Matthew C. Perry

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Matthew Perry
Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry.png
Perry in the 1850s, in a photograph by Mathew Brady.
Birth name Matthew Calbraith Perry
Born (1794-04-10)April 10, 1794
Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.
Died March 4, 1858(1858-03-04) (aged 63)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1809–1858
Rank Commodore
Commands held USS Shark
Africa Squadron
USS Fulton
New York Navy Yard
USS Mississippi
Mosquito Fleet

Little Belt Affair
War of 1812

Second Barbary War
Suppression of the Slave Trade

Opening of Japan
Mexican–American War

Spouse(s) Jane (Slidell) Perry
  • Christopher Perry (father)
  • Sarah Wallace (Alexander) Perry (mother)
  • Raymond Henry Jones Perry (brother)
  • Oliver Hazard Perry (brother)
  • James Alexander Perry (brother)
  • Nathaniel Hazard Perry (brother)
  • Sarah Wallace Perry (sister)
  • Anna Marie Perry Rodgers (sister)
  • Jane Tweedy Perry Butler (sister)

Matthew Calbraith Perry[Note 1] (April 10, 1794 – March 4, 1858) was a Commodore of the United States Navy and commanded a number of ships. He served in several wars, most notably in the Mexican–American War and the War of 1812. He played a leading role in the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854. Perry was very concerned with the education of naval officers and helped develop an apprentice system that helped establish the curriculum at the United States Naval Academy. With the advent of the steam engine, he became a leading advocate of modernizing the US Navy and came to be considered The Father of the Steam Navy in the United States.

Early life and naval career[edit]

Matthew Perry was the son of Sarah Wallace (Alexander) and Navy Captain Christopher R. Perry and the younger brother of Oliver Hazard Perry. Matthew Perry received a midshipman's commission in the Navy in 1809, and was initially assigned to the USS Revenge, under the command of his elder brother. Under his brother's command, Matthew was a combatant in The Battle of Lake Erie aboard the flagship Lawrence and the replacement flagship, the brig Niagara.

Perry's early career saw him assigned to several ships, including the USS President (where he served as an aid to Commodore John Rodgers (1772–1838)) which had been in a victorious engagement over a British vessel, HMS Little Belt, shortly before the War of 1812 was officially declared. He continued in this capacity during the War of 1812. Perry was also aboard President when it engaged HMS Belvidera when Rodgers himself fired the first shot of the war at this vessel with a following shot that resulted in a cannon bursting, wounding Rodgers and Perry and killing and wounding others.[1] Perry transferred to the USS United States, and saw little fighting in the war afterwards, since the ship was trapped in port at New London, Connecticut. Following the signing of the Treaty of Ghent which ended the conflict, he served on various vessels in the Mediterranean. Perry served under Commodore William Bainbridge during the Second Barbary War. He then served in African waters aboard USS Cyane during its patrol off Liberia from 1819–1820. After that cruise, Perry was sent to suppress piracy and the slave trade in the West Indies. Later during this period, while in port in Russia, Perry was offered a commission in the Imperial Russian Navy, which he declined.

Command assignments, 1820s–1840s[edit]

Opening of Key West[edit]

An exact replica of the Gokoku-ji Bell which Commodore Perry brought back from Japan as a gift from the Ryukyuan Kingdom. Currently stationed at the entrance of Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. The original bell was returned to Japan in 1987.

Perry commanded the USS Shark, a schooner with 12 guns, in 1821–1825. In 1763, when Britain possessed Florida, the Spanish contended that the Florida Keys were part of Cuba and North Havana. Certain elements within the United States felt that Key West (which was then named Cayo Hueso, meaning "Bone Key") could potentially be the "Gibraltar of the West" because it guarded the northern edge of the 90 miles (140 km) wide Straits of Florida—the deep water route between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1815 the Spanish governor in Havana deeded the island of Key West to Juan Pablo Salas of Saint Augustine. After Florida was transferred to the United States, Salas sold Key West to American businessman John W. Simonton for $2,000 in 1821. Simonton lobbied the U.S. Government to establish a naval base on Key West both to take advantage of its strategic location and to bring law and order to the area.

On March 25, 1822, Perry sailed Shark to Key West and planted the U.S. flag, physically claiming the Keys as United States territory.

