James Fenimore Cooper.

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10 BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE.

terized by the malignancy, disregard of principle, and of
any thing else but the end in view, which are usual on
such occasions. It dragged into notice all the testimony
that could be collected against that gentleman, keeping
out of sight, with sedulous care, everything that had been
advanced in his favor. It was an attack marked by prof-
ligacy, and in the main sustained by political hacks. With
the historian, it ought not to weigh a feather, t am not
aware, that any personal friend of the late Com Perry
had any agency in this rally of 1834. One of its effects,
however, was to produce a biography of Com. Elliott,
which made its appearance in 1835.

The biography of Com. Elliott is a work of considera-
ble ingenuity, but I am far from subscribing to all its con-
clusions. It is the reasoning of a lawyer, rather than of a
seaman, and is written too much in the feeling of partisan-
ship not to be obnoxious to criticism. Still it is infinitely
fairer in spirit, more logical, and every way more lespect-
able, than either of the works to which it is my duty now
to reply. It has one merit, that is altogether wanting to
my adversaries ; it puts both sides of the question fairly
before the reader, giving the testimony of both sides, and
leaving its own reasoning exposed to the just inferences of
the hostile evidence. This simple and manly course is im-
itated by none of those who have assailed Capt. Elliott.
The last have had the hardihood to suppose the public
might be hoodwinked in an affair of this importance, and
have in effect given the testimony of only their own side
of the case.

My own work was published in the spring of 1839. The
part which relates to the Battle of Lake Erie, was written
after a long and critical examination of all the evidence I
could obtain, and with a firm conviction that the contro-
versy that had grown up out of it, was not in a fit state to
pass into history. This was all I had to decide, and hav-
ing made up my mind to this one fact, all 1 had to do was
to follow the official account, and to give to the world those
statements which I believed to be true, while I avoided
touching on any that I thought would admit of doubt. This
course was rigidly followed, and it is now my task to jus-
tify what I have done, while I expose the errors, to use a
roild term, of those who have gainsayed it.



BATTLE OP LAKE ERIE. 11

The first attack on the History was made by an'article
in the Commercial Advertiser, which ran through four num-
bers, and for which, as it contained gross personal imputa-
tions, I prosecuted the editor for a libel. It is now under-
stood that this article was written by Mr. William A. Duer,
late President of Columbia College.

A review in the North American followed, which assailed
the account of the Battle of Lake Erie, making it a partic-
ular charge against the historian that he did not distinctly
state that the English squadron was superior in force to the
American, because the former carried 63 and the latter on-
ly 54 guns. As this article has been admitted to be the
work of Capt. Slidell Mackenzie, of the Navy, it becomes
identified, in a great degree, with the subsequent labors of
the same gentleman, on this subject.

A lecture delivered before the Historical Society of Rhode
Island, by Mr. Tristam Burges, followed up the blow.
This lecture had been delivered some time previously, and
of course contained no direct allusion to the History ; but it
was given to the world with loud announcements of the
withering effect it was to produce on that History, and,
when published, its logic, facts and diagrams were virtual-
ly proclaimed to be unanswerable ; more especially by the
New- York American, New-York Commercial Advertiser,
and one or two others of characters too questionable, and
of reasoning powers too feeble to require naming, It now
remains to see how far these eulogiums were merited. Not
satisfied with these attacks and replies, some of which had
a specific gravity, that aided in producing their own fall,
Capt. Mackenzie made a fresh assault,in a work called a
Biography of Com. Perry. This book, he avows in the
preface, was written at the request of some of Com. Per-
ry's friends, as an answer to my attempts to lessen the fame
of that distinguished ofllicer. I greatly regret that such
an answer to any such imaginary attempts on my part,
should have been mp.de, for it compels me to expose facts
I would willingly suppress, and I entertain no doubt that
the friends of Com. Perry will regret it still more, by the
time the subject is finally disposed of.

It may be well, here, to inquire into the situations of
the different individuals who have thus been the asrents





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THE



BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE;



OR



ANSWERS



TO



MESSRS. SURGES, DUER, AND MACKExNZIE,



By. J. EENIMORE .COOPER.



