At Sea Yesterday & Today

This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Trail of History Cookbook

The Erie Maritime Museum, in Erie, serves as the home port of the U.S. Brig Niagara, a historically accurate reconstruction of Oliver Hazard Perry's relief flagship from the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812.

On September 10, 1813, Perry engaged the British at the Battle of Lake Erie near Put-in-Bay, Ohio. When his flagship, the Lawrence, was seriously damaged during the battle, Perry took command of the Brig Niagara. With a fresh crew and quickening wind, the Niagara closed in and inflicted the finishing blows on the British flagships, the Queen Charlotte and the Detroit. The British surrendered on the deck of the Lawrence, and Perry penned his famous message, "We have met the enemy and they are ours."

With the Great Lakes secured, in 1820 the Lawrence and the Niagara were scuttled in Misery Bay near Erie. In 1875, the remains of the Lawrence were raised and taken to Philadelphia to be displayed at the Centennial, but while awaiting exhibition, the vestiges of the ship burned in a warehouse fire.

In March 1913, the remains of the Niagara were raised for the centennial of the Battle of Lake Erie. Using some of the timbers of the original ship, and without any original plans, a new Niagara was built. Over time, this ship decayed, until a reconstruction project was begun in 1931. In 1943, the Niagara was launched, but insufficient funding prevented the completion of masts, spars, and sails. Eventually the ship was placed in a concrete cradle on land, but by 1987, it was unsalvageable and was dismantled.

In 1988, construction of a new Niagara got under way, supported by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Flagship Niagara League. In 1990, the U.S. Brig Niagara was commissioned as the official "Flagship of Pennsylvania."

Today the brig's home port is the Erie Maritime Museum. When the ship is sailing, she carries a crew of 40 men and women, far less than the 155 men who sailed on her in 1813. Rations were meager, including hardtack * and Johnny cake *, as well as a daily issue of grog - whiskey and water. Today's crew enjoys a more varied menu, with recipes such as U.S. Brig Niagara lunch casserole * and birthday brownies *, but no grog. The professional and volunteer crew, who sleep in hammocks below decks, are fed in the ship's galley, where meals are prepared on a wood stove.

* Recipes are available in the Pennsylvania Trail of History Cookbook


Erie Maritime Museum and U.S. Brig Niagara, Erie, PA
Erie Maritime Museum and replica ship bring the Battle of Lake Erie alive.

For Further Reading

pa-trail-of-history-cookbook-sm.gif Pennsylvania Trail of History Cookbook
Edited by Kyle R. Weaver, Diane B. Reed, and Fred Lauver
Forward by William Woys Weaver

Stackpole Books and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
erie-maritime-toh.gif Erie Maritime Museum and U.S. Brig Niagara: Pennsylvania Trail of History Guide
by Chris Magoc

Stackpole Books and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Articles 3
At Sea Yesterday & Today