The last survivor of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory on Lake Erie during the War of 1812, John F. Rice led a quiet unassuming life in Shelby. Residents never forgot his heroism, however, and honored him with a monument at his grave more than 40 years after his death.1
Rice was born near Mifflintown, Juniata County, Pennsylvania August 22, 1789. When he was 24, he enlisted in Captain Matthew Rogers Company, Pennsylvania regiment, commanded by Colonel William Green, and in 1813 marched from Harrisburg to Erie, Pennsylvania to set up camp.2 Commodore Perry was in Erie harbor preparing his fleet and, lacking men, came into the camp offering a $25 bounty to soldiers willing to sign for one cruise. Rice was the only one to take up the offer. He was out to sea aboard the schooner Scorpion for three days, then returned. He volunteered again and was sent aboard the flagship brig Lawrence.
Little did he know he was to embark September 10, 1813 on the cruise that would end in the defeat and capture of the British fleet and change the course of the war. For nearly three hours the Lawrence took heavy fire, which left the ship a floating wreck and disabled all 20 guns. Four of five men were either killed or wounded on the Lawrence.3 Perry took four men and boarded an open rowboat to transfer one-half mile to the sister-ship Niagara. It’s not known whether Rice was one of the four, but in local stories later he remembers seeing the dingy hit by cannon fire and Perry take took off his coat to stuff into the hole made by a British ball. Perry and the men arrived at the brig Niagara unscathed and within the hour the British had surrendered, most of of their commanders either killed or wounded.4
Rice was transferred back to the army under Gen. William Henry Harrison, assigned to Col. Richard M. Johnson’s regiment, where he fought in the battle of the Thames. In another first-hand account Rice recalls Col. Johnson killing Indian chief Tecumseh. Johnson’s horse was shot from under him and he went down.Tecumseh rushed Johnson, but Johnson took out his pistol and shot him.
Rice moved to Ohio in 1827 and homesteaded 160 acres of land east of Shelby in Jackson Township. He built up a nice farm on the homestead. In 1842, Rice took in four small children from the Ihler family after their father died and mother was left destitute. The youngest child was just six months old. Their mother died about six years later, leaving Rice to care for them alone.5 He lived the last few years of his life with his foster daughter in Shelby. Rice died February 10, 1880 at 90 years old.
Rice’s funeral was a historic one, according to newspaper accounts. The flag on the dome of the state house in Columbus was flown at half-mast, as were the flags from the custom houses in Cleveland and Sandusky. His funeral was attended by the Light Guards, a band, an artillery squad, ex-soldiers, and school children. The sermon was taken from Leviticus: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head and honor the face of the old man.” One hundred school children sang the patriotic song, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.6”
The armory honored the war veteran with a resolution after his death –
John F. Rice
Now deceased, for many years a citizen among us, was a soldier in the war of 1812. Therefore, as a tribute to the memory of an aged and honorable solider , be it
Resolved, That in this formal manner we acknowledge his patriotism; that we appreciate the service rendered by him and his comrades in the cause of freedom. That we hold institutions defended by them as a sacred inheritance, and that we commend their example as worth the imitation of a liberty-loving people.
Resolved, That his name be placed upon the Roll of Honor with the name of his company and date of enlistment., together with the names of the battles in which he fought.7
The local hero was buried in an unmarked grave. At the centennial of the battle, money was raised for a monument to mark his grave. The historical postcard contained the portrait of the midshipman, embellished with the flag and a biographical sketch.8 The post card was financed by George M. Skiles and S.F. Stambaugh.9
More than 40 years after Rice died, $190 was raised through a benefit and movie theater donations. The monument at his grave in Oakland Cemetery was dedicated Nov 11, 1923.10
1 Daily Globe, November 10, 1923
2 Daily Globe, November 12, 1923
4 Shelby News August 4, 1899
5 Daily Globe, January 13, 1909
6 Shelby News, August 4, 1899
7 Shelby Times, February 21, 1880
8 Daily Globe, April 29, 1913
9 Daily Globe. August 1, 1913
10 Daily Globe, November 12, 1923
Submitted by Christina Yetzer Drain