By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer
The War of 1812 holds personal meaning for Sharon Myers.
With nine family members having served in the war, including her great-great-great-grandfather Jacob Houser, Myers has become deeply involved in researching local stories of the war, which marks several key bicentennial moments this year.
Houser, who lived to be 90 years old, is buried at Akron’s Lakewood Cemetery on West Waterloo Road.
The war which began in 1812 ended on Christmas Eve in 1814.
The Silver Lake woman, president of the William Wetmore Chapter of Daughters of 1812, has given 30 speeches in the past two years at libraries and clubs about the war. She spoke to the Beacon Journal about the war that has consumed so much of her time and energy.
Q: How did you become so interested in the War of 1812?
A: They say that the War of 1812 is the most forgotten war, and that might be why I was attracted to it. But it also is the first war that was actually fought on Ohio soil. And considering that Ohio was only a state since 1803, and nearly 20,000 of our men participated in it, that made it even more enticing. Ohio wouldn’t have been settled as soon as it was if it wasn’t for the War of 1812. The Battle of the Thames ended the Native American alliance with the British, and the Native Americans left Ohio. The pioneers could then settle here without the fear of Indian raids.
Q: What fascinates you about this war?
A: American ingenuity. It is everywhere! The dashing Oliver Hazard Perry beating Her Majesty’s Royal Navy in the Battle of Lake Erie. Col. George Croghan fighting off 700 British Regulars and 2,000 Indians at the Battle of Fort Stephenson with only one cannon — Old Betsy — from the Revolutionary War. He kept moving the cannon around the fort so it looked like he had more. And then the Battle of Fort McHenry; we buried 20 ships in Baltimore Harbor so the British couldn’t get close enough to the fort to do damage. They bombarded the fort for 25 hours using 1,500 shells. They ceased fire due to lack of ammunition.
Q: How big of a role did Northeast Ohio play in the war?
A: Considering that the Battle of Lake Erie changed the path of the war, I would say a big part early on. Whoever controlled the Great Lakes controlled the war during the early part of the war. We were the old Northwest. Everyone wanted to take Detroit and then Canada, and they had to come through us to accomplish it.
Q: Were boats built for Commodore Perry in Summit County?
A: We finally found a concrete answer to that question that has been baffling us for 200 years. Proof has been found that the Army, not the Navy, ordered that three gun boats be built at Old Portage for use in the Battle of the Thames in October 1813. The Battle of the Thames is where we chased the British and their Indian allies up the Thames River, and we needed gun boats suitable for navigating a river to do that. And, the Cuyahoga River was a much different river 200 years ago than it is now. Dams have allowed silt to build up. It was said to have been a federally mandated navigable river during the era of the War of 1812. I think that people in the 1800s clumped the Battle of Lake Erie together with the Battle of the Thames, and that’s how that mistake has been repeated in history books throughout the years. America really needed a hero when Perry won the Battle of Lake Erie, and it was probably hard for them to see much of anything else during that time period other than a wonderful win by a young man.
Q: What is your own family’s history in the war?
A: I have nine ancestors that I have proven for the War of 1812 and none of them has anything exciting to report on. They fought from Pennsylvania and Virginia. I have no Oliver Hazard Perry in my genes. Darn!
Q: Can you talk about the experience of finding graves of War of 1812 vets and getting grave markers for 100 of these veterans?
A: It truly has been a fulfilling experience to know that all 365 1812 veterans buried in Summit County are now in marked graves and people now know more about these men than they ever did. It was a shame that so many were in unmarked graves and no one knew they were veterans. Many of the cemeteries didn’t know what they had, even if the graves had a marker. People didn’t know they were a veteran of the War of 1812. We even have one buried in Twinsburg who fought for the other side. John Chapman is said to have fired the first cannon at Perry’s ship, the [USS] Lawrence, in the Battle of Lake Erie. He eventually settled in Twinsburg and became a U.S. citizen before he died.
Q: What is the best book you know of on the War of 1812?
A: Wow, that’s hard. It’s usually the last one that I’ve read. And there have been many new ones printed during the bicentennial. I guess it would be Perry’s Lake Erie Fleet-After the Glory by David Frew, published in 2012. But I am a big fan of Perry so ...
Q: Are there any important figures from the war buried in any of our cemeteries that most folks ought to know about?
A: Aside from the British chap in Twinsburg, we have Maj. Minor Spicer buried in Glendale. Spicer guarded the line from Old Portage to New Portage and part way to Cleveland. He was a major in the Ohio militia. He also saw that Smith Road was kept open for troops and supplies to pass through, mostly at his own expense.
William Wetmore is buried in Stow Cemetery. He was commissary for the Ohio militia and kept supplies moving through our area. He is noted for founding the village of Cuyahoga Falls in 1812. ... William Stow, buried in Stow, was a sailor on Lake Erie and commanded one of the ships in the War of 1812 — or so it is said. William Cogswell is buried at Montrose Cemetery, and he helped float the three ships built at Old Portage down the river to Lake Erie. ... There are so many interesting stories to tell.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.