having been so hasty, fearing lest he, like the log,
might fall, failing to find support on the sides of the
hut, and thus an alarm be given.
Alec Perry was not a lad to be guilty of a blunder,
even though his comrade did his best toward forcing
him into one ; and in some way, I know not how, he
contrived to drop from the top of the timbers as
lightly as a cat.
Listening intently, I began to clamber up the wall,
gripping my fingers into the crevices between the logs
until the blood came from under my nails, and when
50 WITH PERRY ON LAKE ERIE.
I was nearly at the top, the thought flashed upon me
that we had left our skates behind.
They lay in one corner of the pen, and so great
was our excitement, when the way of escape had
been opened, that neither of us so much as thought
Without skates we might as well remain where we
were, for it would not be possible to walk across the
lake in eight-and-forty hours.
I lowered myself down, losing the advantage I had
gained" at the expense of so much suffering, and thrust
a pair of skates into each coat-pocket, after which the
painful task of scrambling up the side of the pen was
It seemed to me of a verity that a full hour had
been spent before I looked down from the top of the
wall to see Alec making an effort to clamber back.
The time had dragged heavily with him also, and
fearing lest some mishap had befallen me, he was
returning, forgetful of the promises made to push
forward at all hazards.
I heard plainly the sigh of relief which escaped
his lips when he saw me, and in another instant I
was lowering myself down on the outside.
Free, so far as concerned the walls of the pen !
Now the storm was little less than a blessing to
THE ESCAPE. 51
us, for the wind, howling and shrieking as it dashed
the frosty particles against the walls of the huts,
must have drowned any sound which we made while
floundering through the snow.
A start of five minutes was all I had asked for,
and this we surely would gain, unless it so chanced
that a sentinel was stationed on the shore, in which
case we stood every chance of being recaptured.
" It is necessary to go forward slowly, and by a de-
vious way," Alec whispered. " It seems most likely
some of the men are on guard, and it would be a sad
blow to our hopes if we ran across them now."
" We must take the chances," I said, bolder grown
since we were free from the pen. "To leave this
path would be to flounder about in the snow or the
bushes, where we must necessarily make so much
noise that any sentinel, however dull, could not fail
to hear us. There is no other course than to push
ahead and trust to chances, Alec, lad. Besides, the
danger in advance is less than that behind, and if
we come upon a soldier near-by the edge of the ice,
surely the two of us ought to be more than a match
for him, half stupefied by the cold as any man must
be who has remained long outside on this night."
There was no need for him to make answer. He
stood ready to do whatsoever was needed, and I ven-
52 WITH PERRY ON LAKE ERIE.
ture to say, however great the perils which menaced,
he would not have flinched from braving them.
We went forward swiftly, yet making no noise that
could be avoided, and when finally we were arrived
at the shore of the lake no living thing could be seen.
"We are free, Dicky, lad! Free!" Alec cried,
speaking so loudly that I covered his mouth with
my hand, lest in his joyous excitement he work us
the greatest mischief which could come upon two
lads in our situation.
It can well be imagined that not a second was lost
in fastening on our skates, and when we stood erect,
shod with those thin plates of steel which would enable
us to glide over the surface of the ice with the speed
of a race-horse, it was with difficulty that I could
repress a shout of triumph.
We two, who had never before known by experi-
ence the horrors of war and its usages, - we who
had through carelessness allowed ourselves to be made
prisoners, - - were escaped without a scratch within a
few hours of capture, and by escaping would be able
to prevent Presque Isle from being taken by surprise.
When I bent my body in striking out on that long,
swinging stride which had served me time and time
before, I thought with exultation that that which had
seemed the direst calamity that could come upon two
THE ESCAPE. 53
lads, was, in fact, a blessing in disguise, as are many
of the troubles which for the time bear us down in
sorrow. Save for Alec Perry's foolhardiness in con-
tinuing on toward the Canadian shore, we would never
have known of that gathering of soldiery at the North
Foreland, and the people of Presque Isle, lulled into
a sense of security, might have fallen easy victims to
the first assault of the redcoats.
