Biography examines life of early American hero

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry was one of the nation’s most famous early heroes—but not for founding Perrysburg, Ohio (though the city bears his name).

Perry was hailed for his decisive victory over a British Royal Navy squadron on Lake Erie in September 1813. Not long after, the settlement along the banks of the Maumee River in Wood County was named for him in honor of that victory during the War of 1812.

With his latest book, Dr. David Skaggs, a professor emeritus of history, is bringing renewed attention to the U.S. Navy commander who coined the phrase, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

Skaggs has written much about the War of 1812. He found himself drawn to Perry while researching material for earlier publications, and he became determined to write a book devoted to the commodore. The book, Oliver Hazard Perry: Honor, Courage and Patriotism in the Early U.S. Navy, has now been published by the Naval Institute Press, and, as they say, the rest is history.

As part of the 190th anniversary of the founding of Perrysburg, the retired professor will speak on “The Commodore and I: A Career with Oliver Hazard Perry” at 11 a.m. Saturday (Oct. 7) at the Fort Meigs Visitor Center, 29100 W. River Road, Perrysburg. A book signing will follow the lecture. Free and open to the public, the event has been organized by the Perrysburg Area Historical Society.

The first biography of Perry to be issued in 25 years, Skaggs’s book traces Perry’s career from a midshipman to commodore. The scholarly reassessment of the hero points out he was a man of character, “the embodiment of the code of honor, an exemplar of combat courage, and a symbol of patriotism to his fellow officers and the American public.”

But the author also offers a picture of a man with common flaws as well as sterling qualities. For instance, though the commodore could be diplomatic and displayed calm in times of stress, Skaggs writes he also had a short temper and was sometimes ineffective as a commander.

The historian also notes how Perry’s career epitomized the developing professionalism of the Navy and fits in with the development of the American national identity.

A retired colonel in the Army Reserves, Skaggs has written 13 books, including “A Signal Victory: The Lake Erie Campaign, 1812-1813,” published in 1997, and “Thomas Macdonough: Master of Command in the Early U.S. Navy,” published in 2003. He currently divides his time between homes in Michigan and North Carolina.

October 2, 2006