The Niagara Frontier - A Beautiful region of America.

"How Commodore Perry's Victory in the War of 1812 changed Buffalo and America's Future"


Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in Front Park, Buffalo, NY



"How Commodore Perry's Victory in the War of 1812 changed Buffalo and America's Future"

Donald Louis Hamilton, All rights reserved

    The future of the Great Lakes region of the U.S. was changed forever in the war of 1812 by Commodore Perry's heroic victory at the Battle of Lake Erie. Although historians down play the significance of the war of 1812, I feel Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's victory was the most significant action of the war. The battle took place near Sandusky and Put-in Bay, Ohio on September 10, 1813. The aftermath of the battle had far reaching effects on America's future. President Madison's War of 1812 against British arrogance brought new respect to America from nations all over the world. The war was already over although not yet ratified by the U.S. Senate when Andrew Jackson won his great victory at New Orleans and didn't have any effect on the peace treaty.

    Commodore Perry not only won the battle but also oversaw some of the ships' construction at Presque Isle Erie, PA and had them manned and went out to battle the British. His flag ship the USS Lawrence was severely damaged early in the battle. With his ship in shambles and four/fifths of his crew either killed or wounded he decided he would shift his command to the USS Niagara.

    With such American devastation the British thought that they had won the battle and that Perry would withdraw from the battle but Commodore Perry was not finished. He was rowed over to the USS Niagara in the thick of battle where he relieved USS Niagara's Captain Elliot who had failed to support him in the battle. He hoisted his colors on the Niagara and went head long into the battle against the surprised Captain Barclay with all guns blazing. He attacked the British fleet with such ferocity that he soon overwhelmed, destroyed and captured the whole British flotilla. The Battle of Lake Erie was one Britain's most decisive defeats in their naval history. British Captain Barclay and his officers were court marshalled but found innocent because they had fought gallantly but had been overwhelmed by the ferocity of the Commodore Perry's attack. Perry went through the whole battle, with people dying all around him unscathed.

    After the battle Perry saw to it that the dead on both sides were properly buried and the captured British sailors were well treated. Afterwards he sent a short note to General William Henry Harrison saying; "We have met the enemy and they are ours". It had been a full day for the 29 year old Commodore and a great victory for America!

    I think the next great decisive naval victory of equal magnitude for America was at the Battle of Midway some 129 years later. The two victorious naval battles were on a vastly different scale and technology but both severely weakened their enemy and uplifted the morale of the American people in dire times.

    Perry's victory had far reaching effects for our country. The British navy no longer dominated the Great Lakes. The battle had cut the British supply lines to the west and forced them to abandon Fort Detroit and retreat to the east with General Harrison in hot pursuit. Commodore Perry helped General Harrison conduct his campaign into Canada with an amphibious landing of 2000 troops in Canada. These battles were the turning point of British control of the western territories. With the loss of their British allies the Native American tribes could no longer stand up to American expansion and were forced to sign treaties with the Americans. There was much suffering and mayhem in these times. Many of the tribes crossed into Canada and established themselves there.

    The Great Lakes where now dominated by the Americans along with the vast Native American territories west of the Great Lakes to what became known as "America's Bread Basket". From then on America was in charge of the territory south and west of the Great Lakes much to the chagrin of the British. After great Chief Tecumseh's death and retreat of the British the native tribes alliance's fell apart and they were forced to sign treaties with the Americans opening up their vast fertile territories for settlement.

    Before the war Buffalo was just a sleepy little village located at the east end of Lake Erie and head of the Niagara river. Even though the little village was sacked and burned to the ground by the British on December 30, 1813, the war proved to be the turning point for Buffalo as the village rose from its ashes and went on to become one of America's premier cities of the 19th and 20th centuries.

    It was still early in the war though, and many bloody battles were fought along the Niagara frontier after Perry's victory with neither side being clearly dominant. Toward the end of the war the battle of Plattsburg was also a decisive victory for the area by repelling the British invasion around Lake Champlain and may have figured in the final peace treaty. All this time the British and Americans had been negotiating a peace treaty to end the war.

    The British wanted the western territories returned to the Native Americans to serve as a buffer zone to prevent the immigrants from moving west and settling that vast new territory but the Americans would have none of that. The Americans wanted the British to stop kidnapping American sailors on the high seas but the British didn't want to talk about that so the war went on. In the end neither of these terms were mentioned in the final treaty (The Treaty of Ghent) but America kept control of the lakes and western territories and the British respected American rights on the high seas.

    During the war the villages all along the Niagara River from Lewiston to Buffalo were burned to the ground by the British in December 1813. After the war with the Erie Canal completed in 1825, Buffalo rose from its ashes to become the "Gateway to the West" for the immigrant farmers from Europe who came up the completed Erie Canal and then sailed westward to the new lands. There they established farms in the new western territories and began sending their grain back to the eastern cities and eventually all over the world. The grains started with a trickle that soon became a flood that required many grain silos to be built to hold and distribute the grains.

