Whether a maritime buff, history aficionado or lover of all things sail-related, you'll want to get your sea legs ready for the War on the Great Lakes! exhibit, cruising into South Haven's Michigan Maritime Museum on May 4 and docked there through December 2013. The bicentennial exhibit focuses on the Great Lakes' link with the War of 1812.
"Players" at the exhibit include a young United States, Britain at the height of her Empire, and native nations fighting for the survival of their lifestyle.
The war was comprised of several Great Lakes conflicts and exploits. As for a direct South Haven connection, you could say it's buried. "Although the town had not yet been founded at that time [it was founded in the 1830s], a veteran who fought in the war was buried in a cemetery in what is today South Haven Township," says James Spurr, chairperson of the exhibit. When not volunteering at the museum or sailing, Spurr is an attorney for Miller Canfield in Kalamazoo.
Museum visitors won't want to miss viewing a document that was carried by a Great Lakes sailor attesting that he was a citizen of the United States and should not be impressed by the Royal Navy. (Many of the men the British captured were actually American citizens. Even so, the British impressed these sailors into duty in the Royal Navy.)
There's also a handwritten recollection by Oliver Williams, original owner of the tallship Friends Good Will. Williams recorded the ship's exploits, including her capture by the British. Patrons will also want to check out the muskets, weaponry, paintings and relics from ships that were at the Battle of Lake Erie.
"If you wanted to see fascinating Great Lakes items relating to this war, you'd really have to go to ten or fifteen different places," Spurr adds. "We're producing one exhibit in one spot with partners, museums and more from all over the Great Lakes region."
"The exhibit offers a unique opportunity through its artifacts, displays and sailing aboard Friends Good Will," says Patti Montgomery, the museum's executive director. Friends Good Will [a beauty of a ship that was built in 2004 as an exact replica of its original], will be available for public sails throughout much of the commemorative period.
"The War of 1812, while not the birth of our nation, forged it and gave us an identity," Spurr says. "Before the war, we referred to the United States in the plural. After the war, we referred to the United States in the singular."