock where the American vessels had been released when the British abandoned Fort Erie at the end of May. Perry had them towed by draught oxen up the Niagara, an operation which took six days, and sailed with them along the shore to Presque Isle.

Meanwhile, Commander Robert Heriot Barclay was appointed to command the British squadron on Lake Erie. Another British officer had already endangered his career by refusing the appointment as success appeared unlikely. Barclay missed a rendezvous with the Queen Charlotte at Point Abinomarker and was forced to make the tedious journey to Amherstburg overland, arriving on 10 June. He brought with him only a handful of officers and seamen. When he took command of his squadron, the crews of his vessels numbered only seven British seamen, 108 officers and men of the Provincial Marine (whose quality Barclay disparaged), 54 men of the the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles and 106 soldiers, effectively landsmen, from the 41st Foot. Nevertheless he immediately set out in the Queen Charlotte and the Lady Prevost. He first reconnoitred Perry’s base at Presque Isle and determined that it was defended by 2,000 Pennsylvania militia, with batteries and redoubts. He then cruised the eastern end of Lake Erie, hoping to intercept the American vessels from Black Rock. The weather was hazy, and he missed them.

During July and August Barclay received two small vessels which had been constructed at Chathammarker and attempted to complete the ship-rigged corvette HMS Detroit at Amherstburg. Because the Americans controlled Lake Ontario and occupied the Niagara Peninsulamarker in early 1813, supplies for Barclay had to be carried overland from Yorkmarker. The American victory earlier in the year at the Battle of Yorkmarker resulted in guns (24-pounder carronades) intended for the Detroit falling into American hands. The Detroit had to be completed with a miscellany of guns from the fortifications of Amherstburg. It was alleged that these guns lacked flintlock firing mechanisms and matches, and that they could be fired only by snapping pistols over powder piled in the vent holes. (Nevertheless, they were very effectively served during the battle).

Barclay repeatedly requested men and supplies from Commodore James Lucas Yeo, commanding on Lake Ontario, but received very little. The commander of the British troops on the Detroit frontier, Major-General Henry Procter, was similarly starved of soldiers and munitions by his superiors. He declined to make an attack on Presque Isle unless he was reinforced, and instead he incurred heavy losses in an unsuccessful attack on Fort Stephenson, which he mounted at the urgings of some of his Indian warriors.

Blockades of Presque Isle and Amherstburg

By mid-July, the American squadron was almost complete, although not yet fully manned (Perry claimed to have only 120 men fit for duty). The British squadron maintained a blockade of Presque Isle for ten days from 20 July to 29 July. The harbour had a sandbar across its mouth, with only of water over it, which prevented Barclay sailing in to attack the American ships (although Barclay briefly skirmished with the defending batteries on 21 July), but also prevented the Americans leaving in fighting order. Barclay had to lift the blockade on 29 July because of shortage of supplies and bad weather. Perry immediately began to move his vessels across the sandbar. This was an exhausting task. The guns had to be removed from all the boats, and the largest of them had to be raised between “camels” (barges or lighters which were then emptied of ballast). When Barclay returned four days later, he found that Perry had nearly completed the task. Perry’s two largest brigs were not ready for action, but the gunboats and smaller brigs formed a line so confidently that Barclay withdrew to await the completion of the Detroit.

Perry had received 130 extra sailors under Lieutenant Elliot, who had been despatched by Chauncey. Although Perry described some of them as "wretched", at least 50 of them were experienced sailors drafted from the USS Constitutionmarker, then undergoing a refit in Bostonmarker. Perry also had a few volunteers from the Pennsylvania militia.

