The rival commanders on the lake were Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry for the United States, and Captain Robert Heriot Barclay for the British. Barclay, although but thirty-two years of age, was a veteran in naval war-fare. He had been with Nelson at Trafalgar, and in a subsequent battle with a French frigate had lost an arm, but his experience and courage were to avail him but little—the odds were too great. Commodore Perry, only twenty-seven years old, was equally brave and tenacious of purpose. He, too, was a veteran; he had spent fourteen years in the United States Navy, and had seen active service against the Barbary pirates.
On March 27th, Perry arrived at Presqu'isle. Here he found under construction two brigs and three schooners, which were launched before the end of May. But all their equipment—sails, guns, cordage, powder, and other stores—had to be brought 500 miles through the wilderness from Pittsburg. This small force of five vessels would, by itself, have availed him little, but fortunately for the Americans, it was to be augmented. it Black Rock were the brig Caledonia, captured from the British in the previous autumn, three small schooners, and a sloop. At first these vessels were not available, as the British had possession of Fort Erie, on the opposite shore, but on May 27th the Americans captured the fort, and early in June the five vessels loaded with stores were taken up the lake to Presqu'isle.
When Captain Barclay reached Amherstburg in June he found disheartening difficulties. His fleet was badly equipped, both in men and in armament. He hoped for much from the ship Detroit, then building, and mean-while he blockaded Perry, whose new brigs, Lawrence and Niagara, were of too deep draught to be brought over the bar at Presqu'isle harbour's mouth with their equipment on board. He knew that these vessels each carried twenty guns and had crews superior to any he could muster, and that if they should once get into the open lake he would have a hard struggle to hold his own,