Oliver Hazard Perry papers  1796-1969 (bulk 1812-1819)
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Oliver Hazard Perry papers span 1761-1969, with the bulk of the material falling between 1810 and 1819. The collection contains Perry's naval and personal papers, as well as material related to other members of the Perry family. It is arranged into 8 series: Chronological Correspondence and Documents; Naval Accounts and Receipts; Perry Family Estate and Business Papers; Commemorations and Monuments; Miscellaneous Writings; Printed Items; Ephemera; and Perry Family Genealogical Material.

The Chronological Correspondence and Documents series comprises the bulk of the collection and contains approximately 900 personal and professional letters of Oliver Hazard Perry and his family. While O. H. Perry contributed 34 letters between 1799 and 1819, the majority of the correspondence consists of his incoming letters. The series documents Perry's naval career, especially his service in the War of 1812, including his victory at Lake Erie and its ensuing controversy; his service in the Mediterranean; his mission to Venezuela; reactions to and descriptions of his death; and his family in the years following his death. The collection includes letters to and from O. H. Perry's father Christopher Raymond Perry (1761-1818); his brother Matthew C. Perry (1794-1858); his wife Elizabeth C. Mason Perry (1791-1858); and other relatives, friends, and associates.

While the majority of the series focuses upon Oliver Hazard Perry, a portion relates to his father's naval career. A group of approximately 35 letters, dated 1795 to 1800, concerns Christopher R. Perry's naval service in the West Indies. Included are 11 letters between Christopher Perry (on board the US Frigate General Greene ) and Toussaint L'Ouverture, in which they discuss the role of the US Navy in the region. Also of note are:

  • October 24, 1795: Freeman Perry to Christopher Perry describing the discovery of mammoth bones and tusks in Piggin Swamp, South Carolina, and near Wilmington, North Carolina.
  • May 8, 1799: John Adams to Christopher Perry concerning the discharge of a Quaker man from the navy.
  • March 13, 1800: US Consul in Port-au-Prince Robert Ritchie asking Christopher Perry to keep the US Frigate General Greene close in order to support Toussaint's efforts.

Approximately 30 letters reflect Oliver Hazard Perry's naval career before the War of 1812. In three letters to his mother Sarah Perry, he discussed his professional and social activities (December 15, [1800], and June 14, 1804). In the third letter, dated September 16, 1805, Perry commented on the First Barbary War. Nine letters from Navy Department officials concern his command of the ship Revenge (1809-1810) and other military responsibilities. Notable items include:

  • April 20, 1807: Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith informs Perry of his commission as a Lieutenant in the US Navy.
  • January 17, 1811: John Rodgers to Perry, informing him that he and the other commissioned/warrant officers, recently the crew of the schooner Revenge , are suspended until the completion of an investigation into the recent loss of the schooner.

The bulk of the correspondence and documents centers upon Oliver Hazard Perry's service in the US Navy, principally during the War of 1812 and in the years leading up to his death in 1819. Approximately 200 items relate to Perry's participation in the War of 1812. A group of letters from the war's earlier stages offer details on Perry's actions preceding his successes in the Great Lakes campaign. However, letters from this time period primarily document the naval war on Lake Ontario and Perry's Lake Erie victory on September 10, 1813. Perry communicated closely with Navy Department officials and fellow officers on the Great Lakes offensive, including William Bainbridge, Isaac Chauncey, Benjamin Crowninshield, Samuel Hambleton, William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Homans, David Porter, and John Rodgers. The correspondence also includes content respecting the decades-long controversy surrounding the actions of Jesse Elliott during the battle Battle of Lake Erie (see especially 1817-1818).

  • February 19, 1813: William Rogers to Perry mentioning news from the North West that William Henry Harrison's army was attacked by the English and Indians.
  • June 23, 1813: Information from General Harrison to Perry regarding enemy movements, recommending that Perry sail up the Lake to intercept the enemy.
  • August 9, 1813: Perry to his father discussing the impending arrival of more men to Lake Erie. Mentions of the Lawrence , Niagara , and Caledonia .
  • September 10, 1813: Perry's commission as Captain of the United States Navy, signed by President James Madison.
  • September 15, 1813: Perry to his wife describing the aftermath of the battle and his present emotional state.
  • October 26, 1813: Jesse Elliott to Perry defending his actions during the Battle of Lake Erie.
  • October 26, 1813: British commander from Lake Erie writing about his favorable treatment as Perry's prisoner.
  • December 28, 1813: Jesse Elliot expresses confusion as to why America was misinformed about the details of the Battle of Lake Erie.
  • July 3, 1815: William Henry Harrison to Perry providing his account of the Battle of Lake Erie.
  • July 11, 1817: William Henry Harrison to Perry concerning the Battle of Lake Erie controversy.
  • Undated: Lake Erie battle material including a diagram of the conflict and 16 crew and prisoner lists.
  • Undated. William Crane to Melancthon T. Wooley containing an evaluation of the prize ships taken at the Battle of Lake Erie.
  • Undated. Copied letter of William Henry Harrison concerning the Battle of Thames River.
  • Undated: Matthew C. Perry's account of the Battle of Lake Erie.

