Friday, May 7, 2021

A Man of Tried Courage, Patriotism, and Fidelity: Major Thomas Maxwell and the War of 1812

 On July 7, 1818 Colonel Joseph L Smith, commanding officer of the 3rd Infantry Regiment and of Detroit, wrote to Daniel Parker, the Adjutant and Inspector General of the Army at Washington, D.C., regarding an aged man who was setting off on a journey back east: “Sir, Major Thompson Maxwell who has been on duty at this place for the last two or three years in the capacity of principle barrack master is about to visit- walking, too…” The man he spoke of claimed to have been a survivor of at least four wars: the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763-1766), the American Revolution (1775-1783), and the War of 1812 (1812-1815). He had fought as one of Roger’s Rangers; had been one of the disguised Sons of Liberty who participated in the Boston Tea Party; had been a captain in the Massachusetts militia during Shay’s Rebellion in 1787.

            Whether Maxwell was present at all these events is not undisputed by historians. One recent web article calls him “the Forrest Gump of the American Revolution” ( accessed 5/5/2021). However, what is easier to verify is his service during the War of 1812, which is verified by both primary and secondary sources. Most of the latter remark on his presence with William Hull’s army when it marched to Detroit. However, in the aftermath of Hull’s surrender of Detroit, a local mob singled out Thomas Maxwell for reprisal and burned his house down. Homeless and destitute, in his 60s, Maxwell remained with the American army throughout the rest of the war.

            In 1800, Maxwell and his family had moved to Ohio and settled in Butler County, north of Cincinnati. Maxwell made a living, apparently, by driving hogs overland to Detroit, and from this and his service during the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s War—during which he had been to Detroit and Mackinac, he had a good knowledge of the wilderness between the Ohio settlements and the Michigan Territory. During Hull’s campaign he made a lifelong friendship with Lt. Colonel James Miller of the 4th Infantry Regiment. When Colonel Miller led an American force south from Detroit to try and break open the supply lines to Frenchtown, Thompson Maxwell volunteered to serve as chief scout, and went on horseback ahead of the column. A few days before, another American column had been ambushed and several scouts had been killed and mutilated. Maxwell himself claimed to have survived the infamous Battle of Bloody Run in July 1763 which had occurred only a few miles away outside Detroit. This time, there was another, stronger ambush which would be called the Battle of Maguagon, but Maxwell survived, and the Americans counter-attacked and won the day.

            However, in the wake of William Hull’s surrender of Detroit, Thompson Maxwell had to give up his horse, bridle and saddle to the enemy. He was paroled with most of the other Ohio volunteers and dropped off in Cleveland to make his way home as best as he could. His homecoming was a sour one. Another Ohio officer, a Captain Robertson who had been accused of cowardice during a skirmish near the Au Canard River during the campaign apparently sought to deflect his role in the defeat and got together a mob to attack him. Maxwell and his family escaped the mob, but they burned his house and most of his possessions. The Major’s reputation with the senior officers of the army was such that he was able to get letters of introduction from Colonels Lewis Cass, James Finley, Duncan McArthur, Major Thomas Van Horne, and Colonel Miller recommending him to Major General William Henry Harrison for service: “We can safely recommend him to any employment which requires firmness and perseverance.” (Harrison Papers).

            Major Maxwell had an aura of experience which awed younger officers. Lieutenant Joseph H Larwill encountered him on February 1, 1813 at the Northwestern Army’s camp on the Portage River: “He was one of those who was taken at Fort Edward, fought at Detroit and Bloody Knife when attacked by the noted Indian Pontiac, was through the most difficult scenes of the Revolutionary War and distinguished himself at Brownstown and in Hull’s Campaign. He is too feeble to stand the fatigues of a march but his breast burns with love of country and is desirous of rendering all the service that lies in his power, cares not the situation he may be placed in.”

            Maxwell served on General Harrison’s staff as a civilian guide through the early months of 1813 and was present during the construction of Fort Meigs. However, after the Battle of Frenchtown in January 1813, during which some local militiamen who had been involved in Hull’s campaign were captured again, there was fear that volunteers who might be captured again before being officially exchanged would be sent to Quebec and hung for breaking their parole. This apparently nearly happened to another scout named Whitmore Knaggs, who was captured a second time by Indians but let go. Maxwell returned to Butler County on February 25, 1813 only to find that his second wife had died 20 days beforehand.

Maxwell stayed with his son, until three days later when an anonymous note appeared at the house: “if you secret Maxwell another night, your home will share the same fate with his.”  After that, Thompson Maxwell stayed with other friends, travelled to Cincinnati, and was hosted for a while by Duncan McArthur in Chillicothe before trekking back to Cleveland where the commanding officer was another friend from Hull’s army: Major Thomas Jesup. From Cleveland Maxwell rejoined the American Army at Fort George, and remained with it as a volunteer throughout 1813 and 1814.

By 1814 both Major Thomas Jesup and Colonel James Miller had assumed command of regiments in the Left Division commanded by Major General Jacob Brown (Jesup commanded the famous 25th Infantry in Winfield Scott’s Brigade, and Miller commanded the 21st Infantry in Eleazar Ripley’s Brigade.) Major Maxwell seems to have served alongside them as a forage master until the siege of Fort Erie, when he was captured somewhere in Upper Canada outside the American perimeter of the fort. There is another element of serendipity here too, since the dragoons who captured him were led by Major Peter L. Chambers of the 41st Regiment of Foot. Chambers might have recognized Maxwell from the surrender of Detroit, and had served with the British forces in the Northwest before being captured himself at the Battle of the Thames in 1813.

Thompson Maxwell again lost his horse, his hat and spurs, and was left with nothing but a handkerchief to wear on his head as he was marched into captivity. The prisoners were made to walk 60 miles to Kingston. On a stop at Hamilton, they were forced to stay in a small room, “the stench was so bad and I feeble, that I came back to the door and leaned against the side of it.” The captain of the guard ordered him to go back in, despite Maxwell’s protest that he was sick. In response, the officer ordered the sentry to force him back into the room with the point of a bayonet. “At this moment Major Rogers (the commissary of prisoners) came along and asked what was the matter.” When Maxwell told him his name, Rogers recognized him as a man his father had mentioned having served with during the French and Indian War:

“Major R. gave the Captain d----, and said to me “Come along with me!” He was put up in a house, given a clean shirt and a blanket coat, and sent to Kingston on a horse. In Kingston he was well treated, but in late October he was transferred to Montreal in an open boat, and was placed under close confinement until March 1815. Several months after the war ended, he was returned to the territory of the United States at Sackett’s Harbor, New York. There he met General Jacob Brown, who had commanded the army at Fort Erie. General Brown gave him $60 and sent him on to Buffalo, where he was able to collect $375 in back pay.

