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USS Niagara (1813)

uss niagara 1813 iron, uss niagara 1813 26th
Coordinates: 42°8′14″N 80°5′15″W / 4213722°N 8008750°W / 4213722; -8008750

Niagara near Put-in-Bay, Ohio in June 2009
Name: Niagara
Owner: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Operator: Flagship Niagara League
Ordered: 31 December 1812
Launched: 4 June 1813
Sunk: 1820
Raised: 6 March 1913
Restored: 1913, 1931–1943, 1963, 1988
Homeport: Erie, Pennsylvania
General characteristics
Class and type: Niagara-class snow-brig
Displacement: 297 long tons 302 t1
Length: 110 ft 8 in 337 m LBP
Beam: 32 ft 98 m
  • 113 ft 4 in 345 m Foremast
  • 118 ft 4 in 361 m Mainmast
Draft: 9 ft 27 m
Sail plan: 12,665 sq ft 1,177 m2 on two masts1
Boats & landing
craft carried:
2 cutters, 1 yawl2
Tons burthen: 492  60⁄95 tons13
Complement: 155 officers and enlisted
  • 18 × 32-pounder carronades
  • 2 × 12-pounder long guns
Tonnage: 162 GT1
Installed power: 2 × 200 bhp 150 kW diesel engines
Crew: 20 professional, 20 volunteer1
Armament: 2 × 32-pounder carronades
US National Register of Historic Places
Official name USS Niagara
Designated 11 April 1973
Reference no 730016284

USS Niagara, commonly called the US Brig Niagara or the Flagship Niagara, is a wooden-hulled snow-brigb that served as the relief flagship for Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812 As the ship is certified for sail training by the United States Coast Guard, it also designated SSV Niagara Niagara is one of the last remaining ships from the War of 1812, and is usually docked behind the Erie Maritime Museum in downtown Erie in the US state of Pennsylvania as an outdoor exhibit for the museum It also often travels the Great Lakes during the summer, serving as an ambassador of Pennsylvania when not docked It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and was designated the official state ship of Pennsylvania by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1988

Niagara was constructed from 1812 to 1813 to protect the vulnerable American coastline on Lake Erie from the British and played a pivotal role in the battle for the lake Along with most warships that served in the war, Niagara was sunk for preservation on Presque Isle in 1820 Raised in 1913, it was rebuilt for the centennial of the Battle of Lake Erie After deteriorating, the restoration of Niagara was started again in the 1930s, but was hampered by the lack of funds caused by the Great Depression and remained uncompleted until 1963 A more extensive restoration was carried out in 1988 in which much of the original ship was largely destroyed The incorporation of new materials and modern equipment makes it ambiguous as to whether it is or is not a replica


  • 1 Naming
  • 2 Construction
  • 3 War of 1812
    • 31 Battle of Lake Erie
  • 4 Centennial
  • 5 Museum ship
  • 6 In popular culture
  • 7 See also
  • 8 Notes
  • 9 References
  • 10 Sources
  • 11 External links


In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt issued an executive order standardizing the prefix of all vessels of the United States Navy to be "USS"5 Prior to this, ship prefixes were used "haphazardly", but ships' names were often preceded by the abbreviation "US" and the type of vessel6 A survey of documents contained in the National Archives and Records Administration that were sent to and from the Department of the Navy in that era found a number of inconsistencies7 Of 55 correspondences that mentioned Niagara, 436 percent used the term "US Sloop Niagara", 327 percent used "US Brig Niagara" and 236 percent had "USS Niagara"8

Because of its historical role as the flagship of Oliver Hazard Perry during the Battle of Lake Erie, the ship is commonly referred to as the Flagship Niagara Niagara also carries the name of "SSV Niagara" due to its designation by the United States Coast Guard as a Sailing School Vessela