" It has been a good day's work, Alec, boy ! ' I
said, when we were a mile or more from the shore,
and escape was absolutely certain unless we lost our
lives in the w^hirl of snow, for no man in that camp
could overtake me on skates. "A good day's work,
because we have scouted to a purpose, even though
it \vas done ignorantly ! "
The dear lad's mind went farther afield than mine,
as I understood when he added quietly, yet with a
certain ring of satisfaction in his tone : -
" So that we reach the village, Dicky, we have
made a name for ourselves which shall be spoken
in years to come, long after we are dead, for we will
be known as the boys who saved Presque Isle and
the beginnings of the American navy. It is what
Oliver has been praying might be his good fortune,
to come into some adventure which would give him
an opportunity of making a name that should live in
54 WITH PERRY ON LAKE ERIE.
history; and God grant he succeed, for my brother
is a hero, Dicky Dobbins, and some day he will prove
it to those of the king's forces who come against
Fortunately at this moment I remembered that there
must be an end to this self-glorification, and a speedy
one, else were we likely to come to grief.
I had heard the bravest men in Presque Isle say
that the one thing they feared the most was to be
overtaken by a snow-storm while on that vast field of
ice which imprisoned the waters of Lake Erie ; for
few there be who can walk or skate in a straight
line amid the falling, whirling particles of snow.
We had come two miles, perhaps, from the shore
by this time, and I caught Alec's arm, that he might
take the better heed to my words, as I explained the
dangers which were before us, begging that he put
from his mind all else save the aim of moving for-
ward as nearly in a straight line as might be.
" You shall go ahead, lad, keeping in advance so
far as I am able c to see you, and perhaps by this
means it will be possible for me to know when you
turn to the right or the left, as it is said one is ever
inclined to do under such circumstances."
Perhaps if it had not been for our having foolishly
run into the arms of the Britishers, Alec would have
THE ESCAPE. 55
insisted that I was making a great cry when no dan-
ger threatened, because he seemed to think it a simple
matter to go ahead in a straight line without anything
to guide his movements ; but now that the knowledge
of his foolhardiness was sharp upon him he obeyed
readily ; and thus we set out on our thirty-mile jour-
ney in the darkness, our faces stung until they burned
by the icy particles which were flung against them on
the wings of the east wind.
Here again did that which seemed to be a danger
and a discomfort prove a blessing. But for the wind
we should have had nothing to give us the slightest
idea of the direction in which Presque Isle lay. As
it was, I could not say to a certainty that these furious
blasts came from the east, because the direction might
have changed since we were made' prisoners ; but I
knew beyond a peradventure it had not swung around
either to the north or the south, and, therefore, if our
left cheeks were stung by the driving snow more bit-
terly than our right, we must be advancing somewhere
near on the desired course.
During the first half-hour Alec went straight for-
ward, and then, growing weary, perhaps, he would
swerve to one side or the other, insisting, when I
checked him, that it was I, rather than himself, who
mistook the direction.
56 WITH PERRY ON LAKE ERIE.
I am making this story of our escape from the
North Foreland overly long, for it may be that what
then seemed, and seems now, to me most thrilling,
will be dry reading to others. Therefore it is best
I come to a halt in this play of words, although it
would be possible to fill page after page with what
we thought, and said, and did during that long, pain-
ful night's journey ; for, although we had set out, as
nearly as w r e could judge, at about eight o'clock in
the evening, the sun was two hours high in the
heavens before we were come to Presque Isle, so
nearly exhausted that Alec fell upon the shore, unable
to move hand or foot, when we were arrived in front
of my home.
Despite all our efforts we went so far astray as to
strike the American shore near Indian Bend, full
eighteen miles above the village, and arriving there
during the hours of darkness, I was not able to say
positively where we were ; therefore it became neces-
sary to wait until daylight.
This halt, while it refreshed us in a certain degree,
allowed our limbs to stiffen until, when we arose to
our feet again, it seemed almost impossible to advance
one foot before the other.
