Local boaters take on identities of actual sailors
Perrysburg Township residents Jerry Reitzel and his wife Jerri Lynn are going to get the spoils of war.
The couple have volunteered to enlist as American crew members during the September 2 reenactment of the Battle of Lake Erie as the bicentennial of the War of 1812 is celebrated.
The Reitzels, along with volunteers representing 555 other American patriots who served, are being given names of actual sailors who served during the battle, and when the Americans win the battle, the spoils are theirs.
|The captain of the replica U.S. brig Niagra, built in 1988, takes charge.
The original Niagra had a crew of 155 men who manned its sails as
well as 18 carronades and two long guns. It will be one tall ship among
18 in the September reenactment of the Battle of Lake Erie as the
bicentennial of the War of 1812 is celebrated. (Photo courtesy of Miller
“War during the 1800s was a little bit different,” said Peter Houston, a South Bass Island resident who coordinates communications for the Friends of Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, commonly known as “The Perry Group.”
“At the end of the battle, the Americans took the British ships and then the crew was sent home and the ships were sold and repurposed, so there were spoils of war that came from that,” Houston continued. “The pursuer was responsible for distributing what they called ‘The prize’ — money set aside from all of this so that every sailor got part of that prize, and from that we know all 575 people who were involved.”
The Battle of Lake Erie bicentennial is a once-in-a-lifetime event that celebrates an integral piece of American history that took place 200 years ago on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. On Sept. 10, 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry of the U.S. Navy, sailing under a flag emblazoned with the words “Don’t Give up the Ship,” sailed to victory over the British Royal Navy, helping change the course of U.S. history.
On Thursday, August 29, approximately 18 majestic Tall Ships from across the world will spread across nine ports eventually uniting for the battle reenactment on Monday at Put-in-Bay Harbor before sailing out to the original battle site 16 miles to the northwest.
“Seeing the tall ships is going to be awesome,” Jerry said. “Hopefully, it’s a nice day but rain or shine they are going out.”
Aside from the battle reenactment, this two-week celebration will include a grand Parade of Sail and Port Festivals in waterfront cities, Tall Ship tours, national speakers, a parade from the Ohio State University marching band, fireworks, concerts, an International Freedom Celebration and even the opportunity to enlist as a crew member or volunteer as a Bicentennial Militia member.
And for those who would like to tender their vessel for the American fleet, each participant will receive recognition on a permanent plaque, commemorative burgee and preferred anchorage during the battle. Official invitees will include representatives for the U.S., British and Canadian governments as well as Native American Indian groups.
In reality, the spoils of the British naval ships have already been dispersed, 200 years ago, and the Reitzels will receive none. Jerry has been boating with his own family his entire life, and the couple has been island hopping on their own boat for about 15 years.
“We liked the history of the battle and some close friends of ours were researching it, and he was the one who kept us in clue as to what was going on,” said Jerri Lynn. “We just think it’s a once in a lifetime thing. It’s going to be miraculous to see the festival and all the tall ships and the reenactment.”
They were hoping to be aboard the Niagara, but got bumped off at the last minute and are awaiting reassignment.
“We were hoping for the Brig Niagara — from what I understand about this particular sailboat, they have some authentic parts from the original Brig Niagara in the reconstruction of the current Brig Niagara,” Jerri Lynn said. “That’s kind of neat in itself, just knowing that there are some real parts on that.”
The original Niagara had a crew of 155 men who manned its sails as well as 18 carronades and two long guns.
“After Perry’s flagship the Lawrence was disabled, Perry and his remaining men transferred to the unharmed Niagara, engaging the British ships and forcing them to surrender,” the bicentennial celebration souvenir guide reads.”
No matter what ship the Reitzels serve on, no one is going to force them into hard labor in the ship’s galley.
“Really, what is going to happen is the people on board these various tall ships will be there mostly as spectators, even though they are going to be crew members,” Houston said. “They may get to do some line handling or rope throwing, but generally speaking they are there to be observers.”
If you are still interesting in serving during the reenactment, good luck. Houston says most, if not all of the positions have been filled, and some have been over-filled.
“There are a whole bunch of different levels of volunteerism going on here. The first one is the fact that lots and lots of people have donated their time and services to be able to make this whole event work. It’s been a year-and-a-half of getting things to this point,” Houston said.
“Then you have the people who have signed up to be members of the crew that are going out. They’ve made a donation and they are going out on the tall ships. Those people are going to be in the middle of the recreation, and beyond that we’ve got 12 days of activities that are going to go on, so it’s a big deal.”