The War of 1812 was 200 years ago

 Written by

Vince Guerrieri

PUT-IN-BAY – War is coming.

Monday marks the 200th anniversary of the declaration of the War of 1812. Plans are being made to commemorate it across the state, to get residents interested in a forgotten conflict that is a major part of Ohio history.

On June 18, 1812, “an act declaring war between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Dependencies thereof and the United States of America and Their Territories” was approved by the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

There will be a flag-raising at the Capitol in Columbus, as well as flag-raisings in counties throughout Ohio. The flags will have 15 stars and 15 stripes – like the ones used during the war.

“We thought it was a great day to bring the state together,” said Rick Finch, director of Fort Meigs in Perrysburg and a member of the state War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission.

In Fremont, there will be a flag-raising at 11:30 a.m. at Flag Park, with lunch from Jimmy G’s available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. A portion of the $7 cost will go to funds for the Fort Stephenson Bicentennial Committee, which is planning a celebration for the 200th anniversary of the battle in 2013.

The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners will mark the 200th anniversary of the declaration of war at 11:45 a.m. Monday at the flagpole area on the west side of the Ottawa County Courthouse.

At noon, churches are encouraged to ring their bells to tie this event together with similar events throughout the state.

Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial on Put-in-Bay will host a “Mock Re-declaration of War” at 11 a.m. Monday between Perry’s Memorial and its sister park, Signal Hill National Historic Site in Newfoundland, Canada.

“About seven months ago, our mutual staffs agreed to creatively illustrate the path to war between our two nations,” Memorial Director Blanca Alvarez Stransky said. “In 2015, to mark the end of the War of 1812, we will gather at Perry’s Victory and celebrate the lasting peace between Canada and the United States.”

Bells also will be rung and a town crier will shout the news in the streets of Put-in-Bay – befitting the modes of mass communication at the time.

At 11 a.m., townsfolk dressed from that time will gather at Perry’s Victory Visitor Center and listen to President James Madison’s address to Congress requesting approval to go to war with United Kingdom.

Once approval is granted, “the British citizenry” stationed in New Foundland, Canada will muster and prepare “to do battle” with the United States of America via Skype.

“We’re trying to do modern meets history,” said Nichole Fifer, special events/public relations person for the memorial.

The monument, which typically flies the Canadian flag in tribute to the peace between the two countries, will take it down in remembrance of the war, which was the first major challenge for the United States, 25 years after the Constitution was established, and 36 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.

“It was our first major war as a new nation,” Finch said. “It asserted our rights as a nation.”

Northwest Ohio and southeastern Michigan were at the time contested land. The British took Fort Detroit shortly after the war began.

“It really was the wild west,” said Paul Kerns, chairman of the Fort Stephenson Bicentennial Committee.

Early negotiations for peace would have made the area an American Indian buffer between the United States and the British colony of Canada, but after setbacks at Fort Meigs and Fort Stephenson – on the site currently occupied by Birchard Public Library in Fremont – and Oliver Hazard Perry’s decisive victory in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, the British retreated back to Canada.

“It really cemented Ohio and the Great Lakes under American control,” Finch said.

Of course, the big bicentennial celebrations in the area will happen next year. Many Fremont residents still remember the big sesquicentennial celebration in 1963. Paul Kerns is one of them. He was part of the huge show at Harmon Field, a re-enactment of the battle and a dramatic rendering of events since, and his mother was the costume director. He said men grew beards and wore string bowties, and wooden nickels were passed around to commemorate the event.

“It wasn’t involved with the War of 1812, but it was fun,” he said.

The big event planned is the bicentennial of the Battle of Fort Stephenson, which will be in the first weekend of August 2013. Plans are being set for a parade, canoe races, fireworks, an encampment and tours of local historical sites.

“We’re not just waiting for next year,” Kerns said. “We’re building events as we go.

“The main thing we’re trying to do is get everyone in the community and outside of it involved.”

This August will be Tecumseh’s Run, a 120-mile bike ride over two days from Belle Isle near Detroit through River Raisin and Fort Meigs to Fremont and then to Put-in-Bay.

The Battle of Fort Stephenson saw an undermanned fort – with just one cannon – successfully repel a British siege.

At Put-in-Bay, plans are under way for a huge bicentennial commemoration of the Battle of Lake Erie, the fight that decisively left the Great Lakes – a crucial inland supply line – in American hands. There will be tall ships and a replica of U.S. commander Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship, the Niagara.

“We’ve been in the planning for the bicentennial for the past couple years,” Fifer said.

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