Two centuries after he died from yellow fever in Trinidad waters, United States Commodore Oliver “Hazard” Perry is again in the news.
A ship called the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry was launched earlier this month in his home state of Rhode Island and will be used to provide education-at-sea programmes to youths of all ages and training in marine heritage.
“The 196-foot long vessel will be among the select fleet of Class A-size tall ships to be hosted by the nations of the world,” states a report from Newport, Rhode Island.
Perry, also called the “Hero of Lake Erie”, had ties with Trinidad dating back to August 23, 1819, when at the age of 34 he died in Trinidad waters after a successful expedition to Venezuela’s Orinoco River to consult with Simon Bolivar about piracy in the Caribbean.
Despite efforts by the crew to reach Trinidad for medical assistance, the Commodore died in Port of Spain’s harbour and was buried at Lapeyrouse Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
Six years later his remains were exhumed and taken back to the United States and interred in Newport.
More than a century passed before a gate called “Perry Memorial Gate” was installed at the cemetery.
In 1925, the US Consul General, Henry Baker, dedicated the Gateway on Tragarete Road to Perry, after failing to find the exact spot where he was buried.
At his own expense, Baker had arranged for the gate to be fabricated in the United States and transported to Trinidad and placed at the entrance of the cemetery where Perry’s body had entered before burial.
A US release by mass communication specialist Kathleen Gorby stated: “A recent discovery occurred when historian Louis B Homer of Trinidad was doing some research about Port of Spain and found out about the history of the gate.”
Following this, an article was written about the event in Homer’s weekly Trinidad Express column, ‘Remembering the Past’. This sparked interest in the event and the US Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago, along with the Ministry of Tourism, decided to organise a rededication ceremony which took place on April 4, 2012 in the presence of then US Ambassador Beatrice Welters, Port of Spain Mayor Louis Lee Sing, Tourism Minister Rupert Griffith and other Government officials.
The Ministry had modelled the ceremony after the original one in 1925.
Jag Daco, principal of Tranquillity Primary School which is located across the street from the cemetery, said: “I have walked past the cemetery gates almost every day for the past six years and I never knew its historical significance.”
Born in 1785, Perry served in the war of 1812 against Britain, leading American forces in a decisive naval victory in the Battle of Lake Erie. When his flagship was heavily damaged, the British expected him to surrender. Instead he escaped to another vessel and continued to fight--and eventually forced the entire British squadron to surrender.
On January 6, 1814, Perry was honoured with a Congressional Gold Medal and a promotion to the rank of Captain. This was one of 27 Gold Medals authorised by Congress arising from the War of 1812.
Monuments dedicated to him can be found in several states in the US.
In Ohio, a 352-foot monument was constructed in Put-in-Bay and there is a Perry Monument in Misery Bay, Pennsylvania, and other monuments in Buffalo, New York, Cleveland, Eisenhower Park in Newport and several states in America.
Many locations, both in Rhode Island and near Lake Erie, are named in his honour
The SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, a 196-foot, three-masted, square rigged tall ship, is designated by the legislature and the Governor of Rhode Island as the state’s official “Sailing Education Vessel”.
It is the largest civilian sail training vessel in North America and the first oceangoing full-rigged ship to be built in the US in more than 100 years.
This accomplishment and more was celebrated when the ship was towed from Senesco Marine across Narragansett Bay to Newport for a dedication weekend that coordinated with the July 4 US Independence Day holiday.