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War of 1812 Commemoration: Ottawa County Historical Society staged an encampment, skirmish reenactment for War of 1812 bicentennial.
Joe Maschari of Sandusky watches Mark Segaard of Port Clinton hammer out a piece of iron at a blacksmith exhibit during the Skirmish on the Peninsula Event at the Wolcott Keeper’s House in Marblehead on Saturday. / Vince Guerrieri/News-Messenger
MARBLEHEAD — There are some elements of the War of 1812 that many people know — like how the Battle of Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
And there are some elements that many people locally know — like Oliver Hazard Perry’s triumph over the British Navy in the Battle of Lake Erie, or the sieges at Fort Meigs and Fort Stephenson that preceded the naval clash.
And then, there are some elements that are remarkably obscure — like the skirmish between American militiamen and American Indians on the Marblehead Peninsula. It was the first battle fought in Ohio in what became known as the United States’ second war of independence, and the only one in the area known as the Connecticut Western Reserve.
And over the weekend, the Ottawa County Historical Society commemorated bicentennial of the skirmish and the War of 1812 with an encampment at the Keeper’s House, and re-enactments on the site of the battle.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Bill Coder, a trustee of the Ottawa County Historical Society and a volunteer at the Keeper’s House.
The Connecticut Western Reserve was land in what is now northern Ohio, from the Pennsylvania line out to the Marblehead Peninsula that was granted to Connecticut residents who fought for the colonies in the American Revolution. A portion of the land was given to Connecticut residents whose homes were burned by English troops in the Revolution, called “fire lands,” the source of the name of so many things in north-central Ohio.
Don Thompson of Sandusky, one of the re-enactors camped out at the Keeper’s House, was portraying one of those Connecticut expatriates who took the name of his hometown — Danbury — to the Marblehead Peninsula. Thompson’s a retiree and has managed to get his brother’s grandchildren involved in his hobby.
“I just like local history,” he said.
The War of 1812 coincided with a little ice age, said retired judge Paul Moon, president of the society and the main organizer of the event, and as a result, some crops wouldn’t grow.
However, there were crops that needed harvesting at the Ramsdel plantation, at what is now East Harbor State Park. An American encampment at Camp Avery near present-day railroad tracks by U.S. 250, Moon said, went to pick the crops but were ambushed by American Indians.
In a two-day siege, a total of eight Americans and 40 American Indians were killed in what a historical marker at the site said was neither a victory nor defeat for either side.
Despite the marker, which was put in place by the Ohio Historical Society and the Ottawa County Historical Society in 1964, Moon said the site and the skirmish remain relatively obscure.
“I kind of grew up with it,” said Moon, who is descended from the Ramsdel family, as well as the family of Benajah Wolcott, the original Marblehead Lighthouse keeper.
Coder said the Keeper’s House was originally a restaurant called the Old Stone Fort — a name originating from the mistaken belief that the house was used by soldiers as a site to defend while under siege from Indians.
However, Coder later found out that was not the case, and the pockmarks on the wall — thought to be from withstanding musket balls — were actually there by design to hold ladders during roof repair.
“Everything I know about the War of 1812, I learned from this man,” Coder said of Moon.