After the War of 1812, Maxwell secured a position as Barracks Master at the US Army post at Detroit. In 1818, when Colonel Smith wrote his letter to the Adjutant General, Maxwell made his way (riding, not walking) overland from Detroit to New Hampshire, where he visited his old friend General Miller, who would be appointed to serve as the first governor of the Arkansas Territory. While staying with Miller, Major Maxwell dictated his life story, which was transcribed by the General's secretary Lt. Allanson. This unpublished memoir, with parts such as the Battle of Maguagon left out "to be filled in later" by Miller, who had also been present. As a result there are many gaps in the narrative concerning Maxwell's part in the 1812 and 1814 campaigns. Returning to Michigan, after his retirement Maxwell lived in a cottage outside town, and passed away aged 90. He is buried in the Wallaceville Cemetery, in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.


“The Narrative of Major Thompson Maxwell,” Historical Collections of the Essex Institute 7 no. 3 (June 1865).

Letter of Colonel Joseph L. Smith to General Daniel Parker, 7 July 1818 (National Archives: Letters Received by the Adjutant General)

James L. Barton, Address on the Early Reminiscences of Western New York and the Lake Country… Buffalo: Steam Press of Jewett, Thomas & Co., 1848.

Find A Grave: Thompson Maxwell

( accessed 5/7/2021

            New England Historical Society “Major Thompson Maxwell, Forrest Gump of the American Revolution" ( accessed 5/7/2021)

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

From Buffalo to Delaware Ohio and Back in 1811


A view from the Marblehead Peninsula today, looking toward Cedar Point and the entrance to Sandusky Bay. The entrance was so shallow and winds so challenging that a portage road was made across the base of the peninsula between the interior of the bay and modern Port Clinton, Ohio. 

In a Columbus, Ohio newspaper an advertisement dated November 23, 1832 offers 500 barrels of "Onondaga Salt". Onondaga is a lake near Syracuse in upstate New York, known in the early 19th century for its salt works. How did all that salt get shipped to Columbus before the railroads? Probably via canal boat from Cleveland via the Columbus Feeder Canal connection to the Ohio and Erie Canal, which connected the waters of the Cuyahoga with the Ohio River. The first canal boat arrived on the Scioto at Columbus in 1831. This is several years before an overland route was cleared in the form of the Columbus and Sandusky Turnpike, which opened in 1834. 

Before that, salt was shipped from Onondaga through the finger lakes region of New York, to Lake Ontario, and then portaged around the Niagara Falls to Black Rock and Buffalo, where it was shipped by schooner to Erie, Pennsylvania. There was a well-worn wagon road between Erie and Waterford, Pennsylvania, where goods could be shipped on keelboats down French Creek and the Alleghany River to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh and the rest of the Ohio valley got most of their salt this way. During the War of 1812, when Oliver Hazard Perry built his fleet at Erie, much of the iron fittings and other things needed for the ships came north from Pittsburgh by this route in reverse.

James L Barton, an early pioneer of the Buffalo area, recalled a trip he made in 1811-1812 to Central Ohio to trade for hogs in an account printed in 1848 [Address on the early reminiscences of western New York and lake region of country : delivered before the Young Men's Association of Buffalo, February 16, 1848 (Buffalo: Steam Press of Jewett, Thomas & Co, 1848)].

In 1811, after a very tempestuous passage (in the schooner Catherine, afterwards the Somers, in Commodore Perry's fleet) of nineteen days over the lake, when I first landed on the Peninsular point in that bay, there was no person living where the city of Sandusky now stands--the only building in it was a log hut, where an old Indian had, or did then live, called "Oganse" [the Odawa or Ottawa chief Ogontz--more on him in a future post], and this was the name of the place. 

I was then in the employ of my brother-in-law, Captain Sheldon Thompson, now of this city, bound south of the Sciota [Scioto] River, with a quantity of goods and salt, to purchase hogs, which were to be killed and packed on the Peninsula [the Marblehead Peninsula of Sandusky Bay], near the lake. No large vessels had, at that time, been known to enter that bay, and Captain Tucker did not venture to make the attempt, as the weather was cold and stormy, with some snow flying--it being the last days of October. He ran his vessel as near the shore as was prudent, and landed the loading on the beach, from whence it was rolled far enough back, to be out of reach of the swells of the lake. 

The few people residing on the Peninsula, in four or five log buildings, were suffering from the effects of the fever and ague, and had a most ghastly appearance. They had but few comforts and none of the luxuries of life. At that time they were without flour and tea. They made bread from corn meal; the corn on the ear was first put into a large kettle and boiled until it had swelled out and softened the kernels, and was then grated. The graters were made by breaking a tin lantern to pieces and nailing them on a board. Sage was used for tea. Meat was plenty; all it required to get this, was to shoot down a hog; there were many running in the woods, fat from the quantities of mast they fed upon. I soon improved the living by getting out some tea and sugar, and taking some powder and shot, soon killed ducks (the bay was then full of them), enough daily, to supply the family where I stopped, as long as I remained with them.

Capt. Thompson soon joined me at this place; he came up the lake on horseback. From the place where the goods were landed on the beach, we conveyed them in a boat to Lower Sandusky [Fremont, Ohio]. Here the United States had a factory or trading house for distributing to the Indians their annuities; it was then under the charge of Judge Samuel Tupper, who afterwards resided and died in this city [Buffalo]. This trading establishment was enclosed by picket work, and afterwards formed Fort Stephenson, where Colonel Croghan severly defeated the British and Indians in 1813. A few white squatters lived around here, who subsisted principally on corn and game in the woods, and fish caught in the Sandusky River. We had left a number of men on the Peninsula, to put up log buildings for slaughtering, smoking and packing the pork and hams, and coopers to manufacture the barrels. These men I brought up the lake in the vessel with me.

At Lower Sandusky we fortunately met with four large wagons, drawn by four horses each, from the Mad River country [Urbana, Springfield, and Dayton in southwestern Ohio]. These, I believe, were the first that had ever come through. They were hired to convey our goods through to Delaware, where we intended to stop.

The road to Tymoctee Creek, 31 or 32 miles, through thick woods, had just been opened and there was no house the whole distance. Three miles beyond Tymoctee was a cluster of log huts called Negro town, inhabited by Indians, except an old Negro called "Tom," and his family, and a white man name Wright, who was married to old Tom's daughter. He was a silversmith, and made silver work for the Indians. Here commenced the openings, or prairies, which continued to the little Scioto River. These openings had clusters of bushes and trees that appeared like and were called islands. Near one of these I was shown the spot where Colonel Crawford was said to have been defeated, and the tree was pointed out to me under which he was taken prisoner. He was burned to death at the Indian town on the Tymoctee, four or five miles westerly from Negro town. Three or four miles from Negro town we came to two log buildings where an old Indian named Winne Hankie, a kind and hospitable old man, lived. From this until I passed the Little Scioto, I found no building or human being.

