American Naval officer Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819) was born in Rock Brook, Rhode Island, to Sarah Wallace Alexander and Christopher Raymond Perry (1761-1818). Oliver entered the navy at age 14, serving under his father in the West Indies and in the Quasi War with France. In 1803, he served on board the Adams in the 1st Barbary War, and in 1804, Commodore John Rodgers gave him command of the schooner Nautilus , which participated in the capture of Derna. He became a lieutenant in 1807, and at the outbreak of the War of 1812 was given command of the naval force on Lake Erie under Commodore Isaac Chauncey. In March 1813, he began building a fleet at his headquarters at Presque Isle (Erie), Pennsylvania. Perry engaged the British fleet under the command of Robert H. Barclay on September 10, winning the battle decisively. The Battle of Lake Erie made Perry a national hero, although he was soon involved in the controversy over the role played by Captain Jesse D. Elliot in the conflict. For the remainder of the war, Perry worked closely with General William Henry Harrison, participating in the recovery of Detroit and in the Battle of the Thames.
From 1816 to 1817, Perry commanded the Java as part of the Mediterranean Squadron. He quarreled with the Java 's Marine Captain John Heath, and after a violent altercation, both men were court martialed. In 1819, President James Monroe sent Perry on a diplomatic mission to Venezuela to put an end to piracy against American merchant ships. His negotiations with Simón Bolívar were a success, but on the return voyage he died of yellow fever. His crew buried him at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and in 1826, his remains were moved and reburied in Newport, Rhode Island.
Perry married Elizabeth Champlin Mason (1791-1858) in 1811; they had five children including Oliver Hazard Perry, Jr. (1815-1878).
This collection also contains the letters of Perry's father, Captain Christopher Raymond Perry (1761-1818); his brother, Commander Mathew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858); his wife Elizabeth C. Mason Perry; his son Oliver Hazard Perry, Jr. (1815-1878); and his grandson Oliver Hazard Perry, Jr. (1883-1933).