Perry renamed Cayo Hueso "Thompson's Island" for the Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson and the harbor "Port Rodgers" for the president of the Board of Navy Commissioners. Neither name stuck.

From 1826 to 1827 Perry acted as fleet captain for Commodore Rodgers. Perry returned to Charleston, South Carolina for shore duty in 1828, and in 1830 took command of a sloop-of-war, the USS Concord. He spent the years 1833–1837 as second officer of the New York Navy Yard (later the Brooklyn Navy Yard), gaining promotion to captain at the end of this tour.

He was a member of the Masons.[2]

Father of the Steam Navy[edit]

Commodore Matthew C. Perry
U.S. postage, 1953 issue

Perry had an ardent interest and saw the need for the naval education, supporting an apprentice system to train new seamen, and helped establish the curriculum for the United States Naval Academy. He was a vocal proponent of modernizing the Navy. Once promoted to captain, he oversaw construction of the Navy's second steam frigate USS Fulton (1837), which he commanded after its completion. He was called "The Father of the Steam Navy",[3] and he organized America's first corps of naval engineers, and conducted the first U.S. naval gunnery school while commanding Fulton in 1839–1841 off Sandy Hook on the coast of New Jersey.

Promotion to Commodore[edit]

Perry received the title of Commodore in June 1840, when the Secretary of the Navy appointed him commandant of New York Navy Yard.[4] The United States Navy did not have ranks higher than captain until 1862, so the title of commodore carried considerable importance.[5] Officially, an officer would revert to his permanent rank after the squadron command assignment had ended, although in practice officers who received the title of commodore retained the title for life, and Perry was no exception.

During his tenure in Brooklyn, he lived in Quarters A in Vinegar Hill, a building which still stands today.[6] In 1843, Perry took command of the African Squadron, whose duty was to interdict the slave trade under the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, and continued in this endeavor through 1844.

Mexican–American War[edit]

Perry attacked and took San Juan Bautista (Villahermosa today) in the Second Battle of Tabasco.

In 1845, Commodore David Conner's length of service in command of the Home Squadron had come to an end. However, the coming of the Mexican-American War persuaded the authorities not to change commanders in the face of the war. Perry, who would eventually succeed Conner, was made second-in-command and captained the USS Mississippi. Perry captured the Mexican city of Frontera, demonstrated against Tabasco and took part in the capture of Tampico (November 14, 1846). He had to return to Norfolk, Virginia to make repairs and was still there when the amphibious landings at Veracruz took place. His return to the U.S. gave his superiors the chance to finally give him orders to succeed Commodore Conner in command of the Home Squadron. Perry returned to the fleet during the siege of Veracruz and his ship supported the siege from the sea. After the fall of Veracruz, Winfield Scott moved inland and Perry moved against the remaining Mexican port cities. Perry assembled the Mosquito Fleet and captured Tuxpan in April, 1847. In July 1847 he attacked Tabasco personally, leading a 1,173-man landing force ashore and attacking the city of San Juan Bautista (Villahermosa today) from land.[7]

The Perry Expedition: Opening of Japan, 1852–1854[edit]

Japanese woodblock print of Perry (center) and other high-ranking American seamen

In 1852, Perry was assigned a diplomatic mission by American President Millard Fillmore to force the opening of Japanese ports to American trade, through the use of gunboat diplomacy if necessary.[8] The growing commerce between America and China, the presence of American whalers in waters offshore Japan, and the increasing monopolization of potential coaling stations by the British and French in Asia were all contributing factors. The Americans were also driven by concepts of Manifest Destiny and the desire to impose the benefits of western civilization on what they perceived as “backwards” Asian nations. The Japanese were forewarned by the Dutch of Perry’s voyage, but were unwilling to change their 220-year-old policy of national seclusion.[9] There was considerable internal debate in Japan on how best to meet this potential threat to Japan’s economic and political sovereignty. On November 24, 1852, Perry embarked from Norfolk, Virginia for Japan, in command of the East India Squadron in pursuit of a Japanese trade treaty. He chose the paddle-wheeled steam frigate Mississippi as his flagship, and made port calls at Madeira (December 11–15), St Helena (January 10–11), Cape Town (January 24 – February 3), Mauritius (February 18–28), Ceylon (March 10–15), Singapore (March 25–29) and Macao and Hong Kong (April 7–28), where he met with American-born Sinologist Samuel Wells Williams, who provided Chinese language translations of his official letters, and where he rendezvoused with Plymouth. He continued to Shanghai (May 4–17), where met with the Dutch-born American diplomat, Anton L. C. Portman, who translated his official letters into the Dutch language, and where he rendezvoused with Susquehanna.