The river fortunately was low enough for the wagons to ford it with their loading, without being under the necessity of building rafts or floats to carry them over. We now entered thick woods, the road being very bad, and in four or five miles came to a small Welch settlement in the township of Radnor. From this place we soon reached Delaware. The country was heavily timbered all round for many miles and the settlements were in detachments in different parts. Columbus was not yet established as the seat of the State Government.

After putting up our goods in an unfinished brick building, built for a dwelling house, Mr. Thompson went into the several settlements and employed agents to buy hogs and corn to fatten them. In payment the agents drew orders on me at the store. The hogs were very wild in the woods and quite fat from the nuts and the acorns which they found. After buying them we put them into pens and fed them six or eight weeks to harden the meat. When in a proper condition nearly two hundred were brought in at a time from the different agencies to Delaware, and put together in a lot of two or three acres. Before starting the drove for the Lake shore, the drivers, who well understood the character of Ohio hogs in those days, would arm themselves with strong clubs and go into the lot and drive them round as hard as they could to tire them down so that they would drive well. With all this precaution we lost a number from each drove. They would break out and run through the woods faster than man or horse could pursue. During the winter we drove eight or nine hundred. As there were no settlements on the road to get corn to feed them, we had to send wagons along carrying it with them. Mr. Thompson went himself with two droves. That winter was colder than usual, and a good deal of snow fell. In crossing the plains, where the cold was most severely felt, the drivers at night would make up log fires, and after eating their supper, roll themselves up in a blanket, lie down before the fires and go to sleep. The great heat from the fire and the warmth of their heads, which, getting into the snow while asleep, caused it to melt; many of the drivers wore cues or long hair; this would settle in the snow, and towards daylight, after the fires began to go out, a cold blast of wind coming over the plains would freeze the snow and their hair in it, and they had to be chopped loose before they could get up.

I remained in Delaware until the last of April, 1812. I left that place with four large teams carrying property we had purchased, and eight or ten cows which I had to drive, with an old crippled negro for an assistant. While with the wagons our provisions were carried in them. On reaching Negro town I found the Tymoctee creek too high for the wagons to cross, much rain having fallen. After waiting two days for the water to fall, without success, and directing the wagons to follow as soon as they could, the old negro and myself took each a loaf of bread and a piece of pork, which we put into a blanket and carried on our backs, and thus started with the cows for Lower Sandusky. I got two Indians to aid us in the wilderness. We stopped, made a fire by flint and steel, and ate our supper, and then laid down to sleep, the cows feeding close around us. It was a long time before we could get to sleep, the woods seemed full of wolves which kept up a terrible howling and not far away. I had a small horn of powder, but no gun, and the negro said it would keep the wolves off, if we could scatter some gunpowder around and flash it, and that the smell of it would frighten them away. We did so, but it did not start them nor stop their noise, they kept it up until near daylight; when the wild turkeys began to gobble in the woods, and they made nearly as much noise. In the morning we collected our cows and started, and after traveling two days and lying in the woods two nights we got through. On the way we had to wade a good many streams, the water coming up to our middle. I caught a bad cold, and was nearly exhausted. At Sandusky they gave me a sweating. I was laid on the floor with a large blanket fastened down at the corners over me, given plenty of hot herb tea to drink, hot stones were put under the blanket and a large quantity of clothing put over me. The perspiration ran most profusely from me, and I thought I should drown. I hallooed to get up, but more hot drink and more hot stones were applied. After several hours I was let up, free from pain and as well as ever.

A boat was sent up from the Lake for me and the property I had with me. When we started to go down the river, only 36 miles, we expected to get through that night, and carried only one day's provision with us. On getting to the head of the bay, a hard north wind was blowing, and we could not cross over that day nor during the night. We ate up for supper all we had, and next morning began to be hungry, the wind still continuing to blow too strong for us to start. I had a fish hook and with some twine made a line, got some bait and tried to eat without bread or salt. The perch went well, but the more we broiled the sheep's head the tougher it became. We could not master it. This was the first as well as the last time I ever attempted to cook and eat a "sheep's head."

On the way down the Sandusky river, I passed two or three hundred newly made Indian bark canoes, they were collecting to go to Malden to sell their services or make pretense of doing so, to the British, preparatory to the war which was then close at hand. [Actually, these canoes probably belonged to Ogontz's Odawa people, who were preparing to join their tribesmen in Canada and sit out the war as neutrals. They returned to Sandusky Bay after the war but were eventually forced to move to the upper Maumee River valley]. 

I waited on the Peninsula three or four weeks for the vessel to come up to carry away our pork &c. In the meantime we built a log blockhouse for the settlers to protect themselves in from the Indians. After the declaration of war the people removed, and the Indians burnt down the blockhouse. [This blockhouse may have been occupied by local militia during a skirmish in September, 1812]

When the vessel arrived, she was brought into the bay near Bull's Island [now called Johnson's Island, the site of a Confederate prisoner of war camp during the American Civil War]. We boated the pork to her until she was nearly full, and then took her over the bar outside, and boated the remainder to her. We started with a fair wind, ran over the Lake finely, and "came to" under the lee of Bird Island, at the entrance into the Niagara River. I found a regiment of volunteers at Black Rock. The same afternoon when I arrived at Black Rock, I started on foot for Lewiston, and in a few days war was declared.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Fort Seneca and the War of 1812

From History of Seneca County from the Close of the Revolutionary War to July 1880 by William Lang (Springfield, Ohio: Transcript Printing Co., 1880) accessed on Ohio Memory (

About the first of July, 1813, a detachment of men, under the command of Gen. Harrison, erected a stockade upon the west bank of the Sandusky river. within the present limits of Pleasant township, in this county to which was given the name of Camp Seneca.

It was situated upon a bank, about forty feet above the bed of the river, close to the old army road, and contained within its enclosure about one and one-half acres of ground. It was built nearly in the form of a square, surrounded by pickets of oak timber a foot in thick- ness and twelve feet high. Between this spot and the river are several springs of water, one of which was inside of the pickets.

On the east side were two rows of pickets, six feet apart, the space filled with earth. On the south was a single row of pickets. A little beyond this was a deep ravine. between which and the camp an embankment was thrown up, traces of which are still remaining. On the west was a single row of pickets, with a ditch about six feet deep and twelve feet wide. On the north there was also a deep ditch, with an embankment, upon the top of which were placed the pickets.

A blockhouse was erected at the southwest corner, sixteen feet high, and about twenty-five feet square, which has long since passed away . It consisted of large logs, with port-holes for cannon and small arms, and was located in such a manner as to completely command the ditch. There was a projection at the northeast corner, strongly picketed, used, perhaps, as a magazine; and two small blockhouses at each of the other corners, with port holes. The spot is one mile south of the northern boundary of Pleasant township, the section line between sections 8 and 9 running through it. There is a deep ravine on the south of the spot.

