Perry, Oliver Hazard

Perry, Oliver Hazard

Perry, Oliver Hazard, 1785–1819, American naval officer, b. South Kingstown, R.I.; brother of Matthew Calbraith Perry. Appointed a midshipman in 1799, he served in the Tripolitan War, was promoted to lieutenant (1807), and from 1807 to 1809 was engaged in building gunboats. In the War of 1812 he was commissioned to build, equip, and crew a fleet at Erie, Pa.

On Sept. 10, 1813, Perry's fleet left Put-in-Bay, Ohio, and met a slightly inferior British force. In the subsequent battle, the battle of Lake Erie, Perry's flagship, the Lawrence, was reduced to ruins, but he transferred his flag to the Niagara and shortly forced the British to surrender. His report of the battle sent to Gen. William H. Harrison—“We have met the enemy and they are ours”—has become famous. The victory, which made Perry a national hero, gave the United States control of Lake Erie and helped pave the way for Harrison's victory in the battle of the Thames, in which Perry participated (see Thames, battle of the).

After the war he served as a captain in the Mediterranean. Later, on a mission to Venezuela, he contracted yellow fever, died, and was buried in Trinidad. His body was later brought to Newport, R.I., where a monument was erected to him. A monument to Perry and international peace memorial at Put-in-Bay, built 1912–15, became a national monument in 1936 and has been a national memorial since 1972.


See biography by C. J. Dutton (1935); C. O. Paullin, ed., The Battle of Lake Erie (1918); C. S. Forester, The Age of Fighting Sail (1956).

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Perry, Oliver Hazard

(1785–1819) naval officer; born in South Kingston, R.I. He became a lieutenant (1807) and commanded coastal gunboats (1807–09) and the USS Revenge on the south Atlantic coast (1809–11). Promoted to master commandant (1812), he went to Presque Isle (now Erie), Pa., to build an American fleet for use on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Leading the fleet against the British fleet in September 1813, he won the battle (although he had to transfer his flag from the USS Lawrence to the USS Niagara) and sent a famous message to Gen. William Henry Harrison, "We have met the enemy and they are ours." He transported Harrison's army across Lake Erie and led a cavalry charge at the battle of the Thames. After the war he commanded a squadron sent to Venezuela (1819) where he died of yellow fever. His remains were brought to Newport, R.I., in 1826.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.