But we were arrived at last, and could give the in-
formation which it was so necesssary our people
THE ESCAPE. 57
should have ; therefore was the work done well, even
though death had come upon us after the story was
Strange as it may seem, we found it difficult to
repeat that which we had learned. Every man was
so engrossed with the work in hand that it appeared
like a waste of time to listen to two lads who had
been pleasuring on the Point, as was supposed ; and
we, fatigued beyond power of further movement,
could not run from one to another insisting upon
But for the fact that Noah Brown chanced to pass
near by where I was trying to induce one of the
shipwrights to listen to me, it might have been
a full hour before we gained the ear of any in
Once I began to speak, however, and he realized
from whence we had escaped, it can be fancied that
no further entreaties on our part were necessary.
It was he who pleaded with us to tell more, and
when the story of the adventure had been repeated
twice over, an alarm was given which aroused every
man, woman and child in Presque Isle.
What was done toward defending the place during
the first four and twenty hours of excitement I know
not, because, when our work had been accomplished,
58 WITH PERRY ON LAKE ERIE.
Alec Perry and myself were given the needed oppor-
tunity to sleep, and until the morning after our arrival
we realized nothing of what was passing around us.
It is now well known that the Britishers did not
make an attack upon the village; but - and here I
must go ahead of my story for a moment we
learned five months later, from a prisoner, that the
expected reinforcements arrived twelve hours after
our escape, and save for the fact that we had suc-
ceeded in giving them the slip, the assault would have
been made without delay. The commandant decided,
however, that the news which we carried regarding
the assembling of the forces at that point would be
sufficient to give an alarm, and concluded, with good
cause, that it was no longer possible to take Presque
Isle by surprise.
There was no lack of scouts on the lake from the
day of our return until the ice broke up, and in the
meanwhile my father had come back from Buffalo
with a twelve-pound cannon, four chests of small
arms, and a limited supply of ammunition.
It was a scanty store toward fitting out the vessels
which were nearing completion ; but it served to put
us all in better spirits, because, with these much
needed munitions, we could the better defend the
THE ESCAPE. 59
Lest it should seem that I am vainglorious, the
words which my father spoke to Alec and myself
when he learned what we two had done shall not be
set down here ; but this much is necessary in order
that what follows may be understood. He agreed,
in the name of Captain Perry, that we lads should be
allowed to enlist on whatsoever vessel pleased us ;
and promised also, in the name of Alec's brother,
that a full report of our adventure be sent to the
Government at Washington.
We still continued, so long as it was possible, to
skate back and forth on the lake within half a dozen
miles of the American shore, and perhaps I need not
say that never again did Alec make any attempt
at venturing farther across than seemed absolutely
When not thus employed we watched eagerly the
building of the ships, and had much discussion be-
tween ourselves as to which one we should volunteer
to serve on. For my part I was wholly at a loss to
decide, until Alec settled the question by saying : -
"Where my brother is, there must be the hottest
fighting, for I assure you he will seek out the enemy
whether they be disposed to give battle or not ; and
when he returns from Pittsburg we shall know on
which craft we are to sail."
60 WITH PERRY ON LAKE ERIE.
Captain Perry came back on the loth day of April.
The ice was out of the lake, and the forces in the
blockhouse at the entrance of Presque Isle Bay were
redoubled, for now we had every reason to expect the
Two weeks after his return the three gunboats were
launched, and I dare venture to say not one person
in Presque Isle, old or young, missed the spectacle.
It was a gala day in the village, and when we saw
the little craft swinging at their cables just off the
landing-place, there came to every one, I believe, to
myself I know, an additional sense of security, al-
though these vessels were as yet uncompleted, and
without guns or ammunition.
The two brigs would be ready for leaving the ways
in three weeks, it was said, and Alec and I looked
forward to that day with the keenest interest, for
Captain Perry had told us that upon one of these he
should sail, while at the same time he ratified the
promise made by my father.
We promised ourselves that nothing should prevent
us from seeing these two craft, which both of us felt
certain would make the bravest showing against the
Britishers, leap into the water, and yet we failed of
This is how it was:
THE ESCAPE. 6 1
One week before the day set for the launching a
message came from Commodore Chauncey, who was
then at Buffalo, ordering Captain Perry to join him in
a certain secret enterprise against the enemy.