The town of Old Fort, Ohio is indeed one mile south of the Pleasant Township line.

(South of the site of Fort Seneca, in what is now downtown Tiffin, Ohio, stood another stockade called Fort Ball).

Nearly opposite, and west of the mouth of this stream, on the left bank of the river, where Lafayette street now strikes the same, is a large spring of excellent, cold water. This spring attracted the attention of Col. James V. Ball, when in 1813 he was about to build a stockade near the army road on the bank of the river, under instructions from General Harrison. A detachment of men, under the command of the Colonel, built the stockade and called it "Fort Ball."

...This camp was built as a temporary place of security in case of necessity, and as a magazine for supplies. It consisted of stakes a foot in thickness fixed in the ground, with old bayonets driven through them horizontally, near the tops. Against these logs were piled upon the outside, and over the logs dirt was thrown from a ditch, which surrounded the whole. There was room in the interior for five hundred men.

...While General Harrison was at Fort Seneca, he sent a detachment of men up the river to strengthen this camp. The soldiers were quartered here several days, during which time they were very short of provisions, and, being compelled to subsist on fish, a part stood guard while the rest were fishing, to protect them if necessary... Before the Battle of Fort Stephenson this detachment left for the Maumee, but the post was occupied occasionally until General Harrison left the country.

...The remains of several soldiers that had been buried near the fort were afterwards found in digging in the vicinity. One was exhumed last summer (1879?) when laying pipes for the water works in the street, about half way between the river and the stove works.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Free Man or a Dead Horse! Joseph Langford and the Underground Railroad at the Maumee Rapids

Last week I wrote a blog post about Captain David Wilkeson, who came to the Maumee River as a deck hand on his uncles schooner in 1815, and stayed to eventually become a successful captain and ship owner in Perrysburg. In tracing his career I found references to Joseph Langford, an African American man who served as cook aboard his ships and eventually became co owner (and thus partner) in Wilkeson's first steamship. I've been able to reconstruct some more details about Langford's life in Perrysburg during the 19th century, and his involvement with the Underground Railroad.

The approximate location of Joseph Langford's house today.

Langford is remembered in local history sources as "Old Joe" Langford, and in connection with an incident that occurred in 1845. His house on Mulberry Street near Front Street (described as a cabin located in an alley in one source) was on the outskirts of town but still located about a block from the waterfront and shipyards, and on the depression or edge of the gulley that runs west from the site of Fort Meigs (which passes through the town cemetery and the site of British batteries along a deep ravine). This would have been an ideal place to hustle fleeing bondspeople through on their way north to Canada: within spitting distance of the shipyards and the toll bridge over the river, but far enough from the center of town to escape notice. 

Perrysburg was an abolitionist town and a crossroads for travelers passing north over the Maumee River at the toll bridge near the foot of the rapids. Not only that, but according to local history, at least one house on the river bluff at Front Street had a hidden passageway leading from the cellar to the waterfront, where a small schooner or sloop could take freedom seekers down the river and across Lake Erie to Canada. With fugitive slave laws in force nationally, it was dangerous for bondspeople to remain in the town, but several African American families, like the Williams and the Langfords, made their homes there. 

On one occasion, a bondsman escaping in through the Perrysburg area was apprehended and placed in the town jail by slave hunters, pending a hearing by local magistrate Elijah Huntington. Lawyer Shibnah Spink defended the man, but although both Huntington and Spink were sympathetic to the freedom seeker, they knew the laws were not on his side and he would be taken south. According to one source, while the two officials stalled for time as they examined the slave hunter's papers, Joseph Langford went down to the shipyard where the propeller steamship Superior was then being built for David Wilkeson. He enlisted 40 shipwrights who came back with him and crowded into the courthouse, which stood where the former Citizens Bank building at 114 Louisiana Ave. As they crowded between the slave hunters and their prey, "Old Joe" made a signal and the bondsman ran for the door, helped by the workers who prevented the slave hunters from giving chase. 

An engraving showing the Maumee Perrysburg toll bridge in 1846.

Langford had brought his own, apparently very fast horse to the courthouse door, and the bondsman was able to get on it and ride out of town. Joseph slapped the horses flank and shouted "a free man or a dead horse" and it sped out of sight. His horse had been on many trips to the Canadian border and would actually return on its own when released. The bridge keeper at the toll bridge between Perrysburg and Maumee, Joshua Chappel, was in on the rescue, and let the horse through. But when the slave hunters, pursuing on horseback, reached the bridge they found the gates locked. Chappel "had much difficulty in understanding the great haste of the gentlemen... and was very slow in unlocking and permitting them to pass." Three days later, the horse came back alone to Langford, and it was learned that the bondsman had made it to freedom in Canada.

It is probably inappropriate to refer to Joseph Langford as "Old Joe", because when this incident occurred, according to the 1850 census he would have been 35 years old. His wife, whom William Hodge regarded as the most ladylike in Perrysburg, was named either Hazel or Harritt (this requires more research on my part). Joseph had been born in Tennessee, and Hazel in Maryland, but not much appears in the records about their early lives before settling in Perrysburg. In 1850, 15-year old Charles Thompson was living with them. Although there is no occupation listed for them, Joseph had worked as a cook aboard Wilkeson's schooner and continued aboard the steamship Commodore Perry.

Working on the newer steamboats Wilkeson built would have been a big step up in terms of responsibility: the steamboats were described as "floating palaces" and the food was a major selling point in competing for passengers between Buffalo and Detroit. Langford would have gone from cooking for a dozen crew members and the occasional passenger aboard the schooners (passenger service as a rule was dominated by the more reliable steam vessels), to planning and serving elaborate multi-course meals, perhaps even negotiating for fresh produce and provisions from local farmers. Therefore local histories undersell him when they describe Joseph as a simple shipyard worker living in a cabin on Mulberry Street. 

According to death records, Hazel or Harritt Langford died on December 13, 1860 and is buried in Fort Meigs Cemetery. Local records show that Joseph remarried to Mary Ann Richardson on May 20, 1863. He died in the spring of 1868 according to a probate record dated April 24 of that year, and left his property to his widow. I've not been able to find more information regarding his death or place of burial, although I imagine it was in April 1868 and his gravesite is somewhere in Fort Meigs Cemetery. I hope to continue to find more information on the Langfords and other African American people involved in the early steamship industry in Perrysburg in the future.

Most of the information in this article is drawn from the Ohio Miscellany, a book of newspaper clippings found in the State Library of Ohio. The story of the horse and the courthouse is also repeated in many local histories of Perrysburg. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Captain David Wilkeson, Perrysburg's Local Sea Captain


The Sidewheel Steamer General Wayne, in 1838, represents the kind of steam powered vessels that plied Lake Erie in the early 19th century. She was wrecked off Vermillion, Ohio in 1850.

