The Fleet

Statistics - Brig Niagara

    WATER LINE: 110’ 8”
  • BEAM: 30‘ 6“
  • FOREMAST: 113’ 4”

  • MAINMAST: 118’ 4”
  • ARMAMENT: 18 x 32-pounder carronades, 2 x 12 pounder long guns
  • CREW (1813): Approximately 155

The Brig Niagara

The Brig Niagara

The Brig Niagara

The Niagara is a squared-rigged, two-masted warship originally armed with eighteen carronades and two long guns. On the berthing deck were sleeping quarters for the officers and crew, storerooms, sail bin, and a wood stove. Magazines for shot and gunpowder were stored in the hold below deck.

The Battle of Lake Erie was fought on September 10, 1813. During the conflict’s initial stages the Niagara was not engaged. However, after two hours of desperate fighting the U.S. Brig Lawrence, Perry’s first flagship and the Niagara’s sistership, had been battered into a defenseless hulk. Perry then transferred his battle flag to the Niagara and assumed command. Sailing the Niagara between the British battle line, Perry utilized his new flagship’s firepower to the fullest, ravaging the enemy fleet and compelling the entire British force to surrender. For her efforts the Niagara lost 2 men killed and 25 wounded. Perry’s aggressive action and the Niagara’s heavy guns together tolled the death knell over British dominance of Lake Erie.

The Battle of Lake Erie proved to be the zenith of the Niagara’s brief career. Following the battle the brig assisted with transporting Harrison’s army to the Canadian shore, and her guns covered the landing of American troops. After the Battle of the Thames the Niagara returned to Erie and wintered in Presque Isle Bay. Attrition of the brig’s officers while encased in the 1813-14 winter blanket of ice was much heavier than during the tumult of battle; two died from disease and one committed suicide. In 1814 the Niagara participated in the ill-starred raid at Port Dover, Upper Canada, and the ill-fated campaign against Fort Michilimackinac, but her glory days were over. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, ending any real demand for warships on Lake Erie. Need for the gun brigs was rendered even more pointless after the Rush-Bagot Agreement was signed with Great Britain in 1818, a treaty which called for disarmament on the Great Lakes. For the next two years the Niagara served as a station ship at Presque Isle, but when the Erie Naval Station was phased out there was nothing that could be done to save the once proud brig. Built specifically as a shallow draft gun platform, it was impractical to sell the Niagara for conversion to a merchant vessel. Besides, it was possible the brig might be needed at some future point in the event hostilities again erupted with Canada. Thus the U.S. Brig Niagara was sunk for preservation purposes by the U.S. Navy in Misery Bay at Erie.

The Niagara remained at the bottom of Misery Bay for the next ninety-three years. Then in 1913, as part of the Battle of Lake Erie centennial, the Niagara was raised and restored by a group of Erie citizens. Original plans could not be found at either the Navy Department or the National Archives, so the restoration was based on a design conceived by the noted naval historian Howard I. Chapelle. The reconstructed Niagara was then towed to different ports on the Great Lakes for a variety of centennial activities.

In 1931 the Niagara became the property of the State of Pennsylvania, which initiated another restoration. The Great Depression and budgetary difficulties so hampered and delayed the project that it was not actually finished until 1963. At that time the vessel was out of the water on concrete blocks at the foot of State Street in Erie.

By the late 1980’s the Niagara had again fallen into a state of disrepair. Ship designer Melbourne Smith was hired to draw plans and oversee another restoration. The ship was dismantled in 1987 and reassembled during 1988. Launching ceremonies were held on September 10, 1988, the 175th anniversary of the battle. The Niagara was then moved to the foot of Holland Street, where by 1990 the renovation was completed.

The U.S. Brig Niagara is a fully restored sailing ship owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. She is one of only three United States vessels remaining from the War of 1812 – the others being the U.S. Frigate Constitution and the U.S. Frigate Constellation – and the Niagara is the only remaining vessel of her class from the War of 1812.

Tall Ships Participating in the 2013 Bicentennial Battle

  • Appledore IV
  • Denis Sullivan
  • Fair Jeanne
  • Friends Good Will
  • Lynx
  • Madeline
  • Niagara
  • Pathfinder
  • Peacemaker
  • Playfair
  • Pride II
  • Sorlandet
  • Unicorn
  • Westward
  • Hindu
  • Liana’s Ransom
  • Tall Ship Windy

American Squadron

  • Brig Lawrence
    20 guns
  • Brig Niagara
    20 Guns
  • Brig Caledonia
    4 Guns
  • Schooner Ariel
    3 Guns
  • Schooner Scorpion
    2 Guns
  • Schooner Somers
    2 Guns
  • Sloop Trippe
    1 Gun
  • Schooner Porcupine
    1 Gun
  • Schooner Tigress
    1 Gun
  • Schooner Ohio