Now Alec's brother was not minded to take two
lads with him, and would have kept the matter secret,
but that it came to us quite by accident.
Emboldened by the service already rendered, we
decided that it was our right to accompany the expe-
I need not repeat the arguments which we used to
persuade the captain to receive us as volunteers. He
objected to our proposition ; first, because it was not
expected he should bring any force with him, and
secondly, because he must journey from Presque Isle
to Buffalo in an open four-oared boat, which, in itself,
was like to be a perilous undertaking at that season
of the year.
Alec had a persuasive tongue, fortunately, as I then
thought, and the result of our pleadings was that on
the evening of the 23d of May, the day before
the brigs were to be launched, we two lads em-
barked in what was hardly more than a skiff,
manned by four oarsmen, with Captain Perry, exult-
ing in the thought that now were we bearing men's
parts in the war against the enemies of our country.
WHAT might be the enterprise in which we
were embarked on this 23d day of May, in
the year 1813, neither Alec nor I could so much as
guess, and we were not troubled because of our igno-
So that it was an attack upon the enemy, and a
venture in which was somewhat of danger, we gave
As a matter of course we speculated upon it among
ourselves, and, knowing that Captain Perry proposed
to set out alone, we believed it was something in the
nature of a reconnoissance, which in itself would
have been comparatively trifling but for the fact that
Alec's brother was making it, and he, we understood
full well, would lead us as near to the Britishers as
might be agreeable.
As I have said, it was evening when we set out
from Presque Isle, embarking at the old French Fort,
and before having sailed a distance of ten miles the
boat was headed in for the shore.
THE ATTACK. 63
To my mind there was good reason for this ma-
noeuvre. The wind was blowing from the north and
east a full half-gale, and it was such weather as
appeared too heavy for our small boat.
Immediately after we had rounded the point on
which was located the blockhouse, and were come out
into the lake, I believed the captain would decide that
it was dangerous in the extreme to make any attempt
at continuing the journey, and my relief was great
when the bow of the craft grated upon the sand.
" If this is to be the end of our travels we need
not have wasted so much breath in asking permission
to join the party," Alec whispered to me, laughingly,
but ere I could reply my father stepped out from
the bushes, pushed off the boat as he leaped into it
without speaking, and the voyage was resumed before
we had fully come to a halt.
Now it was we understood that some plan of opera-
tions had been decided upon beforehand, else would
Captain Perry and my father have held converse with
each other; but, instead, they sat in the stern-sheets
intent, so far as we could see, only upon the progress
which we might make by aid of oars.
Noting the expression on each man's face I grew
more serious in mind, understanding full well that they
had in view something of a grave nature, otherwise words
64 WITH PERRY ON LAKE ERIE.
would have passed between them, whereas both held
silent ; while our boatmen fought against the angry
waves of the lake as if some great reward awaited
them in event of a successful ending of the voyage.
This much Alec saw as well as did I, for he whis-
pered, after we had pushed out on the angry waters
again, forcing our way against wind and wave half a
mile or more, during which time no person in the
boat had so much as spoken : -
" Where think you, Richard Dobbins, is to be the
end of this adventure ? " And I answered him, having
in mind our captivity at Port Rowan : -
"It is like that we will head, so soon as the wind
permits, for some point on the Canadian shore. Per-
haps neither your brother nor my father firmly believes
all we told them regarding the gathering of Britishers,
and are now come to make a reconnoissance, since the
ice is broken up and it is possible for troops to cross
It would have been as well had we held our peace,
for neither Alec nor I guessed at the meaning of
this voyage, as was shown when the night grew older.
Instead of proceeding toward the Canadian shore,
as would have been easier under all the circumstances,
\ve hugged the land so far as was possible, steadily
advancing within what might well be called the Amer-
THE ATTACK. 65
ican boundaries, straight on toward Buffalo, and were
it not for the fact of what followed after we were
on the banks of the Niagara River, I would write
much concerning the dangers of that night voyage,
when not only once, but twenty times, were we in
great peril of being overset by the angry waves.