Approximately 200 letters concern Perry's Mediterranean duty and his mission to Venezuela (1816-1819). Those from his time in the Mediterranean document his command of the US Frigate Java and the administration of the Mediterranean Squadron while at sea. Particularly rich descriptions of Malaga and elsewhere in Spain may be found in Oliver H. Perry's letter of February 17, 1816 and in his Mediterranean journal, February 22-March 1, 1816. Also included are orders from Isaac Chauncey, William Montgomery Crane, and other leadership in Washington. See, for example:

  • March 11, 1816: John Heath to Perry, discussing their differences and referring to a "mortifying situation" (Port Mahon on the Java ).
  • September 10, 1816: Crew of the Java to Perry requesting time off and money for shore leave at the Port of Messina.
  • October 8, 1816: Perry to Isaac Chauncey, discussing the violent incident that occurred between him and John Heath.
  • December 11, 1816: Miguel de Sarrachaga, Governor of Minorca, writes to Perry asking why American ships have entered the harbor at Mahon without first informing him.

Oliver H. Perry's assignment to Venezuela in 1819 and his sudden death from yellow fever on the return voyage are well represented in the collection. The Perry family received accounts of his final days as well as an outpouring of condolences from friends and naval officials, many of which contained remembrances of Perry. Multiple 1826-date letters relate to the transportation of Perry's body from Trinidad to Newport, Rhode Island. Items of note include:

  • May 20, 1819: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to Perry with instructions concerning the slave trade.
  • May 28, 1819: Perry receives permission from Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson to have the schooner Nonsuch accompany him to Venezuela.
  • August 24, 1819: Mordecai Morgan to Matthew C. Perry, giving an account of Perry's final hours.
  • September 24, 1819: Two letters from Charles O. Handy of the John Adams to Elizabeth Perry and Matthew C. Perry, informing them of Perry's death.
  • September 24, 1819: Charles O. Handy to Christopher Grant Perry, describing Perry's death and offering details about Perry's interment on Trinidad.
  • October 27, 1819: John N. Hambleton's list of Perry's effects at his death.
  • November 13, 1819: Elizabeth Perry to her mother-in-law Sarah Perry, lamenting the death of her husband.
  • October 17, 1826: Samuel Southard to Elizabeth Perry, concerning the movement of Perry's remains to Rhode Island.
  • Undated. Department of State to Oliver Hazard Perry, giving instructions for his mission to Venezuela.
  • Undated. Charles O. Handy's funeral oration for Oliver Hazard Perry.

The correspondence following O. H. Perry's death (approximately 150 letters) largely concerns members of his family, especially his brother Matthew C. Perry, wife Elizabeth Perry, son Oliver Hazard Perry, Jr., and grandson Oliver Hazard Perry. Many of these letters relate to the ongoing controversy surrounding Elliot and the Battle of Lake Erie, with Matthew C. Perry petitioning a number of his brother's colleagues to contribute their viewpoints on the conflict. Matthew Perry also received letters containing anecdotes and reminiscences about O. H. Perry from family and friends. Included among these letters are childhood memories by his sister Sarah W. Perry (see especially November 18, 1839; February 19, 1840; and March 27, 1840). Additional topics represented include celebrations of Perry's Lake Erie accomplishments, including the 1860 celebration in Cleveland, Ohio; Elizabeth Perry's letters with government officials concerning her pension; and the naval service of Oliver Hazard Perry, Jr. Notable items include:

  • July 28, 1828: Mr. Davis to Benjamin Hazard offering the Gilbert Stuart portrait of Oliver Hazard Perry (finished by Stuart's daughter) for sale.
  • July 11, 1830: Oliver Hazard Perry, Jr.'s commission as lieutenant in the navy, signed by President Martin Van Buren.
  • August 12, 1839: John Chambers to Matthew C. Perry regarding James Fenimore Cooper's work on Elliott and O. H. Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie, as well as his own reminiscences of the battle.
  • August 12, 1839: Charles O. Handy to Christopher Grant Perry, describing Perry's death and details about Perry's interment on Trinidad.
  • September 28, 1839: John Chambers to Matthew C. Perry, discussing O.H. Perry in the aftermath of the Battle of Lake Erie as well as Alexander Slidell, who wrote a biography of Perry.
  • March 30, 1847: Christopher Perry's commission as first lieutenant of the 4th Regiment of United States Infantry, signed by President James K. Polk.

