Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Niagara

Taken in the Erie Maritime Museum
Looking out the window, I could see the ship that I had wanted to investigate, but sadly the weather didn't permit it. Rain poured down so I had to be content touring just the Erie Maritime Museum that day. The ship, called the Niagara, is a reconstructed version of a ship first used in the War of 1812. The ship is also the official Pennsylvania State Flagship.

Inside the museum, we found plenty to interest us, uniforms of seaman, furniture used by captains, and drawings of sailors and their skills. We also learned lots of history.

From the start of the War of 1812, Britain took control of the Great Lakes. The United States government realized that to win the war they needed to be the ones in charge of the Great Lakes. With this goal in mind, the United States in January, 1813, ordered construction of ships at Erie, Pennsylvania: the Niagara, the Lawrence, and four smaller ships.

A month later, these ships became the fighting force against a British fleet in The Battle of Lake Erie. The Lawrence and two British ships battled while the Niagara sat blocked by another of the U.S. Fleet. Before the Niagara could get into position for fighting, the Lawrence became incapacitated, eighty percent of its crew, dead or wounded and all of its guns inoperable. With four remaining experienced seamen, Commander Perry took the flag, left the Lawrence and rowed to the Niagara. A crewman raised the flag and fifteen minutes later, Perry’s intense barrage and a damaging collision between two British ships brought the British to the point of surrender. The Battle of Lake Erie became the first decisive battle in the War of 1812. The victory boosted American morale.

The Niagara remained in operation until 1820 when the Navy sank it in the salt water to try to preserve it. During the 100-year anniversary of the battle, the city raised it, repaired it, and displayed it. In 1931, the Pennsylvania government took custody of it and again restored it, finishing in 1963. Unfortunately by the 1980s it became even more decomposed. This time when the builders restored it, they used mostly new wood and only kept the old in nonstructural places. In 1988, the Niagara sailed again on Lake Erie and Pennsylvania legislators voted to make it the official state flagship.

Today, the museum uses the ship for tours and as a floating history classroom for students. Middle-school and older students can actually help sail and maintain with prior arrangements.  

Chairs from the Lawrence at the Erie Maritime Museum

Oops, there's my handsome husband
pretending to be Commander Perry!

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