In the beginning of September 1812, Daniel Dobbins, a merchant on the Great Lakes, arrived in Washington, DC to warn the United States government of the vulnerability of the Lake Erie coastline to a British attack9 Dobbins had been captured by the British after a surprise attack at Fort Mackinac in Michigan, but was able to negotiate his release Dobbins was briefly detained again by the British in Detroit after the city was captured9 After several days of discussions with President James Madison and Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton, Dobbins convinced them that the safest place to build a fleet was in the sheltered bay formed by Presque Isle at Erie, Pennsylvania On 15 September, Hamilton authorized Dobbins to construct four gunboats10 Hamilton also granted $2,000 to be used for the construction and appointed Dobbins, a civilian, to the rank of sailing master in the United States Navy On 31 December, Captain Isaac Chauncey, the commander of naval forces on Lake Ontario, arrived in Erie for a day, made some alterations to Dobbins' ship design and authorized him to build, additionally, two brigs11 Oliver Hazard Perry was promoted to Commodore in February 1813 and was given orders to report to Erie from Newport, Rhode Island Perry arrived in Erie on 26 March, after being held up in Sackets Harbor, New York for two weeks by Chauncey in case of a possible attack by the British12

The construction of the fleet was largely supervised by Noah Brown, a shipwright brought in from New York City11 The keels of two brigs were each constructed out of a single 14-by-18-inch 360 mm × 460 mm black oak log11 Due to a lack of iron, the timbers that made up the hulls were joined using wooden pins called treenails In place of the oakum and pitch normally used to caulk ships, lead was used13 The timbers used in the brigs were still green, as the builders did not have the luxury of time to allow the wood to dry properly A total of 65 cannons were shipped to Erie to arm the fleet; Hamilton approved the production of 37 cannons by a foundry in Washington, DC and the rest were moved from Sackets Harbor14 Tigress and Porcupine were launched in April 1813, Scorpion in May, and the brig Lawrence on 25 June15 Niagara was launched on 4 July along with Ariel1617

One of the strategic advantages of building a fleet in Erie was that the bay formed by Presque Isle was cut off from the Lake Erie by a sandbar, which prevented British warships from being able to enter the bay The brigs Niagara and Lawrence both had a draft of 9 feet 27 m, which was too deep to cross the sandbar On 4 August, Niagara was pulled onto the sandbar using its anchor in a technique called kedging and was lightened by removing its cannons and ballast A pair of 90-by-40-foot 27 by 12 m barges, called "camels", were placed on either side of the ship18 The camels were sunk and secured to Niagara The water was pumped out of the camel, lifting the ship By the following day, Niagara was safely over the sandbar and was rearmed; Lawrence was floated over the sandbar a couple of days before Niagara During the construction, the area was usually under daily surveillance by the British19 On the day Lawrence crossed the sandbar, a pair of British warships, Queen Charlotte and Lady Prevost, observed for an hour but failed to notice Perry's actions20

War of 1812edit

On 6 August, Perry ordered a shakedown cruise of the fleet, now totaling ten after the inclusion of three merchant vessels—Somers, Trippe and Ohio—that were converted into warships and Caledonia, which was captured from the British16 Lieutenant Daniel Turner was placed in command of Niagara for the cruise, as the fleet was still seriously undermanned; Dobbins had even written a letter, directed to Secretary Hamilton, out of desperation back in December 18122122 Word arrived on 8 August that Jesse Elliott was en route to Erie from Black Rock, New York with 89 men Elliott was promoted to commodore and given command of Niagara after arriving in Erie on 10 August23

On 17 August, Perry's fleet anchored off of Sandusky, Ohio, and dispatched a boat to inform General William Henry Harrison of their presence Harrison and his staff met with Perry aboard the ships the next day and agreed to a rendezvous in Put-in-Bay In Put-in-Bay, Harrison made available 100 "Kentucky and frontier riflemen" to serve on board as Marines23 The British fleet, under the command of Commodore Robert Heriot Barclay, was based at Fort Amherstburg, Canada While Perry's fleet was under construction, Barclay had ordered the construction of HMS Detroit, which was to be a match for Niagara and Lawrence Unbeknownst to Perry, supplies in Fort Amherstburg were running out, as his fleet had cut off shipments from Long Point24 Fearing an uprising caused by a shortage of food, Barclay and his fleet set sail as soon as Detroit was complete

Battle of Lake Erieedit

Main article: Battle of Lake Erie Painting by William Henry Powell depicting Perry's transfer to Niagara during the Battle of Lake Erie

