Commodore Perry

(Matthew Perry)


Born the son of a Navy captain, Matthew Perry also joined the service at the young age of fifteen, where he served aboard the USS Revenge under his older brother, also a respected seaman. He took part in the Battle of Lake Erie, after which he was assigned to several different ships but saw little action. In 1819, he took part in a patrol of the Liberian coast, after which he was sent to the West Indies to suppress piracy and slave trade. Then, in 1821, he was given command of the USS Shark, and following the annexation of Florida to the United States, Perry sailed his ship to Key West—which he temporarily renamed “Thompson’s Island”—and planted the American flag, officially claiming the area as U.S. property.

Commodore Perry
Perry was largely committed to the training of new naval recruits, and he helped establish the curriculum for the U.S. Naval Academy. He also conducted the first naval gunnery school, and he organized America’s first corps of naval engineers. Perry was promoted to the rank of Commodore in 1840, when he was appointed to the New York Navy Yard. He later took command of the African Squadron, which interdicted the slave trade under the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, and during the Mexican-American War he served as second-in-command under his predecessor, David Connor.

Matthew Perry was best remembered in history not for his early naval successes, however, but for his role in opening Japanese ports to western trade, a difficult task considering the country’s distrust toward foreigners. Before Perry’s expedition to Japan, several American ships had attempted negotiations with the Japanese, but only a few had successfully traded with the closed-off country—and then, only in Nagasaki. Similarly, representatives who met Perry directed him to proceed to Nagasaki, where he would find limited trade. Instead, Perry continued toward the town of Uraga, where his ships positioned their guns while the commodore offered the Japanese a letter from President Fillmore, dictating that any force would result in their immediate destruction. After the letter was received by delegates, Perry’s men departed, promising to return for a reply. Perry did return a year later, this time with twice as many ships, and signed the Convention of Kanagawa, written up by the delegates and responding to virtually all of the American president’s demands. Upon his final return to the United States, Perry was granted $20,000 and advanced to the position of rear admiral. He published an account of his travels in 1857, three months before his death of rheumatism while awaiting orders in New York City.

Key events during the life of Commodore Matthew Perry:

Joined the Navy and was assigned to the USS Revenge, under the command of his elder brother.
Patrolled the coast of Liberia.
  Offered a commission in the Imperial Russian Navy but declined.
Commanded the USS Shark.
Claimed the Florida Keys as U.S. property.
Acted as fleet captain for Commodore Rodgers.
Served as second officer of the New York Navy Yard.
Conducted the first U.S. naval gunnery school.
Promoted to Commodore.
Took command of the African Squadron.
Made second-in command during the Mexican-American War.
Captured Tuxpan and attacked Tabasco.
Sailed to Japan in search of a Japanese trade treaty.
Returned to Japan and signed the Convention of Kanagawa.
Published his account of the Japanese expedition.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
United States seeks Trade with Japan  in  The Story of Japan  by  R. Van Bergen
Opening of Japan  in  Japan: Peeps at History  by  John Finnemore
Opening of Japan  in  Historical Tales: Japanese and Chinese  by  Charles Morris
Land of the Rising Sun  in  Growth of the British Empire  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Delivery of the President's letter
 in The Story of Japan

Landing of the Americans at Uraga
 in The Story of Japan

Perry's meeting with the regent's commission
 in The Story of Japan

Short Biography
General Winfield Scott Longest serving officer in American history. Served in all major wars between 1812 and the Civil War.
Daniel Webster Influential Senator from New England. Promoted protective tariffs. Favored compromise on slavery.