1794 – 1858



Distant cousin of Sarah Nitchie Howland.

Naval Officer responsible for the opening of trade relations in Japan.

Personal Life

Matthew Perry was born in South Kingstown, RI. from a prominent naval family.

His father was a Captain.

His brother was the very famous Oliver Hazard Perry,

the Hero of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.

Naval Career

Matthew Perry served on many vessels,

was instrumental in establishing curriculum for the US Naval Academy

and modernizing the Navy.

He was appointed Commodore. 

Opening of Japan

In the mid 1800’s Japan had an isolationist policy that had been in effect for over 200 years.

The United States wished to end this for various reasons:

The China Trade had proved so lucrative, so they wished to open Japanese ports to American trade as well.

American whalers in waters off of Japan were often imprisoned or executed if shipwrecked in Japan.

The United States also wanted to set up coaling stations in Japan.

The Expedition

In 1852, President Millard Fillmore chose Commodore Matthew Perry

to lead an expedition to obtain a treaty with Japan.

Perry’s skills and tactics were successful in achieving this goal.

He meticulously studied Japan and its culture before proceeding with his misson.

Knowing that they would be impressed by formality, pomp and pageantry, he set about to create that impression.

Commodore Perry  personally selected many types of people for this mission,

not only for their skills, but also their appearance and formality.

He chose all his Naval Officers, including Henry A. Adams

who served as Perry’s Chief of Staff

and carried the title of Captain of the Fleet.


John Contee, who traveled back on the Sea Serpent with the Howlands,

was Perry’s Flag Lieutenant.


Perry also brought along specialists and scientists

who were given the title of “Acting Master’s Mate”and paid $25 per month.


Many of them were instructed to record details of the trip

for educational purposes.

Lithograph Artist – Wilhelm Heine

Noted travel writer –  Bayard Taylor

He also traveled home on the Sea Serpent with the Howlands

Bayard Taylor

In China he picked up two interpreters:

Samuel Wells Williams – fluent in Mandarin Chinese

Dutchman – Anton Portman

as it was known that the Japanese could speak Dutch.

Williams also collected botany samples.

Samuel Wells Williams

The Voyage

On November 24, 1852, Perry embarked from Norfolk, Virginia for Japan, on the Mississippi.

They stopped in Madeira, St. Helena, Cape Town, Mauritius, Ceylon,

Singapore, Macao, Hong Kong, Shanghai,

and finally reached Lew Chew Island (now Okinawa) in May 1853.

Read Sarah’s Account of this from Mr. Contee

Perry demanded an audience with the Ryukyuan King Shō Tai at Shuri Castle.


Black Ships in Edo Bay

July 8 Perry finally reached Uraga at the entrance to Edo (Tokyo) Bay in Japan

His fleet consisted of four vessels: Susquehanna, Mississippi, Plymouth and Saratoga.

The Japanese had never seen steamboats, nor so many large guns.

These ships became known as the kurofune, the Black Ships.

Japanese ships rowed out and insisted that the ships leave

or proceed to Nagasaki, the only Japanese port open to foreigners,

but Perry refused.

Read Sarah’s Account of this from Mr. Contee

Perry began a campaign of intimidation.

He sent boats to survey the surrounding area,

and threatened to use force if the Japanese guard boats around the American squadron did not disperse.

He stayed out of sight and insisted on meeting with only high ranking Japanese officials

to deliver his letter from President Millard Fillmore.

The tactics worked.

Impressed by the pomp and pageantry,

the Japanese felt that America was a nation worthy of Japan’s trade.

Read Sarah’s Account of this from Mr. Contee

First Landing

July 14 – First landing in Kurihama (Yokosuka).

The Emperor’s barge appeared with two imperial princes – Toda and Ido.

Perry, dressed in full military attire, went ashore accompanied by:

15 boats

250 sailors and Marines

a 13-gun salute from Susquehanna

a band played “Hail Columbia”

Fillmore’s letter was formally received by the Japanese princes.

It was prepared on the finest vellum and enclosed in a gold edged rosewood chest.

The letters were avowals of friendship and

lists of advantages of trade with the United States,

suggesting that a treaty be drafted. 

Read Sarah’s Account of this from Mr. Contee

A few days later Perry’s squadron left for Macao and Hong Kong

promising to return the following year for a reply.

Read Sarah’s Account of this from Mr. Contee

Summer 1853

The Howlands met and socialized with Commodore Matthew Perry,

Captain Adams, interpreter Samuel Wells Williams

and travel writer Bayard Taylor while they were in Macao.

They also viewed the lithographs created by artist Wilhelm Heine.

We spent a very pleasant hour at the Commodore’s.

Some of the sketches were very interesting,

particularly their landing to meet the Japanese expedition.

The Commodore explained it all most satisfactorily.

It was colored and gave a good idea of the appearance presented.

There was another very interesting one

where they were entertained by the Governor of Lew Chew –

also their return from the castle.

Second Landing

February 1854 – Matthew Perry returned to Edo Bay in Japan and again refused to leave.

March 8 1854  – The second landing

with band music, gun salutes and heavily armed sailors and Marines.

Five commissioners arrived from the Emperor, including three royal princes.

March 31 – After 23 days of negotiation the treaty was signed with mostly all of Perry’s demands.

It is known as the Convention of Kanagawa,

Commander Adams was sent to Washington with the Treaty.


The United States bestowed many gifts upon the Japanese to interest them in the advantages of trade:

Arms, whiskey, farm implements, perfume, and even a miniature locomotive.

The Japanese presented silks, lacquer work, porcelain.

June – Perry left Japan and returned home by January 1855.

Jan 1855 – Adams returned to Japan with the signed Treaty.

Following the expedition, trade with Japan led to the cultural trend of Japonism,

in which aspects of Japanese culture influenced art in Europe and America.

Perry Returns

Perry received a reward from Congress of $20,000 (over $500,000 today).

He used part of this to write a Narrative on the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan.

He died in 1858.

Commodore Perry is known for

“securing a firm, lasting  and sincere friendship between the two nations”.

Brief Summary of the Perry Expedition to Japan, 1853 by the US Navy
Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan from both the Eastern and Western perspectives with lithographs by Wilhelm Heine and daguerreotypes by Eliphalet M. Brown by MIT Visualizing Cultures
Video of the Opening of Japan
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