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COOPERSTOWN,

H.&E. PHINNEY



Checked



1843.



JTHE NEW YORK

PUBLIC LIBRARY

^584198

R 1913 L



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1843, by

J. FENIMORE COOPER,

in the office of the Clerk of the District Court of the United States in

and for the northern district of New York.



PREFACE.

In his biography of Perry, Graham's Maga-
zine, for May and June, 1843, the writer has
given his theory of the Battle of Lake Erie, as
connected with the controversy that has risen out
of it. In the Naval history, that controversy was
purposely avoided, as unnecessary to, and unfit
for such a work. In this i)amphlet, the intention
is merely to answer Messrs. Burges, Duer and
Mackenzie, all three of whom comment on, and
the two last of whom have openly attacked the
writer.

The writer has not sought this discussion. It
has been fo'-i^e-i on him. by bis. -assailants, who
must now face the consequ'encesV For years the
writer has submiued: iii comparative silence to a
gross injustice, in cown-ectiqi^ with this matter, not
from any want'Dfco'nfiden<:'e in the justice of his
case or any ability to defend himself, but, because
he * bided his time,' knowing, when that should
arrive, he had truth to fall back upon. He



IV \ PREFACE.

has seen his own work condemned, and, so far
as the public authorities were concerned, excluded
from the District School Libraries, and all on ac-
(^ount of its supposed frauds in relation to the
Battle of Lake Erie ; while, on the other hand,
he has heard Capi. Mackenzie's Biography of
Perry lauded from one end of the Union to the
other, and preferred to that place in the libraries
mentioned, from which his own work has been
excluded. The day of reckoning has come at
length, and the judgment of men will infallibly
follow. For the issue, the writer has no fears.
Let intelligent men do him the justice to read,
and honest men the justice to decide ; this is all
he asks, or desires.

J. FENIMORE COOPER.
Cooperstown^ May, 16<A, 1843.



BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE.



Shortly after the appearance of the history of the Navy
of the United States, bitter and combined attacks were
made on it, principally in connection with the authenticity
of its statements concerning the battle of lake Erie. All
of these attacks proceeded, so far as I have been able to
ascertain, from the friends or connections of the late Com.
Perry. It had suited that officer in 1818, to withdraw the
eulogium he had bestowed on the conduct of Capt. Elliott,
in his official account of 1813, and to substitute in its place,
charges against his late second in command accusing him,
in substance, of either cowardice or treachery, and asking
for a court to investigate the facts. Although the govern-
ment has never acted on these charges, it is matter of noto-
riety that they have given rise to several distinct contro-
versies, of which it is to be hoped that the present will be
the last. A brief narrative of the history of these contro-
versies will assist the reader in better understanding the
subject.

The battle of Lake Erie was remarkable for a feature
that is almost, if not entirely, without example in the annals
of naval combats Although ^he Americans eventually
captured every English vessel engaged against them,
then* own commanding ship struck her colors. This
circumstance naturally gave rise to some feeling, and it is
in proof that certain of the officers of this vessel were
early engaged in looking up evidence to criminate Capt.
Elliott, to whose conduct they ascribed their own disaster.
Capt. Perry had brought with him from Rhode Island,
several officers, natives of that state, or young men who had
commenced their naval career under his immediate auspi'
1*



6 BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE.

ces, while in command of the flotilla on that coast. These
gentlemen, without an exception I believe, took sides with
their chief, in the subsequent dispute, and the earliest evi-
dence I can find of any thing like a disposition to arraign
Capt. Elliott, is connected with one of these officers. Dr.
Usher Parsons, then a surgeon's mate on board the Law-
rence, the vessel originally commanded by Capt. Perry,
and which struck to the enemy after he had left to go on
board the Niagara, Capt. Elliott, went to the latter vessel
" the second day after the action" to dress the wounds ; her
own surgeon Dr. Barton being too ill at the time to attend
lo the duty. On this occasion Dr. Parsons, agreeably to
his own statement, questioned some of the wounded men
as to the time when they were hurt — ^yhelher it were be-
fore, or after Capt. Perry reached their brig. As it has
been alleged that Capf. Elliott betrayed a consciousness
of guilt, by his moving so early in the matter, this cir-
cumstance becomes of some importance, since no act of
Capt. Elliott's, in connection with the imputation on his
conduct, is proved to have taken place at a date earlier
than Sept. 17, or a toeek after the battle.