Today my hometown Perrysburg, and its sister town of Maumee across the Maumee River, is a medium sized, middle class suburb of Toledo in Northwest Ohio. It is located about ten miles up the river from the lake, and is visited mostly by smaller motor or sailboats, which are prevented by the lower rapids from proceeding any further upstream. Few people who live there today would think of Perrysburg as being a major shipbuilding center, let alone a port. Yet in the early decades of the 19th century, the town was expected to become a major industrial center because of its location at the "head of navigation", the point on the river where boats could go no farther inland and where wagons and land traffic must pass to make the corner around Lake Erie. What stopped it from developing so was nature: a limestone shelf under the river a few miles downstream that prevented deeper-drafted vessels from making it upriver. During the days of schooners and the early steam sidewheelers, Perrysburg was not just a port town but the wide bottomlands below the town and thousands of acres of Black Swamp forests made it an ideal place for shipbuilding. As I've written in other posts, the pioneering Great Lakes sailors and sea captains were often local men who formed partnerships and built schooners to haul in passengers and goods from Buffalo, shipping out raw materials and farm products or furs. Perrysburg's main export in these early years was called "Ohio fur": bundles of white oak staves and heads for barrels piled high on the deck.

David Wilkeson came to Perrysburg from the Buffalo area shortly after the War of 1812. His uncle, a Captain James or Jacob Wilkeson, hired him on as a hand aboard the 25-ton schooner Black Snake in 1815, when he was about 15 years old. The tiny schooner brought the first band of refugees from Buffalo to resettle the Maumee Valley, and in turn took on Alman Gibbs and 40 soldiers who were the last garrison of Fort Meigs in May that year. (Gibbs soon returned, having married the daughter of settler Amos Spafford, and built a Greek revival house in what is now downtown Maumee). In 1817 while still a teenager he had assumed command of the schooner, and in 1818 was captain of the Pilot running between the Maumee River and Buffalo. Among his various sailing vessels were the 90-ton schooner Eagle, but in 1835 he launched the steamer Commodore Perry and sailed it as Captain and part owner for ten years. In 1845 he took command of the steamer Superior, and continued sailing until 1852 when he retired to his farm in Perrysburg. Even then, he took an active hand in seafaring life on the Maumee River, tending the lighthouse near Manhattan, Ohio on Maumee Bay (near modern Point Place).

While he made his career on Lake Erie, from an early age he had made Perryburg his home, and died there in 1873. Most of what we know about him comes from the personal recollections of a friend and fellow sailor named William Hodge, who published his memoir in 1883. Hodge, too, was a lifelong Erie sailor who lived at Buffalo, New York. As the terminus of the Erie Canal, and especially before ship canals were dug to bypass Niagara Falls, Buffalo was the gateway to the Great Lakes. 

There are a lot of good stories in William Hodge's book, which you can read in its entirety here. I've transcribed a few below:

Late in the month of November, 1833, westerly winds had prevailed at this end of the lake for about a week. Buffalo Creek had become quite filled with sail vessels, so much so, in fact, that there was but a narrow passageway left, only wide enough to allow one vessel to pass up and down the channel. Captain Wilkeson's schooner, the Eagle, was one of the thirty or more thus in waiting. The docks along the creek at this time were not very extensive, nearly or quite all lying below the foot of Main street... I was to take passage on the Eagle for Perrysburg, and early that morning Captain Wilkeson kindly sent a sailor out to my father's house (about three miles), to notify me that the vessel was ready to start, and was only waiting for me. I immediately rode down to the dock in a sleigh and went aboard. The Eagle was then quickly gotten under way. Most of the vessels that had been in the harbor were already off in the lake, and some were out of sight. We were soon beyond the pier... When fairly in the lake, with all sails set, for the wind was favorable though light, Captain Wilkeson directed the men to try the pumps, and to his great surprise found water in the hold. He therefore concluded to lay his course for Dunkirk, and kept the pumps going. He soon found that the vessel took in water when on one tack, but not when on the other. He then ordered the mate, Frank Bushaw, to lower the small boat and examine the vessel's sides. While he was doing so, I leaned over the port railing, and discovered a hole near the water's edge which had evidently been made by the fluke of an anchor while we were in the jam of vessels in the harbor. The Captain then gave orders to "about ship" and return... A carpenter was sent for, who repaired the broken plank. We then again set forth and once more were in the lake... Night set in, the light breeze continuing all night and the next day, and until almost one o'clock in the morning, when it shifted to the west, and blew a gale. The mate who had charge of the deck called to the Captain who was below, and wanted to know what he should do, as he could make no headway. The Captain turned out in a moment, and stopping half way up the companion way, asked what was the vessel's position. Being told how far we were above Cleveland, he then asked, "Can you make the lee of the islands by laying your course across the lake?" The mate replied, "I don't know." The Captain told him to "try it." He did so; and in the morning, we got under the lee of Cunningham's Island, now called Kelley's Island. I had been lying still in my berth, wide awake, all this time, as the vessel had tossed very much; but about daylight beginning to feel sea-sick, I concluded to go on deck and take the air. I did so, but the effort was too much, I was compelled to go to the rail. I hung on with both hands, and after a few heaves and surges, both the vessel and myself felt easier, as we soon got into still water. We continued our course without stopping, until we arrived at Swan Creek, now Toledo. After discharging part of our cargo at the warehouse there, we sailed up the Maumee River to Perrysburg. In consequence of this terrible gale, the Eagle, though the last of all that fleet of vessels to leave port, and notwithstanding the delay on account of the leak, was the first to reach her intended destination, while many of those vessels were driven on shore, the Guerriere, which was also owned by Captain Wilkeson, being of this number; and several were totally wrecked.

After many years of captaining sailing vessels, Wilkeson contracted with F. N. Jones, a shipbuilder from Buffalo, to build a steamboat, the Commodore Perry, at Perrysburg for him. One of his shareholders, or part-owners of the ship was the Eagle's cook, an African-American man named Joseph Langford. According to Hodge, Langford's wife was one of "the most lady-like and stylish women in Perrysburg." He continued to serve as cook aboard the Commodore Perry. One day, after most of the passengers had eaten dinner and Langford was sitting down to eat his own, he was interrupted by a passenger who had been late for dinner. Seeing Langford eating, the passenger declared he would not eat with a person of color. Langford indignantly replied "I should like to know who has a better right to eat his dinner aboard that boat than one of the owners." In later years, according to a 2008 article I found, Joseph Langford lived in a house on Mulberry Street in Perrysburg and guided travelers on the Underground Railroad, using a fast pony by night to help them reach the Canadian border. Langford and his wife definitely deserve some more research.