On 10 September, both fleets got underway Detroit fired the first shot around noon, while still out of range Perry formed the fleet into a line, with the larger ships each being assigned a target: Lawrence to Detroit, Niagara to Queen Charlotte, and Caledonia to Hunter As the line moved to engage, Niagara, under the command of Elliott, lagged behind the fleet The cause of the failure of Niagara to maintain formation is unknown, either deliberate on the part of Elliott, or because it was becalmed After a couple of hours, all of the cannons on Lawrence that were facing the British were out of commission and the brig could no longer be maneuvered25 Perry lowered his battle flag, emblazoned with the last words of Captain James Lawrence, "Don't Give Up The Ship", and transferred to the still-intact Niagara via a small rowboat Perry took command of Niagara and crossed the British line perpendicularly in a tactic called crossing the "T"26 Queen Charlotte, while attempting to prevent Niagara from breaking through the line, collided with Detroit and became entangled27 Niagara opened fire with both broadsides: the starboard broadside hitting Queen Charlotte and Detroit, and the port into Lady Prevost27 After several broadsides, Queen Charlotte surrendered, followed shortly after by Detroit and the rest of the British fleet

After the battle, Niagara assisted in the transporting of Harrison's army to the mouth of the Detroit River in preparation for an invasion of southwest Ontario On 25 April 1814, command of Niagara was transferred to Arthur Sinclair28 After repairs, the fleet—consisting of Niagara, Lawrence, Caledonia, Scorpion and Tigress—departed Erie for Detroit In Detroit, soldiers under the command of Colonel George Croghan embarked with the fleet, bound for Mackinac Island28 The fleet arrived on 26 July and landed on 4 August The battle was ultimately lost, with Croghan being forced to retreat back to his boats On 13 August, the fleet arrived at the mouth of the Nottawasaga River where they attacked a blockhouse owned by the North West Company29 The blockhouse was destroyed by the British, along with the schooner HMS Nancy, to prevent their supplies from being captured

After the Treaty of Ghent was signed, ending the war, the majority of the surviving ships that participated in the Battle of Lake Erie were disposed of in 1815 Queen Charlotte, Detroit, and Lawrence were sunk for preservation in Misery Bay on Presque Isle, whereas Niagara was kept afloat and operated as a receiving ship30 It was sunk in 1820 when the naval station at Presque Isle was closed Benjamin H Brown of Rochester, New York bought all four ships in 1825, but sold them in 1836 to George Miles of Erie31 Miles raised the ships, planning on using them as merchant vessels Lawrence and Niagara, not having a large enough hold and being in poor condition, were allowed to sink again32


Niagara at Put-in-Bay, Ohio for the centennial of the Battle of Lake Erie in 1913

As part of celebrations for the centennial of the Battle of Lake Erie, Niagara was raised from Misery Bay in April 1913 Its keel was found to be in good enough condition for the brig to be rebuilt Efforts to rebuild Niagara were hampered by the lack of original plans33 The restored Niagara was launched on 7 June, complete with a new bowsprit, rigging and reproduction cannons supplied by the Boston Navy Yard3334 From mid-July to mid-September, Niagara was towed to various ports on the Great Lakes—including Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo and Cleveland—by USS Wolverine, the Navy's first iron-hulled warship3536 Ownership of Niagara was transferred to the City of Erie in 1917, where it remained docked deteriorating

The City of Erie transferred ownership of Niagara to the newly formed "USS Niagara Foundation" in 1929, which was tasked with "acquiring and restoring the ship and making it the centerpiece of a museum"37 The onset of the Great Depression forced the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to take ownership, through the Flagship Niagara Commission, two years later $50,000 was made available for another restoration in 1931, but by 1938 the state stopped its funding, leaving the restoration unfinished Niagara was transferred to the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, predecessor of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, and became a project for the Works Progress Administration The Historical Commission contracted Howard I Chapelle to draw up plans for another restoration of Niagara, based on other period ships that were built by Noah Brown, like Saratoga38 According to Chapelle, very little of the original Niagara remained, as parts of it had been sold as souvenirs, and the 1913 reconstruction was not accurate to the period38 The hull of Niagara was launched in October 1943 without any masts, spars, or rigging It was placed in a concrete cradle in 1951 Discovery of dry rot throughout every part of Niagara made it clear that a complete reconstruction would eventually be needed39 Funds were appropriated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to make Niagara "presentable" for the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie in 1963 with the addition of rigging and cannons40 Niagara was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on 11 April 1973

