Kuron: Sailing impatiently into 1813Written by Frank Kuron | | email@example.com
There’s a four-letter word, and when I hear it, it makes me absolutely manic! No, it’s not the “S” one, nor the “D” one, not even that big “F” one. It’s the “W” one – WAIT. Two things are certain: there’s no crying in baseball, and there should be no waiting in life. At least not in mine!
Being stuck in traffic, put on ignore by customer disservice, or standing behind that lady with fifty items in the fifteen-item checkout can irritate anybody. But one time, my impatience went too far when I jeopardized a potential new job by making pestering phone calls only days after an interview. Well, our own hero of the War of 1812, Oliver Hazard Perry, did something similarly impatient on New Year’s Day 1813.
Just as today’s world, when 1812 became 1813, New York City hosted the most extravagant New Year’s parties. But New Yorkers that January were celebrating victory more than the arrival of a new year. Back in October 1812, the American frigate, United States, defeated and captured the British ship, Macedonian. The defeated vessel was escorted back to our shores and on New Year’s Day, it processed into New York harbor alongside its conquering ship. The event was cheered by deliriously happy patriots, who had lined the waterfront to see this tangible evidence that our young navy had matured. Americans’ confidence in the war effort suddenly skyrocketed.
All ships in the port flaunted huge U.S. flags from their masts. Artillery fired salutes. And the new year was literally rung in, as the clamor of all city church bells resonated for more than an hour. On New Year’s Eve, a grand ball occurred and the newspapers noted that it was attended by more than 300 of the most beautiful and well-dressed ladies in the country. For days, elaborate dinners, theatrical performances and parades honored the sailors. Some reports claim that even some captured British musicians from the Macedonian played in lockstep with the American bands.
Earlier in December, well before their heralded entrance into New York, the Macedonian and United States and their crews first docked at Newport, R.I. There, Master-Commandant Oliver Perry was on-duty coordinating affairs of the moored U.S. flotilla. It’s possible that Perry was in this stagnant post because of his involvement in a serious mishap a year earlier while commanding the U.S. schooner Revenge. In a dense fog, that ship ran onto a reef and soon sank. An investigation cleared Perry of any wrongdoing, and actually gained him acclaim for rescuing the crew and valuables, but the stigma of losing a ship lingered in some influential naval minds.
When Lt. William Allen arrived in Newport, Perry applauded his close friend who had served so honorably aboard the United States. Perry fully expected Allen to receive a promotion for his heroics. However, when that promotion was to the post Perry had longed for, command of the brig Argus . Perry’s disappointment was impossible to disguise. Weeks earlier, Perry had already written a letter to the secretary of the navy, asking for a position in which he could prove his leadership. He waited, but no response came. Now, Perry dared to write another letter to the secretary asking him to rescind Allen’s commission and in-turn award it to him, reasoning that Allen had already proved his heroism. Again, Perry waited, but there was no reply. On New Year’s Day, his patience ran out again and he forced the issue by penning another letter, this time directly to Commodore Isaac Chauncey, commander of the lakes, requesting to serve under him.
Unbeknownst to Perry, the navy secretary and Chauncey had already determined that Perry was their man for the lakes. That news came two days after Perry had mailed his over-anxious and unnecessary third letter. In a few weeks, Perry would bid goodbye to his pregnant wife and toddler son living in Newport and proceed to the southeast corner of Lake Erie in order to direct the building of a new U.S. fleet. Months later, he would return home and be introduced to his newborn as the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie. His wait for promotion was certainly worth it.
Frank Kuron is author of the War of 1812 book, “Thus Fell Tecumseh.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org