The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Porcupine (Sloop), 1 Oct 1897


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WRECK OF THE PORCUPINE.
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      One Of Commodore Perry's Historic Vessels Now Lies Rotting
      In The Sand Near Grand Haven. She Captured Two British Ships.
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      Buried deep in the sands at the edge of Spring Lake, Near Grand Haven, Mich., lies the hull of the old sloop PORCUPINE, which was one of Lieut. Oliver H. Perry's fleet in the battle of Lake Erie, says a writer in the Chicago Post. The old boat is nearly gone. She has lain there since 1873, when she went out of service, and was beached by a gang of men who had tried to rig her up as a lumber lugger. D.M. Ferry, later a United States Senator from Michigan, owned the land where the discouraged sailors flung the hull, and left her there to work deeper into the sand. She is just at the end of one of his docks now; but he knew the honorable part she had played, and while he lived he refused to move her. Visitors go over from Grand Haven every summer and sit on the wreck of the PORCUPINE - the last known timber from that battle, which was reported with Caesarean brevity: "We have met the enemy, and they are ours.
      When Perry came to Erie that March day in 1813, the British being in command of the lake, and hourly menacing Ohio and Michigan, the timbers of the PORCUPINE were swaying with the wind in the forests ashore.
      Lieut. Perry had seen plenty of service. His father was a naval officer before him, and he knew what was needed. Just across the bar from the harbor of Erie rode the British fleet - "Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Capt. Robert Heriot Barclay commanded them, and was minded to blow the little town of Erie quite off the face of the earth. But he learned that this new commander, Perry, was building boats; and it seemed a good thing for Barclay to wait and capture them.
      Two gunboats were building at Erie when Perry arrived; but there was nothing to protect them while building, nor to arm them when completed. If Barclay had been disposed he could have sent men ashore in the small boat any night, and burned up ships and shipyard, but he needed vessels himself, and was willing to let the Americans build them for him. Perry sent workmen to the forest, cutting oak, walnut and poplar; and oxen hauled the timbers to the beach. He sent other men to Buffalo, to Commander Chauncey on Lake Ontario, and to the Secretary of War at Washington, pleading for men, for arms, for ammunition, for sails, and for iron. He seemed never to sleep, and the men who built his ships for him came to regard him as the soldiers just south of them looked upon "Maj. Anthony Wayne."
      Day and night the work went forward. The LAWRENCE and the NIAGARA were finished. The PORCUPINE, the TIGRESS, the SOMERS, the TRIPPE, the CALEDONIA, the SCORPION and the ARIEL were hastening to completion and the energy of Perry was bringing equipment and men from every direction. He enlisted men at $10 a month "till after the battle." By August he had a fleet in the harbor, and 300 men to man it.
      There was a bar outside. It was impassable to the NIAGARA and the LAWRENCE; so he sent over the PORCUPINE and the rest of the sloops, and told them to cover the frigates while he lifted the big ships across the bar. But Barclay happily, had drawn away to gey a new ship of his own. He had lost his opportunity. When Perry once went to work the chance to burn the Erie shipyard was forever gone. And the two big boats came into deep water Sunday, August 4.
      The wish to engage, so often shown by the British when Perry's ships were at Erie, was no longer manifest now that he was on the lake. Perry sailed to Put-in-Bay, and August 10 his outlook saw the topgallant sails of the British squadron. He weighed anchor immediately and sailed to meet the enemy, whose ships were the DETROIT, the QUEEN CHARLOTTE the LADY PROVOST, the HUNTER, the CHIPPEWA and the LITTLE BELT, Barclay had fought under Nelson at Trafalgar, and no fresh-water sailor should daunt him.
      But " Perry's Luck" went with the Yankee Lieutenant. The wind was with the American vessels. Their commander flung the banner "Dont give up the ship" from the main of the LAWRENCE, and outran his fellows in his eagerness for the fray. The DETROIT had long range guns, and Perry signaled for close action. He drove headlong into the enemy's line, and raked him with both broadsides. But the big LAWRENCE was crushed, and Perry, assisted by the Chaplain and Purser, fired his last gun and went in a rowboat to the NIAGARA. Across the open space between them he stood up, waving his pennant and defyiny a shower of cannistes that Barclay sent after him till he reached the second frigate. Then he caught the wind again, and swung for a second time against the line. The DETROIT and the QUEEN CHARLOTTE became inextricably entangled, and Perry's broadsides tore through both of them. The little PORCUPINE, disdaining to shorten sail, ranged through the HUNTER, the PROVOST and the BELT, so close that the Kentucky riflemen Gen. Harrison had sent on board could kill the British gunners at their work.
      At 3 P. M. the flag came down from the fore of the DETROIT and in less than five minutes two more struck their colors. But the CHIPPEWA and LITTLE BELT cut and ran, and the PORCUPINE went after them. It was a stern chase, but she won it, and they came back side by side - the Stars and Stripes above them.
" We have met the enemy and they are ours," wrote Perry, and sent the dispatch to Harrison.
      When the war was over the PORCUPINE went into the merchant trade and sailed the lakes with salt in her hold, with lumber on her deck - a great deal drier than ever her own timbers were. And after 60 years she proved unseaworthy, and then the fishers used her, and at last they got mad because her mainmast wobbled and they ran her in the sands at the shore of Spring Lake, and in the sun and the wind she took time to season.
      Brave little PORCUPINE: She served her country well. Summer and winter for 23 years the winds and waves of Lake Michigan have sung a requiem, wild, tender and sad by turns, above her whitening timbers.
      Buffalo Evening Post
      Sunday, October 24, 1897 p. 17, col. 6-7-8.