His vessels first proceeded to Sandusky, where they received further contingents of volunteers from Major General William Henry Harrison's Army of the Northwest. After twice appearing off Amherstburg, Perry established an anchorage at Put-in-Bay, Ohiomarker. For the next five weeks, Barclay was effectively blockaded and unable to move supplies to Amherstburg. His sailors, Procter’s troops, and the very large numbers of Indian warriors and their families there quickly ran out of supplies. After receiving a last-minute reinforcement of two naval officers, three warrant officers and thirty-six sailors transferred from a transport temporarily laid up in Quebecmarker under Lieutenant George Bignall, Barclay had no choice but to put out again and seek battle with Perry.


Movements of the squadrons of Perry and Barclay on the morning of 10 September
On the morning of 10 September, the Americans saw Barclay's vessels heading for them, and got under way from their anchorage at Put-in-Bay. The wind was light. Barclay initially held the weather gauge, but the wind shifted and allowed Perry to close and attack. Both squadrons were in line of battle, with their heaviest vessels near the centre of the line. Perry hoped to get his two big brigs, his flagship Lawrence and Niagara, into carronade range quickly, but in the light wind his vessels were making very little speed and the Lawrence was battered by the assortment of long guns mounted in the Detroit for at least 20 minutes before being able to reply effectively. When Lawrence was finally within carronade range, her fire was not as effective as Perry hoped, her gunners apparently having overloaded the carronades with shot.

Astern of the Lawrence, the Niagara, under Elliot, was slow to come into action and remained far out of effective carronade range. It is possible that Elliott was under orders to engage his opposite number, the Queen Charlotte, and that the Niagara was obstructed by the Caledonia, but Elliot's actions would become a matter of dispute between him and Perry for many years. Aboard the Queen Charlotte, the British ship opposed to the Niagara, the commander (Robert Finnis) and First Lieutenant were both killed. The next most senior officer, Lieutenant Irvine of the Provincial Marine, found that both the Niagara and the American gunboats were far out of range, and passed the brig General Hunter to engage Lawrence at close range.

Although the American gunboats at the rear of the American line of battle steadily pounded the British ships in the centre of the action with raking shots from their long guns from a distance, Lawrence was reduced by the two British ships to a wreck. Four-fifths of the Lawrence's crew were killed or wounded. Both of the fleet’s surgeons were sick with lake fever, so the wounded were taken care of by the assistant, Usher Parsons. When the last gun on the Lawrence became unusable, Perry decided to transfer his flag. He was rowed a half mile (1 km) through heavy gunfire to the Niagara while the Lawrence was surrendered. (It was later alleged that he left the Lawrence after the surrender; but Perry had actually taken down only his personal pennant, in blue bearing the motto, "Don't give up the ship", the last reported words of Captain James Lawrence of the frigate USS Chesapeake.)

When the Lawrence surrendered, firing died away briefly. The Detroit collided with Queen Charlotte, both ships being almost unmanageable with damaged rigging and almost every officer killed or severely wounded. Barclay was severely wounded and his first Lieutenant was killed, leaving Lieutenant Inglis in command. Most of the smaller British vessels were also disabled and drifting to leeward. The British nevertheless expected the Niagara to lead the American schooners away in retreat. Instead, once aboard Niagara, Perry dispatched Elliot to bring the schooners into closer action, while he steered Niagara at Barclay’s damaged ships, helped by the strengthening wind.

Niagara broke through the British line ahead of the Detroit and Queen Charlotte and luffed up to fire raking broadsides from ahead of them, while the Caledonia and the American gunboats fired from astern. Although the crews of Detroit and Queen Charlotte managed to untangle the two ships they could no longer offer any effective resistance. Both ships surrendered at about 3:00 pm. The smaller British vessels tried to flee but were overtaken and also surrendered.

Although Perry won the battle on the Niagara, he received the British surrender on the deck of the recaptured Lawrence to allow the British to see the terrible price his men had paid.


The British lost 41 killed and 94 wounded. The surviving crews, including the wounded, numbered 306. The Americans lost 27 killed and 96 wounded, of whom 2 later died.

The vessels were anchored and hasty repairs were underway near West Sister Island when Perry composed his now famous message to Harrison. Scrawled in pencil on the back of an old envelope, Perry wrote:
Dear General:

We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.

