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Somers I (Sch)

(Sch.: t. 98; cpl. 30; a. l long 24-pdr., 1 short 32-pdr.)

Richard Somers, born in 1778 or 1779 at Great Egg Harbor, N.J., was appointed midshipman on 25 April 1797 and served in the West Indies during the Quasi War with Prance in frigate United States commanded by Capt. John Barry. Promoted to lieutenant on 21 May 1799, Somers was detached from United States on 13 June 1801 and ordered to Boston on 30 July 1801. He served in the latter frigate in the Mediterranean.

After Boston returned to Washington, Somers was furloughed on 11 November 1802 to await orders.

On 5 May 1803, Somers was ordered to Baltimore to man; fit out; and command Nautilus; and, when that schooner was ready for sea, to sail her to the Mediterranean. Nautilus got underway on 30 June; reached Gibraltar on 27 July; and sailed four days later to deliver dispatches to Capt. John Rodgers at Malaga, Spain. He then returned to Gibraltar to meet Commodore Edward Preble, in Constitution, who was bringing a new squadron for action against the Barbary pirates.

Nautilus sailed with Preble on 6 October to Tangier where the display of American naval strength induced the Europeans of Morocco to renew the treaty of 1786. Thereafter, Tripoli became the focus of Preble's attention.

Somers' service as commanding officer of Nautilus during operations against Tripoli won him promotion to master commandant on 18 May 1804. In the summer, he commanded a division of gunboats during five attacks on Tripoli.

On 4 September 1804, Somers assumed command of bomb ketch Intrepid which had been fitted out as a "floating volcano" to be sailed into Tripoli harbor and blown up in the midst of the corsair fleet close under the walls of the city. That night, she got underway into the harbor, but she exploded prematurely, killing Somers and his entire crew of volunteers.


The first Somers, a schooner purchased under the name Catherine by the United States Navy on Lake Erie in 1812, was penned up in the Niagara River during the spring of 1813 by powerful British batteries which commanded that stream from its Canadian bank at Fort George.

Late in May, an American joint Army-Navy operation captured Fort George. This victory enabled Comdr. Oliver Hazard Perry to get Somers, brig Caledonia, and three other schooners out the Niagara to the open waters of Lake Erie. The American ships proceeded along the southern shore of the lake to Presque Isle (now Erie), Pa., where Perry had been constructing more powerful warships, brigs Lawrence and Niagara.

However, the draft of the new American vessels was too great for them to sail easily across the bar off Presque Isle to Lake Erie. Perry's problem was further complicated by the fact that the British fleet, under Commodore Robert Heriot Barclay, cruised off the American base, ready to attack any United States ship which attempted to emerge. Of course, the bar, which prevented the Americans from getting out, also kept Barclay's fleet from entering the harbor to destroy Perry's squadron.

Barclay ended the stalemate on 2 August when he sailed away from Presque Isle. Perry took full advantage of the opportunity by landing Lawrence's guns and using two large scows as pontoons or "camels" to further lift the brig. On the morning of 5 August, just after Lawrence had crossed the bar and before her guns had been replaced, the British fleet reappeared. Somers and her sister schooners sailed out and opened fire on the enemy. However, Barclay, not realizing that Lawrence was helpless, replied with a few rounds at the schooners and retired.

Once Perry had both brigs "rearmed and ready for battle" on the lake, the stage was set for trial by combat.

Perry sailed his squadron to Put-in-Bay where he could threaten British General Procter's line of supply and communications, keeping an eye on Barclay's ships at Fort Maiden, Amherstsburg, Ontario. This forced Barclay to come out to support British land operations on the Maumee and Sandusky Rivers.

The British fleet, reinforced by full-rigged ship Detroit, which had just been completed, emerged from Fort Maiden on 10 September, and Perry eagerly set sail to meet it. Barclay, who enjoyed the advantage of more long range guns, opened the action shortly before noon when his flagship Detroit fired on Perry's, the brig Lawrence.

Through most of the battle, Somers engaged the smaller British ships at long range, contributing to Perry's decisive victory. Hunter and Queen Charlotte occupied her attention during the first part of the battle, and Little Belt and Lady Prevost were her principal targets during its closing phases.

In the end, the entire British fleet surrendered, giving the American cause all but unchallenged supremacy on Lake Erie for the remainder of the war.

However, on the night of 12 August 1814, British boats, pretending to be provision boats, rowed up to Somers and Ohio and captured the American ships. Somers subsequently served the Royal Navy under the same name.

Published: Thu Sep 10 13:26:01 EDT 2015