      . . . . .

      A dispatch from Spring Lake, Mich., says that the last known timbers of the old sloop PORCUPINE, which for over a quarter of a century found their resting place on the shores of Spring Lake, have been taken out for their historical value. The PORCUPINE was one of Oliver H. Perry's fleet in the battle of Lake Erie.
      Marine Review
      January 27, 1898

      . . . . .

      FATE OF THE SLOOP PORCUPINE.
Lying in a heap of debris in the back yard of Charles Bolthouse at Ferrysburg, Mich., is all that is left of the old sloop PORCUPINE of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's famous fleet, one of the little gun vessels of one gun which sailed into close action with the British squadron at the battle of Lake Erie and won the battle after the heavy LAWRENCE had been visited and sunk. After several years as a diminutive man-of-war on the lakes, sixty years as a lake trader and a few months as a fisherman's boat,. and twenty-four years as a sunken wreck in Spring lake, the sloop now is falling to pieces in the yard of the man who rescued it from the grave in the sand and water. The stern post has been taken from the debris and will come into life again as a part of the porch of a Michigan physician's summer home.
After the war the PORCUPINE was purchased from the government by Rev. Mr. Ferry, a missionary to the Indians. who was located at Grand Haven, Mich. The vessel was used in merchant trade, sailing the lakes with salt in its hold and lumber on its decks. After sixty years of good service it became unseaworthy, was abandoned by trade, and then taken up by lake fishermen, but proved of little value to them. After a few short voyages it was sailed from Lake Michigan up Grand river to Spring Lake, and there beached. Here it lay for twenty-four long years with the merciless waves dashing over it. Several attempts were made to raise it, but no one was successful until Mr. Bolthouse became interested. He with the aid of a large capstan and two sets of blocks, lifted it from the. water. He had secured the whole bottom and the sides as far up as the deck, the ribs being intact. It was filled with sand and the great weight made it almost impossible to move it, but it was hauled a couple of blocks and finally placed in the back yard of its rescuer, covering 65 ft. of ground. When taken from the water its timbers, in which British bullets are still embedded, were perfectly sound, but the sun soon began to rot the wood, and what is left now is fast decaying.
      The sloop was one of the finest which Commodore Perry, then a lieutenant, had built at Presque Isle to meet the British on the lakes. When the lieutenant to whom was given this gigantic task, was sent to Lake Erie he found himself the commander of a fleet which did not exist. The trees which formed the beams of his vessels still were growing on the shores of the lake. He had neither men-of-war, men-of-warsmen, nor guns. He had energy, however, and that was enough. The PORCUPINE was one of the vessels thus rapidly constructed It was destined to be one of the small members of the fleet which met the enemy and took them captive. One gun was its armament. Two large brigs to mount twenty guns each were laid down at Presque Isle, and the small gun vessels were quickly completed.
      The PORCUPINE had to help in driving the British out of Detroit. It conveyed a part of the American troops to landing in Upper Canada. These troops won the battle of the Moravian towns on Oct. 5, 1813, which placed the upper part of the province in the hands of the Americans. Upon this little vessel and the other boats of the fleet depended the American supremacy on the lakes. Under Perry's energetic management two large brigs, the PORCUPINE, and several other small gun vessels soon were launched The spring of 1813 was passed in securing guns, shot and other supplies, and a draft of men to put behind the guns. By August he had his fleet and 300 men, had been raised to the rank of captain, and less than five months had been sufficient to convert the trees which were growing on the lake shore into armed vessels.
When the little PORCUPINE set out to receive its baptism it was in the company of the following boats: LAWRENCE, twenty guns, Capt. Perry commanding; NIAGARA, twenty guns, Capt. Elliott commanding; CALEDONIA, three guns. Mr. McGrath commanding; ARIEL, four guns, Lieut. Packett commanding; TRIPPE, one gun, Lieut. Smith commanding; TIGRESS one gun, Lieut. Conklin commanding; SOMERS two guns, Mr. Almy commanding; SCORPION, two guns, Mr. Champlin commanding; OHIO, one gun Mr. Dobbins commanding.
      Marine Review
      August 29, 1901


Media Type:
Text
Newspaper
Item Type:
Clippings
Notes:
history & end of vessel
Date of Original:
1897
Subject(s):
Local identifier:
McN.E.3410
Language of Item:
English
Donor:
William R. McNeil
Copyright Statement:
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
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Porcupine (Sloop), 1 Oct 1897