Yours with great respect and esteem,


Perry next sent the following message to the Secretary of the Navy, William Jones:
Brig Niagara, off the Western Sister,
Head of Lake Erie September 10, 4 P.


Sir:- It has pleased the Almighty to give to the arms of the United States a signal victory over their enemies on this lake. The British squadron, consisting of two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop, have this moment surrendered to the force under my command after a sharp conflict.

I have the honor to be, Sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,



The British army under Proctor had made preparations to abandon their positions even before Procter knew the result of the battle. In spite of exhortations from Tecumseh, Procter began to retreat on 27 September. Lacking supplies, Tecumseh's natives had no option but to accompany him.

Once his vessels and prizes were patched up, Perry ferried 2,500 American soldiers to Amherstburg and Detroit which were captured without opposition, while Harrison moved overland with 1,000 mounted troops. Harrison caught up with Procter's retreating force and defeated them on 5 October at the Battle of the Thamesmarker, where Tecumseh was killed.

The Americans controlled Lake Erie for the remainder of the war. This accounted for much of the Americans’ successes on the Niagara peninsulamarker in 1814 and also removed the threat of a British attack on Michiganmarker, Ohiomarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, or Western New Yorkmarker. However, an expedition to recover Mackinac Islandmarker on Lake Huronmarker failed, and the Americans lost eight of their smaller vessels and prizes. (Four were destroyed when the British captured Black Rock at the end of 1813, and four were boarded and captured in separate incidents on Lake Erie and Lake Huron.)


After the war, the U.S. Navy intentionally sank both the Lawrence and Niagara in Misery Bay in Lake Erie; the battle damage they had suffered was too extensive to repair. In 1875, the Lawrence was raised and moved to Philadelphiamarker, where she was displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. Later that year, the ship burned when the pavilion that housed it caught fire. Although Niagara was raised and restored in 1913, she subsequently fell into disrepair. She was eventually disassembled, and portions of her were used in a reconstructed Niagara, which is now on view in Erie, Pennsylvaniamarker.

The Perry Monument within Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorialmarker now stands at Put-in-Baymarker, commemorating the men who fought in the battle.

After the war, there was a bitter quarrel between Perry and Elliot over their respective parts in the action, mostly fought at second hand in the press. On the British side, Barclay was exonerated of any blame by a court-martial but was too badly injured to see service again for several years.

Reasons for the American victory

Most historians attribute the American victory to what Theodore Roosevelt described as, "Superior heavy metal". Perry's leadership, particularly in the latter stages of the action, is also mentioned as a factor. The British historian C.S. Forester commented, " was as fortunate for Americans that the Lawrence still possessed a boat that would float, as it was that Perry was not hit."

On the British side, William Bell served as constructor and built the Detroit, which was the best-built ship on the Lake. However, the Detroit was built slowly, in part due to Bell's perfectionism, and indeed it was the only purpose-built British warship constructed on Lake Erie during the war. This building imbalance, given the fact that six American ships were built in the same time frame, was another important cause of the American victory (although it might be argued that, even if Barclay had possessed more hulls, he would have been unable to obtain armament and crews for them).

The battle itself was close-run. Because of failing winds and Elliot's inaction (perhaps caused by confusion over orders), Perry’s superior squadron straggled into action, and as a result, Perry’s flagship was forced to fight against unequal odds. A draw might have been possible, though a complete British victory was unlikely. In the event, the portion of the American squadron which had not been engaged in the early part of the action was later able to overwhelm the damaged British ships with their depleted and exhausted crews.