    I feel the war was a major victory for America in that Commodore Perry's victory gained clear access to the vast fertile western territories and control of the Great Lakes even though our capital, Washington, DC was sacked and burned and the battles along the Niagara River were not decisive. In the end it benefited both Americans and the Canadians but unfortunately not the Native Americans.

    With their great leader Chief Tecumseh, killed in battle, the tribes lost their ability to carry on and eventually were forced to sign treaties with the Americans. They lost their vast territories forever along with any hope of having their own state that Chief Tecumseh was striving for. The British had to abandon Fort Detroit because they could no longer supply it. It became a major American city and the disputed western territory became the bread basket of America and the world! The loss of British influence in Great Lakes region opened the way for the building of the Erie Canal and the rapid expansion of America westward.

    After the war Commodore Perry's victory had to be a big factor in New York's Governor Clinton's bold decision to build the Erie canal making Buffalo the "Gateway to the West" and New York City the gateway to America. With the Great Lakes secure the lakes became the route westward to vast the western territories for thousands of European immigrants to establish their farms. Within a relatively short time they began to flood Buffalo with mountains of grain that was distributed to the burgeoning east coast cities. Even today it is the world's premier grain bread basket with China and many other countries depending upon the region for grain.

    Without Perry's decisive victory I think the Great Lake's history would have been very different. Detroit probably would have become a Canadian city and Buffalo would have remained a dead end. With no place to go in the west I doubt if the Erie Canal would have been built. Instead as a result of Perry's victory the village of Buffalo, rose up from its ashes to become one of the great cities of America in the 19th and 20th century. Soon other great cities began to sprout and grow rapidly. Chicago was only 39 years old when it burned to the ground but came roaring back to become the second largest city in America.

    Millions of immigrants landed in New York City and spread throughout the country. New York City became the financial capital of the world. Many great cities along the lakes grew rapidly because of Dewitt Clinton's far sighted gamble. This is a prime example of government's partnership with capitalism. Our government's willingness to gamble on a new project (the Erie Canal in this case) and the capitalists willingness to take advantage of the opportunity and create vast new wealth from Governor Clinton's gamble. Today you can look down on a night time picture of the USA and see the cities shining like diamonds along the shores of the lakes.

    It all started with this young Commodore's unwillingness to be defeated and Governor Dewitt Clinton's gamble on his state-of-art canal being a success. Thomas Jefferson said it wouldn't be possible to build a canal like this for another 100 years. But the completed canal was such a success that hundreds of miles of canals were built by other states only to be eclipsed later in the century by another new technology - the railroad industry.

    The tremendous success of Dewitt Clinton's Erie Canal project in creating new wealth for America encouraged other leaders to take on larger and larger projects that turned our country into a strong rich venturous nation. President Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War gave his approval for building a transcontinental railroad. It was completed around 1870 and opened the country's far west for vast new wealth building opportunities. President Teddy Roosevelt OK'd the building of the Panama Canal. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was responsible for building the great TVA project that electrified the south and he OK'd the building of many large dams that supplied clean electrical power all over the nation. All these giant government projects enabled the capitalists to take advantage of these great opportunities and by using their imaginative powers build ever greater wealth for America.

    After World War II President Eisenhower inaugurated the building of a vast network of super highways all over the country that tied the country together logistically. These highways created additional wealth creating opportunities for the country. Later in the 20th century President Kennedy started a rocket ship building project that took us to the moon, now private capitalists are beginning to build their own rocket ships. We will have to see where they will take us - who knows but it should be exciting. These partnerships between the farsighted venturous government leaders and the imaginative capitalists taking advantage of the new opportunities these projects made possible served to make this nation what it has come to be.

    This is the secret of America's tremendous success - it is a partnership between an adventurous opportunity creating government and hardworking imaginative capitalists willing to take advantage of the opportunities made available to them. This is the difference between social capitalism and communism. The communists stifle or kill their capitalists where American capitalism encourages their capitalists to do their thing so that everyone can benefit.

    It can be said that it all started with Commodore Perry's victory in clearing the lakes of British influence in September 1813 and Govenor Clinton's bold decision a few years after the war to build the Erie Canal. The tremendous success of the Erie Canal set the pattern ever since for America's leaders to tackle projects no matter how large they may be that will create additional new wealth for America.

    Getting back to Buffalo, the city flourished and became the great grain and train center in America until the St. Lawrence Seaway was built. Once the seaway was established the grain ships bypassed Buffalo and all of a sudden the great grain silos became obsolete and empty. Along with this calamity the steel mills also closed down and thousands of more jobs were eliminated. Buffalo went into a depression, many people moved away and the city lost over half of its population.

    Right now the Buffalo/Niagara Frontier area is undergoing a renaissance by taking advantage of its outstanding geographical location. It features Niagara Falls one of the seven wonders of the world and is a major gateway to Canada. Buffalo's waterfront is slowly being developed into a very attractive area for its citizens and visitors to enjoy. Although most of its grain silos are empty and its steel mills are gone, Buffalo and its surrounding area is rising from "its ashes" and once again hopefully will become one of the premier cities in America.

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