Captain Wilkeson, who Hodge described as so punctual that he once cast off at the scheduled time of departure, even though he saw his own wife hurrying down the bank of the Maumee to catch the boat, even pioneered breaking the Lake Erie ice:

In those early days of lake commerce, in the spring, or late in the winter, just before the opening of navigation, every one seemed busy along the docks in fitting out both steam and sail vessels. Sometimes, however, these would be delayed in commencing their trips until quite late in the season on account of the "ice blockade." I presume there are many now living who remember the delay caused at Buffalo by the ice, in the spring of 1837. All the vessels in the harbor had been for several weeks ready to leave, but found it impossible to get out. Boats would go out to the line of the ice and make an attempt to break through, but their efforts were in vain. They would have to work themselves back out of the jam and return to their berths in the harbor. Vessels and steamboats from the west would be seen to come down to the edge of the floating ice, and after reconnoitering would return. In this state of affairs, when Captain Wilkeson with his steamboat Commodore Perry came down, it being his second trip from Perrysburg that spring, he determined not to be balked at a second time, and resolved to work his way through if possible, even though it broke all the buckets on the paddle-wheels, and cut through the planking of the boat. To resolve with him was to act. He plunged into the ice, and all hands exerted themselves with a will to force the boat through. After many hours of hard labor, and a general destruction of the buckets and some of the arms of the wheels, the Perry emerged from the ice-pack into clear water, and in a crippled state steamed slowly up the harbor... Captain Wilkeson was the hero of the day. Through the energy and confidence he had displayed in this emergency, as in others, he had succeeded, by breaking the blockade, in setting the many captives free, for the channel made through the ice by the Perry remained open, ,and within an hour several sail vessels had taken advantage of it, and before the sun went down were out beyond the ice. Others continued to follow, and there was no further obstruction. The Commodore Perry was thus the first boat which came in the spring, arriving the 16th day of May. 

Throughout this time, his farm at Perrysburg didn't necessarily receive as much attention as his ships: 

Some of his friends at home "ran him" pretty hard, at one time, about his paying so much attention and giving so much care to his steamboat, and neglecting his homestead. They said that he kept his boat in good repair, all painted up nice and fine, but neglected his premises at home; that his house looked dusty and brown, wanted painting and brushing up. So they offered to contribute and furnish the materials if he would have this renewing done. He answered them by saying he did not believe in this half-way charity giving, and when he did a person a favor he did not stop half way, but carried it out fully. "Now," said he, "if you furnish the paints and materials and two good workmen to put it on, I will consent that you may have the job."

 All told, Captain Wilkeson sailed the schooners Black Snake, Pilot, Nancy Jane, President, Superior, Guerriere, and Eagle; and the sidewheel steamers Commodore Perry and Superior. Most of these were built at Perrysburg. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The October Gale of 1813 and the Wreck of the Schooner Chippeway


From Oliver Hazard Perry to Secretary of War William Jones:

U S Schooner Ariel

Detroit 10th October 1813


I am very apprehensive that the Schr Chippeway commanded by Midn. Tatem has been lost, she sailed from Put in Bay some days since with several officers and a great quantity of baggage belonging to the army. She was seen near the mouth of the Detroit River in a violent squall, since that time no information has been received from her, several trunks known to have been put on board at the Bay have driven on shore near Malden.

I entertain also serious fears for the safety of the Ohio, Sailing Master Dobbins, it blew a most violent gale at the time he was expected from Cleveland, with a load of provisions, his not having arrived, although there has been sufficient time, almost confirms me in the opinion that she has been lost.

These misfortunes have been attended with serious consequences to the service. The Ohio has the provisions on board, and the Chippeway the clothing for the troops which was destined for Michilimackinac. This, sir, with the near approach of winter, has obliged the Commd in Chief of the Army and myself reluctantly to give up that expedition. We have however determined to proceed against any establishments the enemy may have at Long Point. The troops are now embarking for that purpose.

Very respectfully 

I have the honor 

To be sir 

Your Obd. Srvt 

O. H. Perry

The loss of several ships of his fleet during an October, 1813 gale was a drastic misfortune for Commodore Perry as well as the American cause during the War of 1812. He and General William Henry Harrison  had been planning an expedition to capture Mackinac from the British before the end of the sailing season. Had they succeeded, they would have completed the reconquest of the northwestern frontier and effectively ended British influence with the western Indian nations. As it happened, they were forced to call off the expedition and head to the Niagara frontier instead. Another major setback occurred when an officer carrying dispatches was washed overboard and drowned. The exact identity of this officer remains unclear, but according to a Buffalo newspaper at the time, Captain William Brown was a member of General Jacob Brown's staff at Sackett's Harbor, as well as a brother of the General. The orders he carried included timely instructions for Harrison and Perry to embark as many soldiers as they could and land them so as to cut off the British stronghold at Burlington Heights. As many know, the American failure to follow up the capture of Fort George by capturing the steep heights at Burlington, at the western end of Lake Ontario, led to the loss of all their gains along the Niagara frontier, as well as the loss of Fort Schlosser, Niagara, and the burning of Buffalo.

Here's an account from the Buffalo newspaper:

On Tuesday last a schooner was discovered off Sturgeon Point, under bare poles, and evidently in distress. At 7 o'clock the schooner made the mouth of Buffalo Creek and anchored off---making signals of distress; having no pilot on board and the swells running too high for a boat to venture out to her relief, she lay at anchor until 11 o'clock, when the wind freshened, the schooner dragged her kedge anchor, (having lost the other) and beached 50 or 60 rods below Buffalo Creek. She proved to be the U. S. Schooner CHIPPEWA, captured from the British September 10th., Robert S. Tatem, master, who sailed from Put-In-Bay with baggage of the 27th. and 28th. Regiments U. S. Inf'y and some stores, and was bound to Malden; on the 10th. inst, within a few miles of the Detroit River, she parted with her anchor, in a storm (the sane as was felt at this place), and her sails blowing to pieces she became unmanageable, and it became necessary for the preservation of the lives of the crew, to heave overboard the baggage on deck, which was considerable, and belonged principally to the Officers of the 27th. Regt. The gale increased to such an degree, that it was with great difficulty that the schooner was kept above water. Many times during the way down, several of the crew inform us that the deck was frequently knee deep under water. The crew and passengers, consisting of about 40 persons, among whom, were three officers of the Army, and William Brown Esq., brother and aide of General Brown, at Sackett's harbor, who was on express from Sackett's harbor to Gen. Harrison; and melancholy to relate, fell a sacrifice to his imprudence, after suffering and escaping together with the rest of the crew, the fury of the storm; but a few minutes before the schooner beached, he, notwithstanding the most pressing entreaties of the officers on board, seized an oar and jumped overboard, probably fearing the vessel was going on the rocks, and thinking to reach the shore on the oar; but alas ! vain were his hopes, his strength was so far exhausted with the fatigues of the storm that he sank to rise no more. 

