Somers I


Somers I
(Sch.: t. 98; cpl. 30; a. 1 long 24-pdr., 1 short 32-pdr.)

The first Somers-a schooner purchased under the name Catherine by the United States Navy on Lake Erie in 1812—was penned up in the Niagara River during the spring of 1813 by powerful British batteries which commanded that stream from its Canadian bank at Fort George.

Late in May, an American joint Army-Navy operation captured Fort George. This victory enabled Comdr. Oliver Hazard Perry to get Somers, brig Caledonia, and three other schooners out the Niagara to the open waters of Lake Erie. The American ships proceeded along the southern shore of the lake to Presque Isle (now Erie), Pa., where Perry had been constructing more powerful warships, brigs Lawrence and Niagara.

However, the draft of the new American vessels was too great for them to sail easily across the bar off Presque Isle to Lake Erie. Perry's problem was further complicated by the fact that the British fleet under Commodore Robert Heriot Barclay, cruised off the American base, ready to attack any United States ship which attempted to emerge. Of course, the bar, which prevented the Americans from getting out, also kept Barclay's fleet from entering the harbor to destroy Perry's squadron.

Barclay ended the stalemate on 2 August when he sailed away from Presque Isle. Perry took full advantage of the opportunity by landing Lawrence's gun' and using two large SCOWB as pontoons or "camels" to further lift the brig. On the morning of 5 August, just after Lawrence had crossed the bar and before her guns had been replaced, the British fleet reappeared. So~ners and her sister schooners sailed out and opened fire on the enemy. However, Barclay, not realizing that Lawrence was helpless, replied with a few rounds at the schooners and retired.

Once Perry had both brigs-rearmed and ready for battle-on the lake, the stage was set for trial by combat.

Perry sailed his squadron to Put-in-Bay where he could threaten British General Proeter's line of supply and communications, keeping an eye on Barclay's ships at Fort Malden, Amherstsburg, Ontario. This forced Barelay to come out to support British land operations on the Maumee and Sandusky Rivers.

The British fleet, reinforced by full-rigged ship Detroit, which had just been completed, emerged from Fort Malden on 10 September, and Perry eagerly set sail to meet it. Barclay, who enjoyed the advantage of more long range guns, opened the action shortly before noon when his flagship Detroit fired on Perry's, the brig Lawrence.

Through most of the battle, Somers engaged the smaller British ships at long range, contributing to Perry's decisive victory. Hunter and Queen Charlotte occupied her attention during the first part of the battle, and little Belt and Lady Prevost were her principal targets during its closing phases.

In the end, the entire British fleet surrendered, giving the American cause all but unchallenged supremacy on Lake Erie for the remainder of the war.

However, on the night of 12 August 1814, British boats, pretending to be provision boats, rowed up to Somers and Ohio and captured the American ships. Somers subsequently served the Royal Navy under the same name.