It is thus substantially shown that the enemies of Capt.
Elliott, first took ground in this controversy ; or, at least,
it is not proved, as has been asserted, that Capt. Elliot did.
On this occasion, several letters were written, by different
officers, principally if not all of the Niagara, in justifica-
tion of the conduct of Capt Elliott, most of which appeared
in the journals of the vicinity of Lake Erie. Capt. Perry
took no part against his subordinate, but, on the contrary,
in answer to an application from Capt. Elliott, he wrote
that officer a letter of the date of Sept. 18th, the battle having
been fought on the 10th, expressing his indignation that
any rumors to his prejudice should have been in circula-
tion. There is no reason to think that Capt. Perry, at
that time, gave any other opinion in public. This may be
termed the first controversy, though, on the part of the ene-
mies of Capt. Elliott, little was openly promulgated to the
world. In a short time, with the exception of a few on the
spot, the matter was in a great degree forgotten.

In 1815, however, the papers of this country pubhshed
the^eentence of the Court Martial which had sat on Capt.



BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE. 7

Barclay, his officers and crevv, for the defeat. Owing to
the carlessness with which statements are made in the
journals of this country, some ohservations from a London
print, that accompanied the finding of the court, were pub-
lished as forming part of the sentence, which observations,
among other errors and loose statements, asserted that the
Niagara " had not been engaged," and " was making
away," when Capt. Perry readied her. A Court of In-
quiry was sitting in the Harbor of New York, when this
supposed statement of the British court first appeared in
America, and Capt. Elliott immediately asked that the facts
might be investigated. This was done, such witnesses
being made use of, as the vessels present at New York, a
considerable force, could furnish. Seven witnesses were
examined, two of the lieutenants of the Lawrence, and five
officers of the Niagara ; the result being an honorable ac-
quittal of Capt. Elliott. The evidence before this court
was conflicting, both as to distances and as to time, but alJ
united in saying that the Niagara at no time was "making
away."

From 1815 to 1818, nothing public appears to have oc-
curred, in connection with this afi^air. In the latter year,
however, Capt. Elliott wrote to Capt. Perry, stating that he
had been informed that the latter had condemned his con-
duct on the 10th Sept. 1813, and requiring explanations.
By the correspondence which ensued, it would seem that
the gentlemen materially distrusted each others account of
their respective behavior in the battle. In this correspond-
ence Capt. Elliott challenged Capt. Perry, and was told,
in answer, that the latter had prepared charges against
him, requesting a court for his trial. These charges ap-
pear to have been sent, accompanied by a letter to the
Secretary of the date of August 10th 1818. Along with
the charges there appears, also, to have been forwarded
affidavits, criminating Capt. Elliott, and signed by Messrs.
Parsons, Breese, and Taylor, formerly of the Lawrence,
Mr. Turner, commander of the Caledonia, Mr. Stevens,
commander of the Trippe, Mr. Champlin, commander of
the Scorpion, and Mr. Brownell of the Ariel; all of which
were vessels engaged in the action. Of these witnesses,
it may be well to say, that Messrs. Parsons, Breese, Tay-



8 BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE.

lor, Champlin and Brownell, all appear to have been
natives of Rhode Island, and to have accompanied Capt.
Perry when he left that state ; and Mr. Turner, though a
native of New York, had been a resident of Rhode Island
from childhood, and was almost identified with the family
of Perry by long and intimate association. Mr. Stevens
was a native of Carolina, and had no other connection with
his commander than grew out of his ordinary service ;
though it is known that he quitted Capt. Elliott's brig a
few days before the battle, on account of a misunderstand-
ing, and that he subsequently believed that his own name
was left out of the official account of the action, in conse-
quence of the representations of the latter. Mr. Champlin,
I am told, is a relation of Commodore Perry's widow. —
These facts are not mentioned with a design to impute
intentional mistatements to any of the witnesses, tiiough
every man in the least acquainted with human nature,
must see that, in a question of opinions, circumstances of
this sort may very well influence the mind, without the
party himself being conscious by what his judgment is
swayed. When it is seen, as I shall presently show, that
one of the controversialists, Mr. Tristam Burges, modestly
claims the Battle of Lake Erie "as a part of the maritime
affairs of Rhode Island,"* the fact obtains peculiar signifi-
cance. One thing is certain ; no officer out of the L'lw-
rence, Mr. Stevens excepted, is found to give testimony
against Capt. Elliott, unless a native, or a resident of that
State, and more th in usually connected with his com-
mander.