However, because of what followed, this venture,
which at the time seemed in the highest degree haz-
ardous, came to appear as nothing, and must be
passed over with but few words.
Therefore let me set it down that during every
moment of all the long night we two lads believed
our lives were near to being ended.
Every wave which buffeted our slight craft sent the
water in over rail or stern, and brought her down
so low that the water broke over us until we were
forced to bail with all our might, else had we been
In such manner did the night pass, and when morn-
ing broke we were at Buffalo, neither Alec nor I
understanding what purpose could have brought us
We had a fairly good idea, however, when, with
such horses as could most readily be procured, we
four - meaning Captain Perry, my father, Alec, and I
- set out by land, riding during that day and part of
66 WITH PERRY ON LAKE ERIE.
the next night until we were come to Lewiston, when
we made a halt.
Then a council was held, in which we had no part,
but I heard Captain Perry say to my father at the
close of it : -
" You will ride back to Schlosser, and there make
ready boats in which to transport laborers who will
hasten the work upon our squadron at Presque Isle,
if it so be we are successful in the venture."
Whereupon my father asked : -
"But if it so be that you fail in the enterprise?"
" To my mind there is no such possibility. Fort
George must be taken within four and twenty hours
after our arrival, and from that point we will detach
as many men as are needed for the movement which
we contemplate upon the lake."
Thus it was that Alec and I gained an inkling of
the whole scheme.
Fort George, on the Canadian shore, just south of
Newark, was to be attacked by our forces, most likely
under command of Commodore Chauncey, and we lads,
who burned to distinguish ourselves, would be given
the opportunity within a few hours.
My father turned back agreeably to the commands
he had received, and we three continued on until we
arrived at the shore of Lake Ontario, near-by Fort
THE ATTACK. 6/
Niagara, off which was lying the American fleet, con-
sisting of such vessels as the Madison, Oneida, Lady of
the Lake, Ontario, and five or six others whose names
shall appear as this narrative progresses.
It was a hearty reception with which we met when,
having come to the shore, signals were made to our
vessels in the offing, and a boat put out from the
Madison, which for the time was flying Commodore
Leaving our horses in the care of friendly-disposed
people near at hand, we embarked in the commodore's
barge, and on stepping aboard the Madison, Commo-
dore Chauncey said, taking Captain Perry warmly by
the hand : -
" No person on earth could be more welcome at
this time than yourself."
It was as if these words had been spoken to us two
lads personally, and immediately Alec and I were
puffed up with pride, sharing for the moment all the
honor which was given to the captain.
It was not with any idea of spinning out a yarn
regarding the capture of Fort George that I first set
myself down to this task, but rather to tell how Cap-
tain Oliver Perry won renown for himself on the waters
of Lake Erie, and also to describe the slight share
which we two lads had in the gaining of his glory.
68 WITH TERRY ON LAKE ERIE.
Therefore it is that all which was done here near-
about Lake Ontario shall be given in the fewest words
possible to a fair understanding. So far as we two lads
are concerned, it may well be passed over briefly, for
although our intentions were good, and we had fancied
the moment was come when we could play the part of
men, Alec Perry and I were little more than spectators
during this, the first of warfare I had ever witnessed.
But even to so skeleton-like a tale as this must be,
some words of description are necessary, in order that
what share Captain Perry had in the victory may thor-
oughly be understood.
The commander of the American forces was General
Henry Dearborn, and of the American squadron, as I
have before said, Commodore Isaac Chauncey.
Of our land force, fit for duty, there were said to be
over four thousand, including the troops under com-
mand of Major-General Lewis in Fort Niagara. Our
people had, in addition to the fort I have just named,
what was known as the Salt Battery, opposite Fort
George, and two other batteries between it and Fort
General Dearborn was so sick at this time as to be
unable to take any active part in the operations ; but
his chief of staff, Colonel Winfield Scott, represented
him ably, and during an interview between the com-
THE ATTACK. 69
modore and the general in command, it was decided
that Captain Oliver Perry should have full charge of
the task of landing the troops when the attack was
Further preparations on our side consisted of build-