Perry, Matthew Calbraith

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Perry, Matthew Calbraith

Matthew Calbraith Perry, 1794–1858, American naval officer, b. South Kingstown, R.I.; brother of Oliver Hazard Perry. Appointed a midshipman in 1809, he first served under his brother on the Revenge and then was aide to Commodore John Rodgers on the President, which defeated the British ship Little Belt before the War of 1812 had been formally declared. Perry saw little action in that war because he was assigned to the United States, which the British bottled up at New London. He received his first command in 1821.

From 1833 to 1843 Perry was assigned to the New York (later Brooklyn) navy yard, where he pioneered in the application of steam power to warships, commanding (1837) the Fulton, first steam vessel in the U.S. navy, and encouraged the broadening of naval education. Promoted to captain in 1837, Perry received the title of commodore in 1841 and in the same year became commandant of the New York navy yard. In 1843–44 he commanded the African squadron, which was engaged in suppressing the slave trade. In the Mexican War, as commander of the Gulf Fleet, he supported Gen. Winfield Scott in taking Veracruz.

In Mar., 1852, Perry was ordered to command the East India squadron and charged with the delicate task of penetrating isolationist Japan. On July 8, 1853, he anchored his four ships, including the powerful steam frigates Mississippi and Susquehanna, in lower Tokyo (then Yedo) Bay. The Japanese ordered him to go to Nagasaki, the only port open to foreigners, where the Dutch operated a limited trading concession, but Perry firmly declined. On July 14 he presented his papers, including a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the Japanese emperor, requesting protection for shipwrecked American seamen, the right to buy coal, and the opening of one or more ports to trade.

The expedition then retired to the China coast, but returned, with an increased fleet, in Feb., 1854. Perry's show of pomp (at which he was expert) and power obviously impressed the insecure Tokugawa shogunate, and on Mar. 31, 1854, near Yokohama a treaty was concluded that acceded to American requests, opening the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to U.S. trade. For his successful expedition Perry was awarded $20,000 by Congress, which also paid for publication of the official Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan (3 vol., 1856), compiled under Perry's supervision.

See E. M. Barrows, The Great Commodore (1935); A. Walworth, Black Ships off Japan (1946, repr. 1966); Bluejackets with Perry in Japan (ed. by H. F. Graff, 1952); S. E. Morison, Old Bruin (1967).

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