The government did not act on Captain Perry's charg-
es. Two stories are in circulation concerning their fate.
According to one, the Secretary being absent, these charges
were sent to the President, who immediately consulted
Com. Decatur on the subject. Com. Decatur was an in-
timate friend of Capt. Perry's, and he is said to have depre-
cated the course of the latter, and to have begged the charg-
es, in order to gain time to advise his friend to abandon
a course which brought him so obviously in contradiction
with himself. The request was granted, and the charges
slumbered in Com, Decatur's keeping, until that officer's
death. This statement is denied, on the other hand. It



*Se6 Burges'8 Lectures, Preface page 5



BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE. 9

is said that the charges never were withdrawn by any one,
though it is admitted that nothing official was ever done
with them. That Capt Perry, on quitting the country m
his last cruise, left copies of his charges, with the accom-
paning affidavits, in Com. Decatur's keeping, to repel any
attack that might proceed from Capt. Elliott in his absence,
and that these copies were in the hands of Com. Decatur,
at his death. The difference is not very material, and it is
quite possible that both statements may be true. It seems
to be <iertain that Capt. Perry directed such copies to be
transmitted to Com. Decatur for the purpose declared, and
it is by no means improbable that Decatur may have
thought it wisest to conceal his previous possession of the
originals. Of the truth, I profess to know no more.

In the unfortunate meeting when Com. Decatur fell,
Capt. Elliott acted as the friend of Com. Barron. This
occurred in March, 1820. Perry had died in August,
1819. Among the papers of Decatur were found the orig-
inal charges of Perry, against Capt. Elliott, or their copies,
or both, as the case mav have been, together with the af-
fidavits. A few months later, when time had been given to
examine the papers, these charges and affidavits were
first laid before the world, by a private publication at Wash-
ington, in consequence of his connection with the recent
duel, as is affirmed by Com. Elliott. Of this fact, 1 pro-
fess to know nothing, beyond the manner of the publica-
tion. This appeal to the public brouglit replies ; new
questions first appeared in the affidavits, and rebutting tes-
timony was obtained by Capt. Elliott to meet the new
chariies. Nearly all the testimony which has afjpeared in
the case, that had not been brought out in the discussion
of 1813, or the court of 1815, seems to have been pro-
duced in 1820-21, either in the affidavits accompanying
the charges, or in the letters or affidavits that succeeded
their publication.

The subject attracted a good deal of attention in the
naval circles, in 1821, but did not penetrate the public
mind. It soon died away, and may be said to have lain
dormant until it was revived, in 1834, in consequence of
the affair of the figure head. The assault on Capt. El-
liott, at that time, was a political attack, that was charaC'



10 BATTLE OP LAKE ERIE.

terized by the malignancy, disregard of principle, and of
any thing else but the end in view, which are usual on
such occasions. It dragged into notice all the testimony
that could be collected against that gentleman, keeping
out of sight, with sedulous care, everything that had laeen
advanced in his favor. It was an attack marked by prof-
ligacy, and in the main sustained by political hacks. With
the historian, it ought not to weigh a feather. I am not
aware, that any personal friend of the late Com Perry
had any agency in this rally of 1834. One of its effects,
however, was to produce a biography of Com. Elliott,
which made its appearance in 1835.