Perry then switched his flag to Susquehanna and called on the Ryukyu islands from May 17–26. Ignoring the claims of Satsuma Domain to the islands, he demanded an audience with the Ryukyu King Shō Tai at Shuri Castle and secured promises that the islands would be open to trade with the United States. Continuing on the Ogasawara islands in mid-June, Perry met with the local inhabitants and purchased a plot of land.

First visit, 1853[edit]

Perry finally reached Uraga at the entrance to Edo Bay in Japan on July 8, 1853. His actions at this crucial juncture were informed by a careful study of Japan's previous contacts with Western ships and what he knew about the Japanese hierarchical culture.

As he arrived, Perry ordered his ships to steam past Japanese lines towards the capital of Edo, and turn their guns towards the town of Uraga.[10] Perry refused Japanese demands to leave, or to proceed to Nagasaki, the only Japanese port open to foreigners.[10]

Perry attempted to intimidate the Japanese by presenting them a white flag and a letter which told them that in case they chose to fight, the Americans would destroy them.[11][12] He also fired blank shots from his 73 cannons, which he claimed was in celebration of the American Independence Day. Perry's ships were equipped with new Paixhans shell guns, cannons capable of wreaking great explosive destruction with every shell.[13][14] He also ordered his ship boats to commence survey operations of the coastline and surrounding waters over the objections of local officials.

In the meantime, the Japanese government was paralyzed due to the incapacitation by illness of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi and by political indecision on how to handle the unprecedented threat to the nation’s capital. On July 11, Rōjū Abe Masahiro temporized, deciding that simply accepting a letter from the Americans would not constitute a violation of Japanese sovereignty. The decision was conveyed to Uraga, and Perry was asked to move his fleet slightly southwest to the beach at Kurihama (in modern-day Yokosuka), where he was allowed to land on July 14, 1853.[15] After presenting the letter to attending delegates, Perry departed for Hong Kong, promising to return the following year for the Japanese reply.[16]

Second visit, 1854[edit]

Commodore Perry's fleet for his second visit to Japan, 1854

Perry returned on 13 February 1854, after only half a year rather than the full year promised, and with ten ships and 1600 men. Both actions were calculated to put even more pressure onto the Japanese. After initial resistance by the Japanese, Perry was permitted to land at Kanagawa, near the site of present-day Yokohama on March 8, 1854 where after negotiations lasting for around a month, the Convention of Kanagawa was signed on March 31, 1854. Perry signed as American plenipotentiary, and Hayashi Akira, also known by his title of Daigaku-no-kami signed for the Japanese side. Perry departed, mistakenly believing the agreement had been made with imperial representatives, not understanding the true position of the Shogun, the de facto ruler of Japan.[17] Perry then visited Hakodate on the northern island of Hokkaido and Shimoda, the two ports which the treaty stipulated would be opened to visits by American ships.

Return to the United States, 1855[edit]

When Perry returned to the United States in 1855, Congress voted to grant him a reward of $20,000 (US$ 506,000 in 2015) in appreciation of his work in Japan. Perry used part of this money to prepare and publish a report on the expedition in three volumes, titled Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan. He was also promoted to the grade of rear-admiral on the retired list (when his health began to fail) as a reward for his service in the Far East.[18] Perry was known to have suffered severe arthritis that left him in frequent pain, and on occasion precluded him from his duties.[19]

Last years[edit]

Matthew C. Perry. 1855–56.

Perry spent his last years preparing for publication his account of the Japan expedition, announcing its completion on December 28, 1857. Two days later he was detached from his last post, an assignment to the Naval Efficiency Board. He died awaiting further orders on March 4, 1858, in New York City, of rheumatism that had spread to the heart, compounded by complications of gout and alcoholism.[20]

Initially interred in a vault on the grounds of St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, in New York City, his remains were moved to the Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island on March 21, 1866,[21] along with those of his daughter, Anna, who died in 1839.

