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Matthew Calbraith Perry (April 10, 1794 – March 4, 1858) was the Commodore of the U.S. Navy who compelled the opening of Japanmarker to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854.

Early life and naval career

Matthew Perry was the son of 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.

Commodore Perry's early career saw him assigned to several ships, including the USS President, which had been in a victorious engagement over a Britishmarker vessel, HMS Little Belt, shortly before the War of 1812 was officially declared. Aboard the USS President he served as aide to Commodore John Rodgers. He transferred to the USS United States, and saw little fighting in the war after that, since the ship was trapped in port at New London, Connecticutmarker. Following the signing of the Treaty of Ghent which ended the conflict, he served on various vessels in the Mediterraneanmarker. Perry served under Commodore William Bainbridge during the Second Barbary War. He then served in African waters aboard USS Cyane during its patrol off Liberiamarker from 1819-1820. After that cruise, Perry was sent to suppress piracy and the slave trade in the West Indiesmarker. Later during this period, while in port in Russiamarker, Perry was offered a commission in the Imperial Russian Navy, which he declined.

Command assignments, 1820s-1840s

Opening of Key West

Perry commanded the USS Shark, a schooner with 12 guns, from 1821-1825.In 1763, when Britain possessed Florida, the Spanish contended that the Florida Keysmarker were part of Cubamarker and North Havana. Certain elements within the United States felt that Key Westmarker (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 mile (145 km) wide Straits of Floridamarker -- the deep water route between the Atlanticmarker and the Gulf of Mexicomarker.

In 1815 the Spanish governor in Havanamarker deeded the island of Key Westmarker to Juan Pablo Salas of Saint Augustinemarker. After Florida was transferred to the United States, Salas sold Key West to U.S. 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 the Shark to Key West and planted the U.S. flag, physically claiming the Keys as United States property.

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 1826-1827 Perry acted as fleet captain for Commodore Rodgers. Perry returned to Charleston, South Carolinamarker 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 Yardmarker), gaining promotion to captain at the end of this tour.

Father of the Steam Navy

Perry had a considerable interest in naval education, supporting an apprentice system to train new seamen, and helped establish the curriculum for the United States Naval Academymarker. He was a vocal proponent of modernizing the Navy. Once promoted to captain, he oversaw construction of the Navy's second steam frigate the USS Fulton, which he commanded after its completion. He was called "The Father of the Steam Navy", 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 Hookmarker on the coast of New Jerseymarker.

Promotion to Commodore

Perry received the title of Commodore in June 1840, when the Secretary of the Navy appointed him commandant of New York Navy Yard. During his tenure in Brooklyn, he lived in Quarters B at Admiral's Rowmarker, a building which still stands today, but is threatened with demolition by the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation.

Despite the added responsibilities of his new posting, Perry's official naval rank remained unchanged. The title "Commodore" added nothing to his pay or to his permanent rank of captain. Until 1862, four years after Perry's death in 1858, the title Commodore would not come to signify a higher grade or an increased salary; but now, more than a century later, Commodore remains inextricably linked with the name of one of his nation's most well-known naval heroes.

In 1843, Commodore 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.

The Mexican-American War

In 1845, Commodore David Connor'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 Connor, was made second-in-command and captained the USS Mississippi. Perry captured the Mexican city of Frontera, demonstrated against Tabascomarker and took part in the Tampico Expedition. He had to return to Norfolk, Virginiamarker to make repairs and was still there when the amphibious landings at Veracruzmarker took place. His return to the U.S. gave his superiors the chance to finally give him orders to succeed Commodore Connor 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 from land.

The Perry Expedition: Opening of Japan: 1852-1854

In advance of his voyage to the Far East, Commodore Perry read widely amongst available books about Tokugawa Japan. His research even included consultation with the increasingly well-known Japanologist Philipp Franz von Siebold, who had lived on the Dutch island of Dejimamarker for eight years before retiring to Leidenmarker in the Netherlands.


