Re-enactors Kathy Dowd and her son Joseph Dowd of Toledo walk about the Navarre cabin at the Toledo Botanical Garden on Sunday as the garden honored Navarre for his pivotal role in the Battle of Lake Erie 200 years ago.
Today, the Navarre name probably is best-known for the busy street that runs through East Toledo and Oregon, as well as a school and park, but in 19th-century Toledo, it was connected to Peter Navarre, the city’s first truly famous person.
“He was Toledo’s original celebrity,” said Robyn Hage, a teacher, appropriately enough, at Navarre Elementary School, and co-author of a book about Peter Navarre. “He was an outstanding frontiersman and he lived outdoors his whole life or in a cabin. He hunted his own food and was very rugged.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Peter Navarre's Toledo history
Peter Navarre was so well-known, in 1937, when Toledo celebrated its centennial, it issued a coin with his likeness on it.
Navarre, whose life spanned 1790 to 1874, was an accomplished woodsman, fur trader, and soldier, and this past weekend he was remembered in Toledo, not least for the role he played in Comm. Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over the British at the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812, near what today is Put-in-Bay.
The celebration included activities at Navarre Park in East Toledo on Saturday and the Toledo Botanical Garden on Sunday, where a Navarre family cabin now stands. Highlights were the donation of Navarre’s flintlock pistol to the Oregon Jerusalem Historical Society from a Navarre descendant, a Navarre family reunion, genealogical presentation, and re-enactments.
Expert scout he was, Navarre sneaked 70 Kentucky sharpshooters through the British and Indian lines to reinforce Perry’s forces before Perry and his ships cast off to engage the British.
When Perry achieved victory, he made the return trip and delivered Perry’s famous message to Gen. William Henry Harrison: “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”
Ms. Hage, who has read Navarre’s dictated memoirs, said: “Two hundred years ago, on Sept. 9, 1813, he spent an anxious night awaiting the outcome of the impending Battle of Lake Erie. From these actions, and previous assistance to the American Army during the War of 1812, Navarre’s legacy was secured as Toledo’s original celebrity.”
Perry’s victory let his ships ferry General Harrison’s troops across Lake Erie to Michigan, where they retook Frenchtown (modern-day Monroe), and Detroit from the British. The troops also went into Ontario to win the Battle of the Thames, where the warrior chief Tecumseh was killed.
When Toledo celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1937, it felt compelled to honor Peter Navarre — frontier scout, fur trader, woodsman, and 19th-century local celebrity.
As a soldier, Navarre had survived the Battle of the River Raisin in Frenchtown in January, 1813, in which more than 300 Americans were killed and 500 taken prisoner. The disaster became known as “The River Raisin Massacre.”
At the River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Monroe, the Navarre name is well-known, as it is throughout Monroe County, where Navarre family members settled. (Monroe’s first white settler was Francois Navarre, Peter’s cousin).
Dan Downing, park chief of education, interpretation, and operations, has an image of Toledo’s Peter Navarre on his office wall.
On Sept. 28, the park will honor the bicentennial of Frenchtown’s liberation by General Harrison’s troops. The observance begins at 4 p.m. The Navy Band of the Great Lakes performs at 6.