Wednesday, January 25, 2012

John O'Brien in the War of 1812 & Battle of Lake Erie

My 3xgreat-grandfather John O'Brien continues to be an interesting character to research. Not only did he live to be 108 years old, but his obituary states that he was a cabin boy in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and "he well remembered the British chagrin over Perry's victory in which the English fleet was destroyed on Lake Erie in September 1813." I thought this was a bit of legend, until this evening finding his War of 1812 Muster Roll on's War of 1812 Service Records for Lake Erie.
The service record states that he entered the Navy as an ordinary seaman on 10 July 1812. He would have been 18 years, 6 months old. He was stationed on the USS Niagara on 2 August 1812, on Lake Erie.

I need to read more about the Lake Erie campaign during the War of 1812 (for future reading see reference material from the Erie Maritime Museum). The USS Niagara features prominently in the lore of the Battle of Lake Erie, in which Commodore Oliver Perry led the US Navy to a decisive battle over the British.

The Erie Maritime Museum has a log of the battle (see An interesting site on art of the Battle of Lake Erie can be found at An account of the battle written by William W. Dobbins, can be found on Google Books. See History of the Battle of Lake Erie, etc.

John O'Brien continued his service in the US Navy throughout the Erie Campaign. He was on board the USS Somers when it was captured by the British on 12 August 1814 near Fort Erie, Ontario (across the lake from Buffalo, New York). He must have been released or escaped from capture, as he was active in the roll dated 10 April 1815.

I am interested to hear my Dad's take on this discovery, as he has sailed on Lake Erie many times and visited many of the sites that John O'Brien would have seen during the war. I visited Niagara Falls about 8 years ago. John O'Brien may have seen the Falls as well.

At this time, I do not have other records of John O'Brien's adventures at sea after the War of 1812, but he certainly must have had many. His obituary states that he continued as a sailor until returning to America in 1831.

John O'Brien is buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Shelby County, Illinois.
Photo credit for John's headstone goes to Eileen Bridges via

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