Last updated: January 18, 2017
To have an understanding of the ships, it is best to first know the basics of each ship; although, to list both the American and British ships’ histories would be extensive. Therefore, this post will focus on the American side and while an earlier post the British. Below is a list of the American sailing vessels, their classification, their armament at the time of the Battle of Lake Erie, and how they met their end:
|United States Navy (USA)||Scorpion||Schooner||1 Long Gun
|1831 – Broken Up|
|Ariel||Schooner||4 Long Guns||Unknown|
|Lawrence||Brig||2 Long Guns
|1876 – Burnt in a Fire|
|Caledonia||Brig||2 Long Guns
Sunk or Dismantled
|Niagara||Brig||2 Long Guns
|Present Day – Used as a Sailing School|
|Somers||Schooner||1 Long Gun
|Porcupine||Schooner||1 Long Gun||1873 - Beached|
|Tigress||Schooner||1 Long Gun||1815 - Sunk|
|Trippe||Sloop||1 Long Gun||1813 – Burnt by British|
|Total||9||15 Long Guns
The United States Navy
USS SCORPION (1813-1831)Constructed in 1813 at Erie, Pennsylvania, the USS Scorpion was made for war. During the Battle of Lake Erie, it was commanded by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s first cousin Stephen Champlin; the same Champlin would sail aboard the Scorpion the duration of the war until its later capture by the British – an event that left him wounded.
It is said that the Scorpion fired the first shots of the Battle and received the last one. It’s also worthy to note that it participated in the capture of the HMS Little Belt and HMS Chippeway. After the Battle, it transported the U.S. Army’s troop, ammunition, and other equipment to the Canadian territory.
In 1814, while patrolling its assigned waters in Lake Huron, it met a cruel twist of fate: the USS Tigress, captured just days earlier, encountered the Scorpion as it was blockading British supply routes. The newly commissioned British warship took the ship as prize, instated it as the HMS Confiance, and sailed against the Americans for the remainder of the War of 1812. It wasn’t until 1817 that the Scorpion, now Confiance, was placed into the British naval reserves and later broken up in 1831 (“USS Scorpion (1813)”).
Like the USS Scorpion, the USS Ariel was built in Erie, Pennsylvania. It did not have a long naval career on the Great Lakes until it fought in the Battle of Lake Erie. Afterwards, it’s implied that the Ariel assisting in ferrying U.S. troops across Lake Erie, but nothing is certain. In fact, not many historians can
USS ARIEL (1813-Unknown)
agree on its eventual fate, either. The Ariel may have been burned during the Battle of Buffalo by the British, continued to raid British settlements along the Great Lakes, or simply wrecked sometime in 1814 (“USS Ariel (1813)”).
US BRIG LAWRENCE (1813-1876)Another ship built at Erie, Pennsylvania and another to fight in the Battle of Lake Erie: the US Brig Lawrence was constructed in 1813 under the supervision of Oliver Hazard Perry. While it had the honor of being Commodore Perry’s flagship, it also took the greatest casualty rate of the Battle – over 80% were killed or wounded. There is something to be said, however, that the Lawrence did not strike its colors until every last gun on its engaged side was disabled.
The ship was later brought back to the site of its creation, Erie, Pennsylvania, where it was intentionally sunk. This same sunken hull was sold in 1825 and remained underwater for fifty more years. In 1875, these remains were raised, transported to Philadelphia by rail, and put on display for the United States’ Centennial Exhibition of 1876. Unfortunately, a fire broke out at the Exhibition and burned what remained of the Lawrence (“USS Lawrence (1813)”).
US BRIG CALEDONIA (1807-1830)This vessel began as a fur-trading merchant transport in 1807 at Amherstburg, Canada. At the outbreak of the war, the Caledonia was taken into the Provincial Marine and participated in the Battle of Mackinac Island. After the Americans lost Detroit, it shipped troops and goods from the western half of Lake Erie to the Niagara River where the Canadians correctly anticipated another American invasion attempt. While at Fort Erie, it was boarded by an American party led by Jessie Elliott, the same Elliott who would fight in the Battle of Lake Erie. The Americans managed to successfully flee with the Caledonia back to American waters where it was officially purchased by the U.S. Navy and put into service.
After the Battle of Lake Erie, it was used to transport American troops across the Lake to Canadian territory and to Detroit. Having finished its service to the U.S. Navy, it was sold in 1815 and refitted as a merchant ship called the General Wayne. From here, it is said that it sank in the 1830s or that it was dismantled around the same time in Erie, Pennsylvania. More recently in 2009, there was speculation that its sunken hull was discovered at the Bottom of Lake Erie, although this has not been confirmed (“USS Caledonia (1812)”).
US BRIG NIAGARA (1812-Today)Sister ship to the US Brig Lawrence, the US Brig Niagara was launched in 1813. Commanded by Commodore Jessie Elliott during the Battle of Lake Erie, the Niagara was supposed to engage its pre-determined enemy ship the HMS Queen Charlotte, but it famously held back out of range. After Perry’s flagship, the Lawrence, became disabled, Commodore Perry transferred to and took command of the Niagara; he then sailed this vessel into victory over the British.
After the Battle, the Niagara acted as a transport vessel for the U.S. Army troops moving into Canada. Later in the war, it participated in multiple other engagements. The War of 1812 came to an end but the ship was not sunk or sold like the Lawrence, Queen Charlotte, or Detroit; instead, it was used as a receiving ship or a ship where new sailors were stationed before getting official duty orders (“Hulk (Ship Type)”). At last, in 1820 it was sunk in Erie, Pennsylvania. In 1825, though, it was bought by Benjamin H. Brown and then sold to George Miles in 1836. Mr. Miles floated the Niagara and intended to use it as a merchant ship, but discovered that it did not have a hold large enough so he sunk it once more.