Perry's expedition to Japan was preceded by several naval expeditions by American ships:

  • From 1797 to 1809, several American ships traded in Nagasaki under the Dutchmarker flag, upon the request of the Dutch, who were not able to send their own ships because of their conflict against Britainmarker during the Napoleonic Wars. Japan limited foreign trade to the Dutch and Chinese at that time, under the policy of sakoku.
  • In 1837, an American businessman in Cantonmarker named Charles W. King saw an opportunity to open trade by trying to return to Japan three Japanese sailors (among them, Otokichi) who had been shipwrecked a few years before on the coast of Washingtonmarker. He went to Uraga Channelmarker with Morrison, an unarmed American merchant ship. The ship was attacked several times, and sailed back without completing its mission.
  • In 1846, Commander James Biddle, sent by the United States Government to open trade, anchored in Tokyo Baymarker with two ships, including one warship armed with 72 cannons, but his requests for a trade agreement remained unsuccessful.
  • In 1849, Captain James Glynn sailed to Nagasaki, leading at last to the first successful negotiation by an American with "Closed Country" Japan. James Glynn recommended to the United States Congress that negotiations to open Japan should be backed up by a demonstration of force, thus paving the way for Perry's expedition.

First visit, 1852-1853

In 1852, Perry embarked from Norfolk, Virginiamarker for Japanmarker, in command of a squadron in search of a Japanese trade treaty. Aboard a black-hulled steam frigate, he portedMississippi,Plymouth,Saratoga,andSusquehannaat Uraga Harbormarker near Edo (modern Tokyomarker) 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 could be known about the Japanese hierarchical culture. He was met by representatives of the Tokugawa Shogunate who told him to proceed to Nagasaki, where there was limited trade with the Netherlandsmarker and which was the only Japanese port open to foreigners at that time (see Sakoku).

Threat of force

Perry refused to leave and demanded permission to present a letter from President Millard Fillmore, threatening force if he was denied. Commodore Perry was fully prepared for hostilities if his negotiations with the Japanese failed, and threatened to open fire if the Japanese refused to negotiate. He remitted two white flags to them, telling them to hoist the flags when they wished a bombardment from his fleet to cease and to surrender. To demonstrate his weapons Perry ordered his ships to attack several buildings around the harbor. The ships of Perry were equipped with new Paixhans shell guns, capable of bringing destruction everywhere a shell landed. The Japanese military forces could not resist Perry's modern weaponry; the term "Black Ships", in Japan, would later come to symbolise a threat imposed by Western technology.

The Japanese government was forced to let Perry come ashore to avoid further naval bombardment. Perry landed at Kurihama (in modern-day Yokosuka) on July 14, 1853 presented the letter to delegates present, and left for the Chinese coast, promising to return for a reply.

Fortifications were built in Tokyo Baymarker at Odaibamarker in order to protect Edo from a possible American naval incursion.

Second visit, 1854

Commodore Perry's fleet for his second visit to Japan in 1854.
Perry returned in February 1854 with twice as many ships, finding that the delegates had prepared a treaty embodying virtually all the demands in Fillmore's letter. Perry signed the Convention of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854 and departed, mistakenly believing the agreement had been made with imperial representatives.

On his way to Japan, Perry anchored off Keelungmarker in Formosamarker (modern day Taiwanmarker), for ten days. Perry and crew members landed on Formosa and investigated the potential of mining the coal deposits in that area. He emphasized in his reports that Formosa provided a convenient mid-way trade location. Formosa was also very defensible. It could serve as a base for exploration as Cubamarker had done for the Spanish in the Americas. Occupying Formosa could help the US to counter European monopolization of the major trade routes. The United States government did not respond to Perry's proposal to claim sovereignty over Formosa.

Return to the United States, 1855

When Perry returned to the United States in 1855, Congress voted to grant him a reward of $20,000 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 advanced to the grade of rear-admiral on the retired list (when his health began to fail) as a reward for his services in the Far East. Perry was known to have suffered severe arthritis that left him in frequent pain, that on occasion precluded him from his duties.

Last years

Perry died on March 4, 1858 in New York Citymarker, of liver cirrhosis due to alcoholism. His remains were moved to the Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Islandmarker on March 21, 1866, along with those of his daughter, Anna, who died in 1839.


