by Peter Huston
This month the Ida Rupp Library is focusing on genealogy. As a board member of the Perry Group (friendsofperry.org) I wanted to get you excited about Oliver Hazard Perry’s return. In 2023 we will be celebrating the “Bicen+10” of Perry’s Victory. That’s 200 plus ten years celebration of Perry victory. Not many people alive today can claim to be directly related to O.H. Perry. His iconicimage is part of our countries history.
For me Commodore Perry aboard a rowing gig transferring his command from the Brig Lawrence to the Brig Niagara during the Battle of Lake Erie is one of these powerful iconic American scenes, the most famous painted by Ohio artist William Henry Powell in 1857. The scene has been painted repeatedly and it is “the image” that we attach to the Navy’s most steadfast motto, “Don’t Give Up The Ship”. And while Perry is not the originator of that slogan, his love for his fallen friend James Lawrence, commander of the “Chesapeake”, propelled him to create the “DGUTS” flag that has made it one of our most well known historical American folklore images. Surprisingly, today the “DGUTS” flag image stands alone from the Battle of Lake Erie. For many Americans the slogan, the flag, even the painting are not necessarily attached to the heroic events that made Perry’s success in the Battle of Lake Erie become legendary in his own day.
There are dozens of versions of this iconic scene. From the black and white lithograph from Yale’s collection to the most famous Powell version that adorns the rotunda outside the halls of congress. Some of these paintings have as few as 6 men aboard, while others have as many as 10. Some show Perry carrying the “DGUTS” flag, others have the American Colors flying from the bow. One thing we can be fairly certain about, when Perry was being rowed to the Niagara the battle was still raging all about him. He probably did not have many able bodied men left after the Lawrence had been pummeled practically into splinters. I would also bet he did not want to draw overt attention to himself. Never the less the image we hold dear today is what we are after, but as historically correct as possible.
I can’t believe how lucky we are to have this authentic replica of the country’s most iconic historical Navy symbols on display at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial every summer. Our journey to build this infamous boat, took us to Boston, Burlington (VT), Newport (RI) and Erie. We enlisted the expert eye of Bob Reynolds Grandson of Scott Matthews (Matthews Boat Company) to help us in this quest.
Thanks to Riddle Boat Works, the Sandusky Maritime Museum, Bob Reynolds and Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial you can learn about and see this living icon. I promise you need to see it with your own eyes this year, in all its glory. Follow our journey to 2023 and the