The War of 1812 is one of our country’s lesser known wars, certainly not as popular to historians, Hollywood or the public as the Revolutionary War or the Civil War. However, this second war of independence was equally important, especially to Northwest Ohio.
Last weekend, during Navy Week, the U.S. Brig Niagara, a replica of the relief flagship used by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry during the Battle of Lake Erie, sailed into the Maumee River to help us remember our community’s role in saving a nation 200 years ago.
|A photograph of the War of 1812 scout
Peter Navarre taken in 1868.
One of our founding fathers — Peter Navarre — played a crucial role in that war. He will be remembered this week in two ceremonies taking place in Toledo, one at the Navarre Cabin located at Toledo Botanical Gardens and the other at Navarre Park
The Navarre family settled along the banks of Otter Creek in 1807. They were the first white settlers in the Great Black Swamp. Navarre became an accomplished woodsman and fur trader. He learned the trails, became friendly with the natives, and he was built for the rugged life of a frontiersman. Local historians Larry Michaels and Robyn Hage, in their book Peter Navarre; War of 1812 Scout, The Man Behind the Legend, quote an obituary that appeared in the Toledo Commercial March 21, 1874. It read, “Peter in his youth and prime has been described as being over six feet in height, slender and straight as an arrow, and swift and active as a panther.”
Navarre, who was of French descent, despised the British. When war broke out, Peter and his brother Robert volunteered to scout for General William Henry Harrison who directed troop movements from Fort Meigs in Perrysburg, Fort Stephenson in Fremont and Fort Seneca, just south of Fremont.
Thirty miles of treacherous swamp and forested land lay between Fort Meigs and Fort Stephenson and roughly the same distance lay between Fort Seneca and Lake Erie. It was this area that Navarre travelled. There was no telegraph and parts of the swamp couldn’t be traversed by horse so foot speed and stamina were of the essence.
Navarre delivered a number of critical messages leading up to the Battle of Lake Erie. Commodore Perry, who was about to engage the British war ships on Lake Erie, sent Navarre to Harrison informing him he was outmanned and pleading for more men. Harrison sent Navarre back with 70 Kentucky sharpshooters, according to Hage and Michaels.
The day before the battle, Navarre, disguised as an Indian, crossed British lines to deliver Harrison’s order to Perry to engage the enemy immediately. And, while there is no definite proof, Michaels says Navarre was most assuredly the man who delivered Perry’s famous message back to Harrison, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
Michaels said Northwest Ohio was the most important battleground of the war.
“This area was the Gettysburg of the War of 1812,” he said. “It really was the crucial area. Fort Meigs was really the first American victory, just holding that fort, then Fort Stephenson and then the Battle of Lake Erie. That really turned the tide. It stopped the advance of the British and really broke the Indian support for the British.”
While these battles took place in 1813 and bi-centennial celebrations are being planned for next year, two celebrations take place this week.
The first event will occur Friday, September 7, at Navarre Park. Hage, a teacher at Navarre Elementary School in East Toledo, will accompany 520 students to the park. Re-enactors will portray Peter Navarre, his third wife Catherine Bourdeau and Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln.
There will also be pioneer games and crafts and the Wood County Historical Society will present a program on pioneer life skills.
The second event will be held Sunday, September 9 at the Navarre Cabin located at the Toledo Botanical Gardens. The cabin was built by Peter Navarre Jr. It was first relocated to Navarre Park for the first Peter Navarre Day proclaimed by the City of Toledo on September 9, 1922. It was later moved to the botanical gardens. There will be tours of the cabin and the pioneer garden from Noon to 4 p.m.
You can’t live in East Toledo and not see a Navarre landmark every day. There’s Navarre School, Navarre Avenue and Navarre Park. All were named after the man who distinguished himself as a scout braving The Great Black Swamp in our second war for independence.