Museum shipedit

Erie mayor Louis J Tullio right congratulating Melbourne Smith left on the reconstruction of Niagara

In 1981, the Flagship Niagara League was formed with intent of reconstructing Niagara so that it would be a working ship, instead of an "outdoor museum piece"40 The League was eventually incorporated as a non-profit organization associated with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Melbourne Smith, builder of the schooner Pride of Baltimore, was hired in 1986 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to head the reconstruction The decay of Niagara was so bad that it was dismantled and ultimately destroyed, with various timbers salvaged and used in non-structural areas of the ship The destruction of the old ship and use of new wood often leads Niagara to be considered a replica While the first Niagara was built hurriedly, the new Niagara was built out of properly seasoned and preserved yellow pine and Douglas fir41 The new Niagara was launched on 10 September 1988, but was not completed until 18 July 1990 when its sea trials were held42 The Pennsylvania General Assembly designated Niagara as the official flagship of Pennsylvania on 29 April 1988 and described its purpose as being a "sailing ambassador for Pennsylvania"43 In March 2008, the yellow pine mainmast was replaced with one of Douglas fir44

Niagara is one of two remaining vessels that served in the War of 1812, the second being USS Constitution45 The United States Coast Guard certified Niagara as a Sailing School Vessel in August 200546 For safety reasons, Niagara was equipped with modern equipment such as auxiliary diesel engines, lifeboats, radar, LORAN and radio2 In 2009, the Flagship Niagara League assumed day-to-day management of Niagara after a decision by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to cut $250,000 to fill a budget deficit47 As part of the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie, Niagara took part in a reenactment of the battle on 2 September 2013 in Put-In-Bay along with 16 other tall ships48

In popular cultureedit

Flagship Niagara license plate

In 1996, a commemorative Pennsylvania license plate was introduced depicting Niagara during the Battle of Lake Erie49 Concerns by law enforcement about the plates legibility lead them to be no longer issued50

In 2010, Niagara was used to depict the whaleship Essex in an episode of the Public Broadcasting Service documentary series American Experience5152

See alsoedit

  • Erie portal
  • National Register of Historic Places portal
  • Pennsylvania portal
  • United States Navy portal
  • War of 1812 portal
  • List of Pennsylvania state symbols
  • National Register of Historic Places listings in Erie County, Pennsylvania


a ^ Niagara's captain's blog, Captain Heerssen explains the vessel's historical name, adding that "the US Coast Guard has designated her as the Sailing School Vessel Niagara due to the nature of service in which she is routinely engaged" Retrieved 22 July 2011 b ^ Although commonly referred to as a brig, she is technically a snow, as her spanker is rigged to a small try-mast, aka snow-mast, stepped abaft her main