In 1873, an elaborate monument was placed by his widow over his grave in Newport.[22]


Commodore Perry was married to Jane Slidell Perry (1816–1864) and had ten children:[23]

  • John Slidell Perry (c. 1817)
  • Sarah Perry – married Col. Robert S. Rodgers
  • Jane Hazard Perry – married John Hone
  • Matthew Calbraith Perry (c. 1820 – 1873) – Captain, United States Navy. Veteran of the Mexican War and the Civil War.
  • Susan Murgatroyde Perry (c. 1825)
  • Oliver Hazard Perry (c. 1825 – 1870)
  • William Frederick Perry (1828–1884) – 2nd Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps.
  • Caroline Slidell Perry Belmont (1829–1892) – Married financier August Belmont.
  • Isabella Bolton Perry (1834–1912) – married George T. Tiffany
  • Anna Rodgers Perry (c. 1838)

Through his mother, Perry was a direct descendant of the uncle of Scottish nobleman William Wallace (d. 1305).

Perry's flag and legacy[edit]

Commodore Perry's flag (upper left corner) was flown from Annapolis to Tokyo for display at the surrender ceremonies which officially ended World War II

A replica of Perry's US flag is on display on board the USS Missouri (BB-63) memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, attached to the bulkhead just inboard of the Japanese surrender signing site on the starboard side of the ship. The original flag was brought from the U.S. Naval Academy Museum to Japan for the Japan surrender ceremony and was displayed on that occasion at the request of Douglas MacArthur, who was himself a blood-relative of Perry. Photographs of the signing ceremony show that this flag was displayed properly as all flags on vessels (known as ensigns) on the starboard side are, with the stars in the upper right corner. The cloth of the historic flag was so fragile that the conservator at the Museum directed that a protective backing be sewn on it.[24] Today, the flag is preserved and on display at the Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland.

The pattern for the Union canton on this flag is different from the standard 31-star flag then in use. Perry's flag had columns of five stars save the last column which had six stars. Perry's US flag was unique when it was first flown in Tokyo Bay in 1853–1854. The replica of this historic flag on board the USS Missouri memorial is also placed in the same location on the bulkhead of the veranda deck where it had been initially mounted on the morning of September 2, 1945[24] by Chief Carpenter Fred Miletich.[25]


Perry's statue in Touro Park

Fictional depictions[edit]