The correspondence and documents series includes the following seven bound volumes:

  • Troop Landing and Artillery Instructions and Letter Book , March-November 1813 (101 pages). The volume contains 35 pages of naval instructions and 66 pages of copies of outgoing letters. The instructions (pages 1-35) cover the following topics: Slow Matches, Priming Fuses, Portfires, Quick Matches (English Method), Fire Sticks, To drive of Ram Sky Rockets &c., Proportion of Mallets, Charges for Sky Rockets &c., Sky Rockets in General, Composition for Rocket Stars, Sky Rocket Moulds, Mixing Compositions, and Questions and Answers Related to Naval Gunnery. The index for the instructions is located on page 177. The letter book (pages 86-152) is comprised of 85 letters spanning March to June 28, 1813, along with two letters from November 29, 1813.
  • Orderly Book, "Lake Erie" , July-October 1813 (29 pages) containing general orders sent by Perry and other officers stationed on Lake Erie. The orders cover the preparation for and execution of the Battle of Lake Erie, July-October 1813. Topics include navy provisions, order delivery, discipline, and battle instructions.
  • The series also consists of two Letter Book Indexes (letter books not present). The first volume covers 1814 to 1815, while the second spans the year 1815-1816. Each index is organized alphabetically and entries each contain the name of the recipient, date, and a brief summary of the letter's contents.
  • Oliver H. Perry Notebook, "Notes of Last Cruise" (61 pages) consists of 39 pages of diary entries and notes relating to Perry's 1819 diplomatic mission to Venezuela and 22 pages of quotations and other notes kept by Perry, primarily relating to morality and human nature.
  • Modern History Academic Notebook (51 pages) is a manuscript study book of lists and tables of information about the United States and British governments, and on classical history and Biblical history. The front cover inscription states: "A. K. Terry's bought of W[illiam] S. Gilbert." Gilbert apparently completed the notebook between 1821 and the summer of 1822.
  • Oliver H. Perry, Jr. Yachting Journal and loose papers (97 pages and 4 loose items) describe Perry's yachting adventures around Long Island. The notebook dates from July to September 1905 while the loose pages contain notes from 1902, 1904, and 1910. Perry described daily activities on the ship and on shore.

The Naval Accounts and Receipts series (approximately 20 items) covers 1813 to 1821 and is comprised of Department of the Navy accounts from Oliver H. Perry's service in the War of 1812 and the Mediterranean Squadron. It also includes materials related to Christopher R. Perry's naval career. Of note are accounts documenting the construction and outfitting of the Independence and Chippewa , and receipts from Rhode Island, 1815.

The series contains one bound account book of Oliver H. Perry (60 pages), documenting Perry's naval expenses while in the Mediterranean from February 1816 to November 1818. The majority of the expenses were for food, wine, supplies, and the payment of loans. Perry purchased goods from Malaga, Port Mahon, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Messina, Gibraltar, Malta, Naples, and Palermo.

The Perry Family Estate and Business Papers series (approximately 160 items) spans 1800 to 1913, with the bulk falling between 1857 and 1878. These materials document Perry family members' financial activities and business endeavors, including the Perry, Wendell, Fay & Company and the Middlesex Company. The series also contains Perry family wills, land surveys from 1828 and 1865, and 17 personal receipts (1813-1817) of Oliver Hazard Perry and Christopher Raymond Perry.

The Commemorations and Monuments series (approximately 52 items) consists of letters and documents pertinent to monuments celebrating O. H. Perry in Rhode Island (1841) and Cleveland (1860). The series also includes information about the Battle of Lake Erie Centennial Celebration in Erie, Pennsylvania, 1913.

The Miscellaneous Writings series includes manuscript speech notes, poems, letter fragments, and letter covers. Seven poems include works by Elizabeth Perry. A recipe for "Daube" (roasted meat) is also present.

The Typescripts series contains nearly 600 pages of un-proofed typed transcriptions of items in the Correspondence and Documents series.

The Printed Materials series consists of pamphlets and newspapers clippings.

The Pamphlets subseries is comprised of eight pamphlets, most of which concern commemorations for Perry:

The Newspapers and Clippings subseries consists of 152 newspaper clippings containing material related to O. H. Perry, Perry memorials and remembrances, and the Perry family (1819-1913). Newspapers represented in the subseries include The Daily Cleveland Herald, the Newport, Rhode Island Herald of the Times, The Newport Daily News, The Boston Globe, The Boston Courier, The Newport Mercury, The Virginia Patriot, The New York Herald, and others.

The Ephemera series contains two pressed flowers, 25 Oliver H. Perry name cards, a Miss A. F. Gould name card, a Captain Perry US Frigate Java signature, a ticket for the World's Columbian Exposition (October 9, 1893), a stereoview of a painting of "Perry's Victory," and four postcards depicting Gilbert Stuart's portrait of O. H. Perry.

The Perry Family Genealogical Material series (85 items) is made up of 19th and 20th century investigations into Perry ancestral history. Included are a 63-page draft of Perry genealogy and a description of seven generations of the Perry family. Other resources are:

  • "Index of Persons and Places"
  • "Notes on the Huguenot Ancestors"
  • "Notes on the Otis Line of Ancestors"
  • "Notes on Elizabeth Scallay of Boston"
  • Two volumes: "The Record of my Ancestry" (each includes notations about ancestors who participated in the colonial wars, Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812)
    • Volume 1: contains genealogy for the Perry family and 69 relates surnames, including the Hazard line dating to the Mayflower.
    • Volume 2: documents the Haggitts and 33 other family lines.

In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library has created a Correspondence Inventory.

Show all series level scope and content notes