Physics Professor on the Starboard Guns

Professor of Physics Tom Askew on a boatProfessor of Physics Tom Askew had physics in mind this summer–the physics of force and trajectory of early 19th-century cannon fire. Askew as deckhand and gunner on the Friends Good Will during a reenactment of the Battle of Lake Erie. Small but well-armed, Friends Good Will led the British battle line into action against the American fleet. Askew’s is a replica tall ship from the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, and Askew serves on board every summer. The original Friends Good Will was built in Michigan at River Rouge in 1810 as a merchant vessel. In the summer of 1812, she was chartered by the federal government to take military supplies to Fort Dearborn, a small military and trading post at what is now Chicago. She was returning with furs and skins when she was lured into the harbor of Mackinac Island. The British, having taken the island just days before, were flying false colors above the fort ramparts. The British confiscated the vessel, cargo, and crew, renaming her “Little Belt.” She was armed, taken into service, and fought with the Royal Navy until September of 1813, when she was recaptured by United States Commodore Oliver Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie. Within an hour after the great guns fell silent, Commodore Perry mentioned her in his now famous dispatch, “We have met the enemy and they are ours: Two Ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.” That sloop was Friends Good Will. The ship then served in the United States Navy, transporting General William Henry Harrison’s troops across Lake Erie in the successful invasion of Southern Ontario. She was driven ashore in a storm south of Buffalo in December 1813. In early January 1814, during efforts to re-launch the ship, the British unceremoniously burned the once-proud vessel during a raid on Buffalo.