Japanese woodblock print of Commodore Perry, c. 1854. The caption reads "North American" (top line, written from right to left in Chinese character) and "Perry's portrait" (first line, written from top to bottom).
  • The story of the opening of Japan was the basis of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Pacific Overtures.
  • Actor Richard Boone played Commodore Perry in the highly fictionalized 1981 film The Bushido Blade.
  • The coming of Commodore Perry's ships was indirectly part of a plot in one of the arcs of the anime series Rurouni Kenshin and in the first episode of Hikaru no Go. Another anime series in which Perry briefly appears is Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan. The manga Fruits Basket also refers to the event while the main character is studying. The anime Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei also depicts Commodore Perry as a "troubled foreigner who isn't satisfied by opening ports and needs to open everything".
  • The anime series, Samurai Champloo, in an episode entitled "Baseball Blues", depicts a fictional character named 'Admiral Joy Cartwright' whose fleet has been challenged by Kagemaru (secret agent and former ninja) to a baseball (Yakyū) game in order to prevent the establishment trade relations. The character is named after Alexander Joy Cartwright ("the father of baseball") and obviously modeled after Commodore Perry.
  • Perry's visit is also mentioned in the 1965 Hideo Gosha film Sword of the Beast.
  • Popotan has several references to Perry throughout the series.
  • The 2010 NHK Taiga drama Ryōmaden, which deals with the Bakumatsu period, portrayed Perry as a menacing, steadfast military commander who was able to subjugate the then-seemingly invincible Tokugawa shogunate through blunt negotiation. He was played by Timothy Harris.
  • In the 2013 NHK Taiga drama Yae no Sakura, which deals with the Bakumatsu period, he is portrayed by Steven Ashton.
  • Perry is the main antagonist in the Code Geass alternate universe manga "Tales of an Alternate Shogunate". He uses Geass to force Japan to open its ports, but does so on unequal terms and oppresses Japan, much like Britannia did in the original series. He faces opposition from Zero and the Black Knights, as well as from Princess Euphemia and Suzaku after they realize that he is trying to make Japan his own property, and he is ultimately defeated and forced to surrender. He pilots the "Black Ship", a flying ship that can transform into a combat robot.
  • Two designers, Charles and Ray Eames, made a short film titled The Black Ships (1970). It depicts the opening of Japan with Japanese prints and drawings from the time.[27]
  • In the 2012–2013 Japanese anime, Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman. Man believed to be Admiral Perry, returns to Japan ten years after his last historical visit. In this fictional portrayal he commands a high-tech Ironclad, with the ambition of conquering the country for himself.
  • The Nintendo DS game, Ganbare Goemon: Tōkai Dōchū Ōedo Tengu ri Kaeshi no Maki, features an antagonist named Peruri, who comes to Japan to conduct foreign trade, but the people were afraid of him. He was later met by a person named Sakura, who promises to help him if he helps him obtain the three Weapons of the Heavens.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Griffis, 1887 p.40
  2. ^ Edward L. King. "Famous Masons M-Z". Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  3. ^ Sewall, John S. (1905). The Logbook of the Captain's Clerk: Adventures in the China Seas, p. xxxvi.
  4. ^ Griffis, William Elliot. (1887). Matthew Calbraith Perry: A Typical American Naval Officer, pp. 154-155.
  5. ^ "Commodore". United States Navy. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
  6. ^ "National Register of Historic Places : Quarters A : Commander's Quarters, Matthew C. Perry House" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  7. ^ Sewell, p. xxxvi.
  8. ^ J. W. Hall, Japan, p.207.
  9. ^ W. G. Beasley, The Meiji Restoration, p.88.
  10. ^ a b The Perry Mission to Japan, 1853-1854 - Google Books. Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  11. ^ John H. Schroeder. Matthew Calbraith Perry: antebellum sailor and diplomat. p. 286. Retrieved 2015-03-09. The letter threatened that in the event the Japanese elected war rather than negotiation, he could use the white flag to sue for peace, since victory would naturally belong to the Americans 
  12. ^ The Economic Aspects of the History of the Civilization of Japan - Yosaburō Takekoshi - Google Books. Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  13. ^ Arms and Men: A Study in American Military History - Walter Millis - Google Books. Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  14. ^ Black Ships Off Japan: The Story of Commodore Perry's Expedition - Arthur Walworth - Google Books. 1982-01-01. Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  15. ^ "Perry Ceremony Today; Japanese and U. S. Officials to Mark 100th Anniversary." The New York Times, July 14, 1953
  16. ^ Sewall, pp. 183–195.
  17. ^ Sewall, pp. 243–264.
  18. ^ Sewall, p. lxxxvii.
  19. ^ "Commodore Perry's Expedition to Japan". Ben Griffiths 2005. Retrieved September 12, 2009. 
  20. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot. (1967). 'Old Bruin' Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry p. 431.
  21. ^ "Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794–1858)". Find a Grave. Retrieved January 9, 2011. 
  22. ^ "MONUMENT TO COMMODORE M.C. PERRY. - View Article -". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  23. ^ "Matthew Calbraith Perry" by William Elliot Griffis 1887
  24. ^ a b Tsustsumi, Cheryl Lee. "Hawaii's Back Yard: Mighty Mo memorial re-creates a powerful history," Star-Bulletin (Honolulu). August 26, 2007.
  25. ^ Broom, Jack. "Memories on Board Battleship," Seattle Times, May 21, 1998.
  26. ^ Sewall, pp. 197–198.
  27. ^ "The Black Ships (1970)". Retrieved 2015-03-09. 



  1. ^ Perry's middle name is often misspelled as Galbraith instead of Calbraith

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

"Diplomacy Far Removed: A Reinterpretation of the U.S. Decision to Open Diplomatic Relations with Japan | Bruce Makoto Arnold". 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2015-03-09. 

Military offices
Preceded by
John H. Aulick
Commander, East India Squadron
20 November 1852–6 September 1854
Succeeded by
Joel Abbot