Vessels involved

Listed in order of sailing:
Navy Name Rig Tonnage Crew Armament Notes
Chippeway Schooner 70 tons     15 1 × 9-pounder long gun captured
do. Detroit Ship 490 tons   150 1 × 18-pounder (on swivel)
2 × 24-pounder long guns
6 × 12-pounder long guns
8 × 9-pounder long guns
1 × 24-pounder carronade
1 × 18-pounder carronade

Barclay's flagship; captured
do. Hunter Brig 180 tons     45 4 × 6-pounder long guns
2 × 4-pounder long guns
2 × 2-pounder long guns
2 × 12-pounder carronades

Commanded by Lieutenant George Bignall
do. Queen Charlotte Ship 400 tons   126 1 × 12-pounder long gun
2 × 9-pounder long guns
12 × 24-pounder carronades

Commanded by Robert Finnis; captured
do. Lady Prevost Brig 230 tons     86 1 × 9-pounder long gun
2 × 6-pounder long guns
10 × 12-pounder carronades

captured (lost rudder)
do. Little Belt Sloop 90 tons     18 1 × 12-pounder long gun
2 × 6-pounder long guns
Total 6 warships 1,460 tons   450 330 lb shot from long guns
474 lb shot from carronades
Scorpion Schooner 86 tons     35 1 × 32-pounder long gun
1 × 32-pounder carronade
Long gun dismounted (overcharged)
commanded by Sailing Master Stephen Champlin
do. Ariel Schooner 112 tons     36 4 × 12-pounder long guns One gun exploded (overcharged)
do. Lawrence Brig 480 tons   136 2 × 12-pounder long guns
18 × 32-pounder carronades
Perry's flagship; surrendered but recaptured
do. Caledonia Brig 180 tons     53 2 × 24-pounder long guns
1 × 32-pounder carronade
captured from British October 9, 1812
commanded by Lieutenant Daniel Turner
do. Niagara Brig 480 tons   155 2 × 12-pounder long guns
18 × 32-pounder carronades
Commanded by Jesse Elliott
do. Somers Schooner 94 tons     30 1 × 24-pounder long gun
1 × 32-pounder carronade
do. Porcupine Schooner 83 tons     25 1 × 32-pounder long gun
do. Tigress Schooner 82 tons     35 1 × 32-pounder long gun
do. Trippe Sloop 60 tons     35 1 × 24-pounder long gun
Total 9 warships 540 288 lb shot from long guns


  1. Elliott to Hamiliton, Oct. 9th, 1812 in Dudley, William S. ed. The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History vol. 1: 327–331.
  2. Roosevelt, p.141
  3. Elting, p.90
  4. Malcolmson, p.74
  5. Forester, p.136
  6. Forester, p.143
  7. Forester, p.137
  8. Hitsman, p.166
  9. Ernest A. Cruikshank, The Contest for Command of Lake Erie in 1812-13, in Zaslow, p.93
  10. Ernest A. Cruikshank, The Contest for Command of Lake Erie, 1812-13, in Zaslow, p.90
  11. C.P.Stacey, Another look at the Battle of Lake Erie, in Zaslow, p.108
  12. Hitsman, pp.167-168
  13. It has also been suggested that Barclay left to attend a banquet in his honour, or that he wished the Americans to cross the bar and hoped to find them in disarray when he returned. Elting, p.90
  14. Forester, p.140
  15., "Ironsides on the Lake".
  16. Elting, p.96
  17. Hitsman, p.170
  18. Roosevelt, p.147.
  19. Archaic Medical Terms English List L.
  20. Forester, p.146
  21. Ernest A. Cruikshank, The Contest for Command of Lake Erie, 1812-13, in Zaslow, p.100
  22. Forester, p.147
  23. Earnest A. Cruickshank, The contest for the command of Lake Erie in 1812–1813, p.102
  24. Roosevelt, p.148
  25. Roosevelt, pp.148-149.
  26. Roosevelt, p.152


  • “The Dobbins Papers.” Severance, Frank H. ed. Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society v. 3 (Buffalo, New York: Buffalo Historical Society, 1905)
  • Mahan, Alfred T.. Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812. 1905.
  • Zaslow, Morris (ed). The Defended Border. Macmillan of Canada. ISBN 0-7705-1242-9

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