  • His mother was a descendant of Scotland's hero William Wallace.
  • His brother was Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry.
  • His wife Jane Slidell was sister of John Slidell and aunt of Alexander Slidell MacKenzie. the son and namesake of the Alexander Slidell MacKenzie who was involved in the Somers Affair.
  • His sister Anna Maria married Commodore George Washington Rodgers. Their son Rear Admiral Christopher Raymond Perry Rodgers married Julia Slidell. Raymond and Julia Slidell were the parents of Rear Admirials Thomas Slidell Rodgers and Raymond Perry Rodgers. Raymond Perry Rodgers was married to Gertrude Stuyvesant-who was descended from the Livingston family of New York. George Washington Rodgers was the brother of Commodore John Rodgers, an officer in the War of 1812 who was the father-in-law of Union General Montgomery C. Meigs and grandfather of Lt. John Rodgers Meigs. General Meigs was the great-grandson of Colonel Return J. Meigs, Sr., who was the father of Return J. Meigs, Governor of Ohio.
  • A daughter, Caroline Slidell, married August Belmont, a 19th century banker/businessman.
  • A grandniece married Joseph Grew, Ambassador to Japan.
  • A great-granddaugther married Jay Pierrepont Moffat, Ambassador to Canada.
  • A great-grandson was aviation pioneer Cal Rodgers.
  • A great-grandson was John Rodgers , who was also a great grandson of Commodore John Rodgers.
  • A great cousin was Jack M. Perry, the famous Landscape Architect of Miami-Dade County
  • As part of a Japanese TV program to find descendants of famous figures in Japanese History, the third great grandson was found, a Dr. Frederic Hone Nichols. He revealed in the program that a famous photograph used in Japanese textbooks of Commodore Perry had a button painted on.

A diplomatic note

Among other mementos, Perry presented Queen Victoria with a breeding pair of Japanese Chin dogs, previously owned only by Japanese nobility.

Perry's flag and legacy

A replica of Perry's US flag is on display on board the USS Missouri marker memorial in Pearl Harbormarker, Hawaiimarker. It is attached to the bulkhead just inboard of the Japanese surrender signing site on the port side of the ship. The original flag was brought 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. MacArthur had perhaps seen himself as a second benign "opener" of Japan. Some photographs of the signing ceremony show that this flag was actually displayed backward—reverse side showing (stars in the upper right corner). The cloth of the historic flag was so fragile that the conservator at the Naval Academy Museum directed that a protective backing be sewn on it, leaving its "wrong side" visible; and this was how Perry's 31-star flag was presented on this unique occasion. Some sources insist the flag was flown from the Missouri's masthead, but this is demonstrably mistaken. Today, the flag is preserved at the United States Naval Academymarker 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, and unique when it was displayed on the Missouri in 1945. A replica of this historic flag can be seen today on the Surrender Deck of the Battleship Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor. This replica 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 by Chief Carpenter Fred Miletich.


Fictional depictions

Further reading

See also


  1. Perry's middle name is often misspelled as Galbraith instead of Calbraith
  2. Sewall, John S. (1905). The Logbook of the Captain's Clerk: Adventures in the China Seas, p. xxxvi.
  3. Griffis, William Elliot. (1887). Matthew Calbraith Perry: A Typical American Naval Officer, pp. 154-155.
  4. Sewell, p. xxxvi.
  5. Sewall, p. xxxviii.
  6. Sewell, pp. xxxiv-xxxv, xlix, lvi.
  7. English Wikipedia on Preble Logbook
  8. The economic aspects of the history of the civilization of Japan Yosaburō Takekoshi p.285-86 [1]
  9. Arms and men: a study in American military history Walter Millis p.88 [2]
  10. Black Ships Off Japan - The Story of Commodore Perry's Expedition Arthur Walworth p.21 [3]
  11. Sewall, pp. 167-183.
  12. "Perry Ceremony Today; Japanese and U. S. Officials to Mark 100th Anniversary." New York Times. July 14, 1953,
  13. Sewall, pp. 183-195.
  14. Sewall, pp. 243-264.
  15. Sewall, pp. lxxx-lxxxi.
  16. Sewall, p. lxxxvii.
  17. Tsustsumi, Cheryl Lee. "Hawaii's Back Yard: Mighty Mo memorial re-creates a powerful history," Star-Bulletin (Honolulu). August 26, 2007.
  18. Broom, Jack. "Memories on Board Battleship," Seattle Times. May 21, 1998.
  19. Sewall, pp. 197–198.


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