There was no person lost, except the gentleman above stated. The amount of property lost cannot be estimated, as the contents of most of the trunks which were lost were unknown to the officers. The vessel was very little injured, and will after undergoing some necessary repairs, the first fair wind proceed up the lake. 

The property in the hold was all preserved, although some damaged by the weather. 

      the Buffalo Gazette 

      Tuesday, October, 19, 1813 (quoted from Maritime History of the Great Lakes)

The interesting thing about the loss of the Chippewa is that there is an eyewitness account from the memoirs of  David Bunnell, whose account of the Battle of Lake Erie I posted last time.

After the battle on Lake Erie, three others and myself were embarked on board the schooner Chippewa, with orders to make the best of our way to Put-in-Bay. The prisoners had been previously sent on board the Niagara. We arrived at Put-in-Bay in the evening; the next day about ten o'clock, the whole sqaudron, with three prizes, came into the harbor. They were all in a shattered condition-- the Lawrence in particular, could scarcely float. The masts of the British vessels were so much shattered that they fell the first breeze.

I was ordered to remain on board the Chippewa, as second in command. She ran between Put-in-Bay and Detroit as a packet.--We made several trips--the last trip we made, we had on board forty soldiers and their officers. We proceeded to an island called the "Middle Sisters." I saw from the appearance of the weather, that we were going to have a S.W. gale, and requested the captain to remain for a while, but he refused, and we made sail and proceeded to the entrance of Malden river, but the wind was so dead ahead, that we could not get into it, and we came to anchor about three miles to the northward. About daylight the next morning, there sprang up a severe gale, and every thing around seemed to bid us prepare for a shipwreck. We thought by running down to an island called "Point-au-Plait," we could remain in safety--but on arriving, we found it impossible to run close enough to the island to enable us to get on shore, and our only alternative was to scud before the wind as long as we could find sea room. It blew almost a hurricane. I stood at the helm thirty hours--when I had become so fatigued--drenched with rain, and going without sleep--that I was compelled to give the helm to another, and take a little rest.

The violence of the waves had stove in our cabin windows, and we were obliged to stuff bed blankets in them to prevent the vessel from filling.

This was the third day of the gale, and I knew by the distance we had sailed, that we must be near the lower end of the lake. There was not a person on board that knew how to take the vessel over the rapids; consequently we concluded to come to anchor near the mouth of Buffalo creek, and remain until the next morning, and then get a pilot from the shore. We had only a small key anchor, weighing about 200 lbs. The gale had considerably abated, and so long as it should remain so, this anchor should be sufficient; and should it commence blowing with greater violence, before morning, we resolved to let her drag it until she should get below the reef, into the eddy, and then to land on Buffalo beach, which would be the means of saving all our lives, if not the vessel.

About twelve o'clock at night, the gale was renewed with greater violence than ever--the anchor, as we expected, did not hold ten minutes. As soon as the vessel began to drift, the Captain (who, by the bye, was more of an officer than a sailor,) was alarmed, and ordered the cable and mainmast to be cut. The latter would have endangered the lives of half on board, and the former would have run the vessel on Buffalo reef, where the sea was breaking higher than our mast-heads, and there would not have been, probably, a single soul saved.

In a moment I discovered our danger, and expostulated with the Captain; but it was in vain.

I knew my life, as well as those of all on board, was in iminent danger; and I saw no other alternative than to take the command myself. I represented our situation to the officers on board, who sanctioned my determination. I took a pistol in my hand, (which by the way was not loaded,) and threatened to shoot the first man who should disobey my orders. Wait, said I,  a few moments, and you shall all get on shore without wetting your feet. "I shall report you for a mutineer," threatened the Captain. I cannot help it, I replied; my life is dear to me, and I wish to preserve the lives of others on board.--There was a paymaster on board who did not put confidence enough in me to pay attention to what I told him, and when the vessel began to strike heavy, was so much frightened that he jumped overboard--we never saw him again--he was the only person that was either lost or hurt. In a few minutes, the vessel was drove upon the beach, about a quarter of a mile below Buffalo creek, and we all landed safe on shore, and the next morning I went to Buffalo, where I remained until Com. Perry and Admiral Barclay came down from Erie.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Crowbars and Swivel Guns: a Sailor's Description of the Battle of Lake Erie


The original "Don't Give Up The Ship" battle flag. The flag as displayed today has white letters sewn onto a brown fabric, but most accounts agree that the fabric was originally blue. 

September 10 marks the anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie. It was the first time an American naval squadron met a British squadron in a pitched battle, and also the turning point in the struggle for control of the northwestern theater of the War of 1812. Although it was not the last naval engagement on the Great Lakes, or indeed Lake Erie, it was the last pitched battle between warships on the lakes above Niagara. 

The Brig Lawrence, Commodore Olive Hazard Perry's flagship, took the brunt of the firepower of the British ships for most of the battle, as the brigs Caledonia and Niagara failed to close the range and support her. Eventually, after even the walking wounded and surgeon's assistants had been asked to come on deck and serve the last gun were themselves unable to fight the ship, Perry and and handful of remaining able bodied men manned a boat that he rowed back to the Niagara (a lot has been made of Perry moving from ship to ship in a boat, but in fact it wasn't unusual for ship's boats to move between vessels in a fleet when in combat. Perry sent his second in command, Jesse Elliott, off in the same boat to bring up the other small vessels in the squadron.) 

David C. Bunnell was one of the last unwounded sailors in the Lawrence, and therefore helped man the boat and transferred to the Niagara during the height of the battle, and manned a gun on that brig. I've heard a story about a "smaller cannon" being loaded into a larger one and fired at the British during the battle--it is therefore interesting to find that Bunnell's memoir is the source of this anecdote. It is very plausible, because with smooth-bore muzzleloading cannon anything that will fit down the muzzle can serve as a makeshift projectile. In this case, the "small cannon" was a 2-pounder bronze swivel gun, a type of weapon typically mounted on a rail or up in the fighting top and crammed with small grapeshot or scrap iron for antipersonnel work. It was found after the battle aboard the British flagship Detroit.

Ironically, once Perry and his Don't Give Up The Ship flag transferred to the Niagara, the survivors in the Lawrence struck their colors to surrender; but the British never had the chance to take possession of her, before the intact Niagara was in among them with a double broadside.

From the memoirs of David C. Bunnell, 1831:

Commodore Perry ordered his flag to be hoisted. We knew this flag was on board, but none of us knew what the motto was, until it was unfurled to the breeze--when we discovered the dying words of the brave Lawrence--"DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP!"