It wasn’t until the Battle of Lake Erie’s centennial in 1913 did the Niagara made its reappearance. It was floated again, rebuilt, and launched that same year. After being towed and toured around the Great Lakes, it was left in Erie, Pennsylvania’s harbor until a decision was made to turn it into an outdoor museum piece. In 1986, the decision was made to turn it into a working, sailing vessel; the repairs were finished in 1990 and by 2005 the U.S. Coast Guard certified it as a Sailing School Vessel, which is remains to this day (“USS Niagara (1813)”).
USS SOMERS (1812-Unknown)
Named after Master Commandant Richard Somers, a U.S. Naval officer killed and buried in Tripoli during the First Barbary War, the USS Somers was originally named the Catherine until purchased by the U.S. Navy for $5,000 in 1812. In the Battle of Lake Erie, the Somers engaged the British vessels, primarily the HMS Hunter and HMS Queen Charlotte with its sole long gun. Almost a year after the Battle, in 1814, British boats - disguised as friendly provisional boats – approached and boarded the Somers; unfortunately for the Americans, the British successfully captured and recommissioned it as the HMS Somers for the remainder of the war. It is not known what happened to the Somers after 1815 (“USS Somers (1812)”).
USS PORCUPINE (1813-1873)
Like many of the American fleet, the USS Porcupine was built in Erie, Pennsylvania in early 1813. After participating in the Battle of Lake Erie, it was used as a hospital ship for captured enemy seamen. Nearly a year later in August 1814, the Porcupine almost met the same fate as the USS Somers – captured by the British in a night raid – but managed to escape. For the remainder of the War of 1812, it ferried and protected the U.S. Army across the Lakes. In 1819 it was brought back to Erie, Pennsylvania where it was refitted and given over to the “Collector of Revenue” in Detroit that same year. In 1821, the Porcupine returned to the U.S. Navy but remained inactive until sold four years later. From then on it was used as a cargo or merchant vessel on the Great Lakes; at last, in 1873, it was deemed unseaworthy and beached at Spring Lake near Grand Haven, Michigan (“USS Porcupine (1813)”).
USS TIGRESS (1813-1815)Another ship built in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1813, the USS Tigress was originally named the Amelia before being purchased by the U.S. Navy that same year. After participating in the Battle of Lake Erie, the Tigress assisted the U.S. Army in transporting its troops across Lake Erie; it also aided in the capture of Fort Malden, recapturing the city of Detroit, Michigan, and later participating in the Battle of the Thames. In 1814, both the Tigress and the Scorpion were captured by a stealthy boarding party of British soldiers as the ships blockaded the Nottawasaga River. Unfortunately, both vessels were successfully captured by the British. Promptly, the Royal Navy recommissioned the USS Tigress as the HMS Surprise and sailed it under the Union Jack until the end of the War of 1812. The Tigress, now Surprise, was allowed to sink in the Grand River (“USS Tigress (1813)”).
USS TRIPPE (1812-1813)Originally named the Contractor, the USS Trippe was purchased by the U.S. Navy in 1812. It sailed to and joined Commodore Perry’s fleet in Lake Erie later that year where it protected the harbor at Erie, Pennsylvania while the rest of the ships were being constructed. Eventually, the British and American clashed at the Battle of Lake Erie where the Trippe primarily dueled with the HMS Lady Prevost and HMS Little Belt. As the British vessels Chippeway and Little Belt attempted to flee, the Trippe and Scorpion caught and captured them. After the Battle, the Trippe acted as a transport vessel for the U.S. Army as they moved into Upper Canada. Later on, in 1813, the British invaded Buffalo, New York, where the Trippe had run aground and burned it (“USS Trippe (1812)”).
A Miniature of the Ariel. War Artisan's Workshop, Jeffrey Knudsen, www.warartisan.com/workbench. Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
"Battle of Lake Erie." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 June 2016. Web. 4 Aug. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lake_Erie#Battle>.
Brig Niagara Full Sail. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a4/Brig_Niagara_full_sail.jpg. Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
"Hulk (Ship Type)." Wikipedia, 22 Apr. 2016, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hulk_(ship_type)#Receiving_hulk. Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
Nottawasage River Inlet. Digital file.
Perry Transferring Ships. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/01/Battle_erie.jpg. Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
Richard Somers. BlogSpot, 1.bp.blogspot.com/-wZK2CyeALZM/UP3Y-TkYEKI/AAAAAAAAAPk/BUJw9pCEZfE/s1600/ LtRichardSomers.jpg. Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
Stephen Champlin. Find a Grave, www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=29864451. Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
Spring Lake, Michigan. JPG file.
Sunken Hull of Caledonia. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, www.archive.xray-mag.com/files/ USSCaledonia2.jpeg. Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
The Burning of Buffalo. JPG file.
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"USS Caledonia (1812)." Wikipedia, 27 Oct. 2015, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Caledonia_(1812). Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
"USS Lawrence (1813)." Wikipedia, 1 Feb. 2016, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Lawrence_(1813). Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
"USS Niagara (1813)." Wikipedia, 1 Aug. 2016, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Niagara_(1813). Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
"USS Porcupine (1813)." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Feb. 2016, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Porcupine_(1813). Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
"USS Scorpion (1813)." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Oct. 2015, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ USS_Scorpion_(1813). Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
"USS Somers (1812)." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundations, 27 Oct. 2015, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Somers_(1812). Accessed 6 Aug. 2016.
"USS Tigress (1813)." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Nov. 2015, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Tigress_(1813). Accessed 7 Aug. 2016.
"USS Trippe (1812)." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Nov. 2015, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Trippe_(1812). Accessed 7 Aug. 2016.