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Namesake ship relevant to War of 1812 Bicentennial celebrations

by Barby MacGowan on 7 Sep 2013
Captain Richard Bailey stands by to “set the first watch" - SSV Oliver Hazard Perry dedication Media Pro International
A significant sidebar relevant to the current bicentennial celebrations of the Battle of Lake Erie is the progress of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s namesake ship, the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, which is currently under construction and nearing completion in Rhode Island.

In 2008, the non-profit Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island (OHPRI) bought the ship’s steel hull from a Canadian group, which had begun the project of creating a museum ship for historic Amherstburg, Ontario; the ship was to replicate and be named the HMS Detroit, after the royal naval vessel built there in 1812 to defend Lake Erie.

Fast forward to 2013, and the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry is making history as the first ocean-going full-rigged ship to be built in the U.S. in 110 years, second in size only to the Coast Guard's Barque Eagle. After OHPRI’s unwavering effort to garner support from state officials and secure financial backing from corporate and private donors to fund development of construction, outfitting, staffing and Education at Sea programs, the Perry, in 2012, was signed into legislation as Rhode Island’s official 'Sailing Education Vessel.' The 196’ three-masted, square-rigged tall ship now is irrefutably destined to actively participate in education at sea while serving as a symbol of maritime heritage for not only the 'Ocean State,' as Rhode Island is called, but also all of America as she sails throughout New England, the Great Lakes and the Canadian Maritimes in the summer and as far south as the Carolinas and the Caribbean in the winter.

Commodore Perry hoisted a battle flag with the now-famous words 'Don’t Give up the Ship' in September of 1813 when he captured the British fleet and its flagship—none other than the HMS Detroit—on Lake Erie, thus marking the historic turning point of American control of the lake for the remainder of the War of 1812. During this summer’s Great Lakes series of maritime festivals and tall ships races (coordinated by the Newport-based Tall Ships America), the Battle of Lake Erie and the happenings surrounding it have been celebrated at 22 Canadian and U.S. ports, where hundreds of thousands of maritime enthusiasts have flocked to the docks to visit participating tall ships from around the world. The festivities culminated with a re-enactment of Perry’s victory on September 2nd at Put-in-Bay, Ohio, and the final festival, Tall Ships Erie 2013®, which concludes this Sunday, September 8th.

While the bicentennial celebrations of Oliver Hazard Perry’s War of 1812 naval victory are focused on Lake Erie where Commodore Perry and his men built and then sailed his small fleet into battle, it’s a well-known fact that Perry and scores of those men who made the winter trek to Erie were Rhode Islanders, many from the still-active Artillery Company of Newport. As such, Newport will not go without its own ceremony commemorating the historic and meaningful actions of Rhode Island’s great naval war hero.

Appropriately, the ceremony, sponsored by the Rhode Island Commandery, Military Order of Foreign Wars, will take place Tuesday, September 10 (11 a.m.) in downtown Newport’s Eisenhower Park, directly across from OHPRI’s headquarters, which are in the Touro Street building that was the last home of Oliver Hazard Perry. Prominent in the park is the famous full-length standing bronze 'portrait' statue of Commodore Perry, sculpted by William Greene Turner and erected on September 10, 1885, on the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie.

Among the highlights of the ceremony will be guest speaker John B. Hattendorf, professor of maritime history, U.S. Naval War College, and an 11-Gun Salute by the Artillery Company of Newport.

A statement issued by the Commandery says, 'In September of 1813, during the War of 1812, Rhode Islander Oliver Hazard Perry of the U.S. Navy and his 557 officers and men prevailed over the British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie near Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Two hundred years later, we come together to celebrate Perry’s victory, our nation’s sovereignty, and the enduring peace between nations.'

In many ways, the ceremony also will celebrate the spirit of Oliver Hazard Perry as it lives on in the future good work of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry.

For more information about OHPRI and how to contribute to the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, visit OHPRI or contact Vice-Chair Perry Lewis at OHPRI headquarters, Buliod-Perry House, 29 Touro Street, Washington Square, Newport, R.I., 401.841.0080.

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