This flag was eighteen feet long and nine broad--painted blue--the letters on it very large and white. When it was unfurled, the whole squadron gave three cheers. Every soul seemed animated by one feeling. 

All were busy in getting every thing in the best possible order for the battle--the shot were got up from below--the guns well loaded and primed--and all was in complete readiness.--The drums beat to quarters, and every man repaired to his station. The words "Silence--stand to your quarters!" were given, and the signal to form a line. The wind was light, and our line was soon formed, when we bore down upon the enemy in perfect order...

There being only a light wind, we neared the enemy very slowly, which gave us a little time for reflection. Such a scene as this, creates in one's mind feelings not easily described. The word "silence" was again given--we stood in awful impatience--not a word was spoken--not a sound heard, except now and then an order to trim a sail, and the boatswain's shrill whistle. It seemed like the awful silence that precedes an earthquake. This was a time to try the stoutest heart. My pulse beat quick--all nature seemed wrapped in awful suspense--the dart of death hung as it were trembling by a single hair, and no one knew on whose head it would fall. At length there was a gun fired from the Detroit, and the action commenced. A gentle zephyr had wafted us near the enemy, and then died away--and it seemed as if old Boreas had suspended all his operations to view the fight. Our all was at stake. America had never before had an opportunity since she became a nation, of meeting squadron to squadron.

No sooner had the first gun been fired from the Detroit, than they opened a tremendous fire from their whole line, of round, grape and canister shot. The Scorpion, Tigress and Ariel, having long guns, returned their fire with considerable effect. Our vessel (the Lawrence) carried 20 guns--ten on each side-- eighteen 32 pound carronades, and two long nines. My comrades fell on all sides of me.--One man who stood next to me, was most shockingly wounded--having both of his legs shot off, and a number of the spikes from the bulwark drove into his body. He was carried below, and survived until he heard victory proclaimed--he then exclaimed, "I die in peace," and immediately expired.

The whole of the enemy's line kept up an incessant fire, and our impatience became almost insupportable, but our ever watchful Commodore knew what was best to be done, and ordered the long gun to be manned, and fired; it was done in an instant, and the shot reached the enemy.--We kept up a fire with it for a few minutes, when an order from our commander put every man in motion--"Stand by"-- a second intervened-- "Fire." I do not think there was more than a second's variation in the whole broad side--every gun seemed to speak at once.

I shall not attempt to give a perfect detail of every trivial transaction that took place after we began to fire; that would be supererogation. I paid particular attention to the gun which I had charge of, and loaded and fired as fast as possible, and at one time in a great hurry, shoved in a crowbar, and I found after the action was over that it did its duty on board the Detroit, by cutting away three shrouds of her main rigging.

At last my gun got so warm that it jumped entirely out of its carriage, which rendered it useless. Five of my men out of eight were either killed or wounded. I went to the next gun and found there but one man left, but by the assistance of my three she was soon made to play again. I could now only hear an occasional gun fired from our vessel. I looked up to see if our flag was still flying, and with pleasure beheld, partly obscured by smoke, the star spangled banner yet waving, and head Perry exclaim, "Man the boat."

I looked along the deck, and such a sight at any other time would have made me shudder, but now in the height of action, I only thought to say to myself, "poor souls!" The deck was in a shocking predicament. Death had been very busy. It was one continued gore of blood and carnage--the dead and dying were strewed in every direction over it--for it was impossible to take the wounded below as fast as they fell.

There were four embarked in the small boat with Perry, and six remained on board the Lawrence. These ten were all that remained unhurt out of upwards of one hundred. There was one brave fellow by the name of Bird, who was mortally wounded, but refused to leave the deck as long as he could be of the least service.*

On board the Niagara, to which vessel Perry went in the height of the battle, and through an incessant fire from the enemy, there was at this time but one killed and three wounded. Perry made the signal to close with the enemy--we made sail for that purpose, and were soon in close contact with the British, adn the action was renewed with great vigor. The only words I recollect of hearing Perry say were-- "Take good aim my boys, don't waste your shot."

The smoke was so dense that it was impossible to see the enemy--but we were so close to them, that by firing on a level we could not miss--their vessel being so much higher out of water than ours. The Lawrence stuck her colors for a little time, and then hoisted them.

I stooped down to get a shot, and accidentally put my hand on a small brass swivel, (it was nine inches long and would carry about a two pound ball;) it struck me in an instant that it would be a handsome present for "John Bull"--so I rammed it into my gun and let it go--it was found after the action on board the Detroit...

The action raged with great fury on both sides for some time, when Perry, finding that our ammunition began to grow short, resolved to make one finishing blow. He ran down with the intention of boarding, but the Queen Charlotte had run afoul of the Detroit, which rendered her useless, as she could not fire at us without killing her own men--while our shot took effect in both of them. Our flag was once shot away, which produced three cheers from the enemy--but they were sadly mistaken--it was soon hoisted again. In short, after a bloody and well contested conflict of three hours and forty eight minutes, the undaunted Union of Great Britain came down.

The Sloop Little Belt attempted to make sail and steer for Malden-- the Scorpion gave her chase, and, fired a "long tom" at her: the first shot struck close to her stern--the next entered her starboard quarter, and went out at her larboard bow, and she surrendered. This made the victory complete. Not a soul escaped.

Some notes (separated in the original text in brackets) Bunnell made about the combat:

During the action a shot struck a man in the head, who was standing close by me; his brains flew so thick in my face, that I was for some time blinded, and for a few moments was at a loss to ascertain whether it was him or me that was killed.--We had peas boiling for dinner--our place for cooking was on deck, and during the action a shot had penetrated the boiler, and the peas were rolling all over the deck,--we had several pigs loose on deck, and I actually saw one of them eating peas that had both his hind legs shot off-- and a little dog belonging to one of the officers, that was wounded, ran from one end of the vessel to the other, howling in the most dreadful manner.** --A hardy old tar who acted in the station of "Stopperman," (when any of the rigging is partly shot away, they put a stopper on the place, to prevent it from going away entirely,) discovering our main stay partly shot away, jumped and began to put a stopper on, and while in the act, another shot cut the stay away below him, which let him swing with great force against the mast-- He very gravely observed,--"Damn you, if you must have it, take it."--A shot from the enemy struck one of our guns, within a quarter of an inch of the calibre; little pieces of metal few in every direction, and wounded almost every man at piece. One man was filled full of little pieces of cast iron, from his knees to his chin, some not bigger than the head of a pin, and none larger than a buck shot; he, however recovered.

*James Bird was a Marine corporal who was wounded, but survived the battle. Despite his distinguished service during the Battle of Lake Erie, he deserted in 1814, was captured, and was executed by firing squad on the quarterdeck of the Niagara, along with a private who had deserted with him. A sailor who had deserted five times was hung from the yardarm "at the same moment." (Diary of Usher Parsons, November 11, 1814).