  1. ^ a b c d e Magoc 2001, p 40
  2. ^ a b Magoc 2001, p 45
  3. ^ Tons burthen was calculated in the United States by multiplying the ship's length times its width times its depth, and dividing the result by 95
  4. ^ "NPS Focus" National Register of Historic Places National Park Service Retrieved 15 May 2014 
  5. ^ Exec Order 549  7 January 1907 President of the United States
  6. ^ "Ship Naming in the United States Navy" Naval History & Heritage Command, United States Navy Archived from the original on 3 July 1998 Retrieved 15 May 2014 
  7. ^ Malcomson 2009, p 407
  8. ^ Malcomson 2009, p 409
  9. ^ a b Knoll 1979, p 8
  10. ^ Knoll 1979, p 12
  11. ^ a b c Knoll 1979, p 17
  12. ^ Knoll 1979, p 21
  13. ^ Knoll 1979, p 20
  14. ^ Knoll 1979, pp 17, 22
  15. ^ Knoll 1979, pp 22, 24
  16. ^ a b Knoll 1979, p 24
  17. ^ Severance 1905, p 324
  18. ^ Severance 1905, p 330
  19. ^ Severance 1905, p 326
  20. ^ Severance 1905, p 331
  21. ^ New England Historic Genealogical Society 1994, p 24
  22. ^ Knoll 1979, p 25
  23. ^ a b Knoll 1979, p 26
  24. ^ Knoll 1979, p 27
  25. ^ Knoll 1979, p 30
  26. ^ Knoll 1979, p 31
  27. ^ a b Severance 1905, p 348
  28. ^ a b Severance 1905, p 370
  29. ^ Severance 1905, p 372
  30. ^ Dobbins 1913, p 152
  31. ^ Dobbins 1913, p 153
  32. ^ Dobbins 1913, p 154
  33. ^ a b Pennsylvania Register of Historic Sites and Landmarks 1972, sec 7
  34. ^ Perry's Victory Centennial Commission 1916, p 9
  35. ^ Perry's Victory Centennial Commission 1916, p 10
  36. ^ Magoc 2001, p 26
  37. ^ Magoc 2001, p 28
  38. ^ a b Baker 1980, sec A50
  39. ^ Magoc 2001, pp 28–29
  40. ^ a b Magoc 2001, p 29
  41. ^ Magoc 2001, p 41
  42. ^ Magoc 2001, p 32
  43. ^ "Flagship of Pennsylvania Act", Act of 29 Apr 1988, PL 392, No 61
  44. ^ Weber, Sarah 20 March 2008 "Brig Niagara trades in yellow pine for Douglas fir" Erie Times-News Retrieved 12 May 2010 
  45. ^ "Gov Ridge Promotes Pennsylvania Aboard Flagship" Press release PR Newswire 15 June 1996 
  46. ^ "US Brig Niagara Certified as Sailing School Vessel by US Coast Guard" Press release PR Newswire 3 August 2005 
  47. ^ Frederick, Robb 15 May 2009 "Brig Niagara will sail" Erie Times-News Retrieved 8 May 2010 
  48. ^ Leonardi, Ron 1 September 2013 "Brig Niagara to take park in Ohio battle re-enactment" Erie Times-News Retrieved 3 September 2013 
  49. ^ "New license plate in PA depicts historical ship" Philadelphia Inquirer 27 October 1995 p B2 
  50. ^ Wittman, Bob 23 June 1996 "Picture License Plates Are In Demand But Police Find Pa's Flagship Niagara Plates Too Hard To Read" The Morning Call Allentown, Pennsylvania Retrieved 16 May 2014 
  51. ^ Rieder, Doug 10 May 2010 "US Brig Niagara stars in Ric Burns' 'Into the Deep' Monday on WQLN-TV" Erie Times-News Retrieved 12 May 2010 
  52. ^ Writer / Producer: Ric Burns 10 May 2010 "Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World" American Experience PBS 


  • Baker, William Avery 1980 "The Flagship "Niagara"—Her History" PDF Retrieved 9 May 2010 
  • Dobbins, William W 1913 History of the Battle of Lake Erie September 10, 1813 and Reminiscences of the Flagships "Lawrence" and "Niagara" 2nd ed Erie, PA: Ashby Printing 
  • Knoll, Denys W 1979 Battle of Lake Erie: Building the Fleet in the Wilderness Washington, DC: Naval Historical Foundation 
  • Malcomson, Robert October 2009 "Call her "US Frigate" or "US Ship" Naming Warships from the War of 1812" PDF The Northern Mariner Canadian Nautical Research Society XIX 4: 405–412 Retrieved 15 May 2014 
  • Magoc, Chris J 2001 Erie Maritime Museum and US Brig Niagara Pennsylvania Trail of History Guide Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole ISBN 0-8117-2756-4 
  • New England Historic Genealogical Society 1994 New England Historical and Genealogical Register 1863 17 Bowie, MD: Heritage Books ISBN 1-55613-937-3 
  • Pennsylvania Register of Historic Sites and Landmarks July 1972 "Flagship Niagara" PDF National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form Retrieved 3 May 2010 dead link
  • Perry's Victory Centennial Commission, State of New York 1916 Perry's Victory Centenary Albany, NY: J B Lyon 
  • Severance, Frank H 1905 "The Dobbins Papers" Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society Buffalo, NY: Buffalo Historical Society 7: 257–379 

External linksedit

  • Flagship Niagara website
  • Niagara Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships

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