The biography of Com. Elliott is a work of considera-
ble ingenuity, but I am far from subscribing to all its con-
clusions. It is the reasoning of a lawyer, rather than of a
seaman, and is written too much in the feeling of partisan-
ship not to be obnoxious to criticism. Still it is infinitely
fairer in spirit, more logical, and every way more lespect-
able, than either of the works to which it is my duty now
to reply. It has one merit, that is altogether wanting to
my adversaries ; it puts both sides of the question fairly
before the reader, giving the testimony of both sides, and
leaving its own reasoning exposed to the just inferences of
the hostile evidence. This simple and manly course is im-
itated by none of those who have assailed Capt. Elliott.
The last have had the hardihood to suppose the public
might be hoodwinked in an affair of this importance, and
have in effect given the testimony of only their own side
of the case.

My own work was published in the spring of 1839. The
part which relates to the Battle of Lake Erie, was written
after a long and critical examination of all the evidence I
could obtain, and with a firm conviction that the contro-
versy that had grown up out of it, was not in a fit state to
pass into history. This was all I had to decide, and hav-
ing made up my mind to this one fact, all 1 had to do was
to follow the official account, and to give to the world those
statements which I believed to be true, while I avoided
touchingon any that I thought would admit of doubt. This
course was rigidly followed, and it is now my task to jus-
tify what I have done, while I expose the errors, to use a
mild term, of those who have gainsay ed it.



BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE. 11

The first attack on the History was made by an'^article
in the Commercial Advertiser, which ran through four num-
bers, and for which, as it contained gross personal imputa-
tions, I prosecuted the editor for a libel. It is now under-
stood that this article was written by Mr. William A. Duer,
late President of Columbia College.

A review in the North American followed, which assailed
the account of the Battle of Lake Erie, making it a partic-
ular charge against the historian that he did not distinctly
state that the English squadron was superior in force to the
American, because the former carried 63 and the latter on-
ly 54 guns. As this article has been admitted to be the
work of Capt. Slidell Mackenzie, of the Navy, it becomes
identified, in a great degree, with the subsequent labors of
the same gentleman, on this subject.

A lecture delivered before the Historical Society of Rhode
Island, by Mr. Tristam Burges, followed up the blow.
This lecture had been delivered some time previously, and
of course contained no direct allusion to the History ; but it
was given to the world with loud announcements of the
withering effect it was to produce on that History, and,
when published, its logic, facts and diagrams were virtual-
ly proclaimed to be unanswerable ; more especially by the
New- York American, New-York Commercial Advertiser,
and one or two others of characters too questionable, and
of reasoning powers too feeble to require naming. It now
remains to see how far these eulogiums were merited. Not
satisfied with these attacks and replies, some of which had
a specific gravity, that aided in producing their own fall,
Capt. Mackenzie made a fresh assault, in a work called a
Biography of Com. Perry. This book, he avows in the
preface, was written at the request of some of Com. Per-
ry's friends, as an answer to my attempts to lessen the fame
of that distinguished officer. I greatly regret that such
an answer to any such imaginary attempts on my part,
should have been made, for it compels me to expose facts
I would willingly suppress, and I entertain no doubt that
the friends of Com. Perry will regret it still more, by the
time the subject is finnlly disposed of.

It may be well, here, to inquire into the situations of
the different individuals who have thus been the agents



12 BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE.

of an attempt to bring me and my labors into disrepute with
the nation. Mr. Burges is tolerably innocent as respects
me, his lecture having been written pretty much to prove
that the Battle of Lake Erie was " a part of the maritime
affairs of Rhode Island." As my history has no such ob-
ject in view, it is not surprising that our accounts conflict a
little. This difference compels me to justify my own, by
demonstrating the value of those of the other side. Per-
sonally, I know nothing to influence Mr. Burges but the
circumstance that he was a Rhode Island man, and that he
had given himself so difficult a task.

Mr. Duer is nearly a stranger to me. His article was
written with peculiar mahgnancy, and is marked by state-
ments, misquotations and general features, that v ill compel
me to put such a brand on it, that the ex-president will not
be desirous of claiming his offspring hereafter. Some per-
sons may think it pertinent if I add that Mr. Duer is
Mr. Mackenzie's uncle by marriage.

The agency of Capt. Mackenzie in this affair is probably
to be imputed to his connection with the family of Perry,
the present Com. M. C. Perry having married his sister.
How far such a circumstance would be likely to influence


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