Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry
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Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry

Oliver Hazard Perry was born on August 23, 1785, at the Old Perry Homestead in South Kingston, Rhode Island, of "Fighting Quaker parents." His father was in the United States Navy and young Perry soon followed. At the age of 13, Perry entered the Navy as a midshipman, where his first assignment was in the Caribbean under the command of his father.

In May 1812, Perry received a promotion to master-commandant. One month later the United States declared war on Great Britain. He was given command of 12 gunboats at Newport and New London. Perry lost interest in the relative inactivity of this post, and, in September 1812, requested duty on the high seas or the Great Lakes.

In February 1813, he was ordered to Commodore Isaac Chauncey's command at Sacket's Harbor, Lake Ontario. Chauncey decided that Perry would be of better use in Erie, Pennsylvania, where a fleet was being constructed to wrest control of Lake Erie from the British who already had a small squadron there. Perry was fully briefed on the situation in Erie and was sent to command the project.

The Battle of Lake Erie began with Perry aboard his flagship Lawrence. In the early stages of the battle, however, Lawrence and her crew took most of the enemy's fire. Lawrence was severely damaged and over 80 percent of Perry's crew were killed or wounded by concentrated British gunfire. In an attempt to change defeat to victory, Perry transferred from Lawrence to the lightly damaged Niagara in a small boat. He took command of Niagara and sailed her into the British battle line. The British had also taken heavy casualties from the Lawrence' fire. Broadsides from the fresh Niagara compelled their surrender within 15 minutes of Perry's transfer.

Perry was the first in history to defeat an entire British squadron and successfully bring back every ship to his base as a prize of war. Perry, at the age of 28, was hailed by the public as a national hero for his victory on Lake Erie.

After his victory in the War of 1812, Perry was promoted to the rank of Captain. Then in 1819, Perry was sent to Venezuela on a diplomatic mission. After completing his mission he contracted yellow fever and died at sea near Trinidad on August 23, 1819, his 34th birthday.