Oliver Hazard Perry was born on August 23, 1785 in Newport, Rhode Island. His father was Naval Captain Christopher Raymond Perry. Perry was introduced to the high seas at an early age. At the age of 13, he was appointed as a midshipman to his father’s frigate (ship) General Greene. Perry first engaged in actual military combat at the age of 14 off of the coast of Haiti. He then served in the First Barbary War (north Africa) and commanded Nautilus, a ship that participated in the capture of the port city of Derna.
Oliver Hazard Perry became famous for his exploits during the War of 1812. As commander of U.S. Naval forces at Lake Erie, Perry organized the construction of a small fleet of naval vessels at what is now Erie, Pennsylvania. An epic battle on Lake Erie between British and American naval forces ensued. Perry’s flagship, The Lawrence, was destroyed. According to legend, Perry rowed a half mile through enemy fire to transfer command to the Niagara. The Americans eventually defeated the British at Lake Erie and Perry became a national hero. His report on the battle contains the following famous quote “We have met the enemy and they are ours; two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop”. The American victory at Lake Erie would prove crucial, as it opened up Canada to American invasion and succeeded in protecting the Ohio Valley from the British.
After the War of 1812, Perry traveled to Venezuela for an expedition. In 1819, he died there of an insect-borne illness. Today, the memory of Oliver Hazard Perry lives on. Numerous counties, towns, and schools throughout America are named after him.