Commodore Matthew C. Perry's Expedition to Japan and Related
Activities as Described in the Annual Reports of the
Secretary of the Navy
, 1852-1854

Report of 1852
Report of 1853
Report of 1854
Report of 1855

Secretary of the Navy Report 1852

Exploration and Surveys - During the past year the attention of this department, in conjunction with the Department of State, has been directed to the employment of the East India squadron in an enterprise of great moment to the commercial interests of the country - the endeavor to establish relations of amity and commerce with the Empire of Japan.

The long interdict which has denied to strangers access to the ports or territory of that country, and the singularly inhospitable laws which its government has adopted to secure this exclusion, having been productive, of late years, of gross oppression and cruelty to citizens of the United States, it has been thought expedient to take some effective measure to promote a better understanding with this populous and semibarbarous empire; to make the effort not only to obtain from them the observance of the rights of humanity to such of our people as may be driven by necessity upon their coasts, but also to promote the higher and more valuable end of persuading them to abandon their unprofitable policy of seclusion, and gradually to take a place in that general association of commerce in which their resources and industry would equally enable them to confer benefits upon others, and the fruits of a higher civilization upon themselves.

The extension of the domain of the United States to the shores of the Pacific, the rapid settlement of California and Oregon, the opening of the highway across the isthmus of Central America, the great addition to our navigation employed in trade with Asiatic nations, and the increased activity of our whaling ships in the vicinity of the northern coasts of Japan, are now pressing upon the consideration of this government the absolute necessity of reviewing our relations to those Eastern communities which lie contiguous to the path of our trade. The enforcement of a more liberal system of intercourse upon China has met the approval of the civilized world, and its benefits are seen and felt not less remarkably in the progress of that ancient empire itself, than in the activity which it has already imparted to the pursuit of Eastern commerce. China is awaking from the lethargy of a thousand years to the perception of the spirit of the present era, and is even now furnishing her quota to the adventure which distinguishes and stimulates the settlement of our western coast.

These events have forced upon the people of America and Europe the consideration of the question, how far it is consistent with the rights of the civilized world to defer to those inconvenient and unsocial customs by which a nation, capable of contributing to the relief of the wants of humanity, shall be permitted to renounce that duty; whether any nation may claim to be exempt from the admitted Christian obligation of hospitality to those strangers whom the vocations of commerce or the lawful pursuits of industry may have incidentally brought in need of its assistance; and the still stronger case, whether the enlightened world will tolerate the infliction of punishment or contumelious treatment upon the unfortunate voyager whom the casualties of the sea may have compelled to an unwilling infraction of a barbarous law.

These are questions which are every day becoming more significant. That Oriental sentiment which, hardened by the usage and habit of centuries, has dictated the inveterate policy of national isolation in Japan, it is very apparent, will not long continue to claim the sanctity of a national right to the detriment of the cause of universal commerce and civilization, at this time so signally active in enlarging the boundaries of human knowledge and the diffusion of comfort over the earth. The day has come when Europe and America have found an urgent inducement to demand of Asia and Africa the rights of hospitality, of aid and comfort, shelter and succor, to the men who pursue the great highroads of trade and exploration over the globe. Christendom is constrained by the pressure of an increasing necessity to publish its wants and declare its rights to the heathen; and in making its power felt, will bring innumerable blessings to every race which shall acknowledge its mastery.

The government of the United States has happily placed itself in the front of this movement; and it may be regarded as one of the most encouraging guarantees of its success, that the expedition which has just left our shores takes with it the earnest good wishes, not only of our own country, but of the most enlightened communities of Europe. The opening of Japan has become a necessity, which is recognised in the commercial adventure of all Christian nations, and is deeply felt by every owner of an American whale-ship, and every voyager between California and China.

This important duty has been consigned to the commanding officer of the East India squadron, a gentleman in every respect worthy of the trust reposed in him, and who contributes to its administration the highest energy and ability, improved by long and various service in his profession. Looking to the magnitude of the undertaking, and the great expectations which have been raised, both in this country and in Europe, in reference to its results, the casualties to which it may be exposed, and the necessity to guard it, by every precaution within the power of the government, against the possibility of a failure, I have thought it proper, with your approbation, to increase the force destined to this employment, and to put at the disposal of Commodore Perry a squadron of unusual strength and capability. I have, therefore, recently added to the number of vessels appropriated to the command, the line-of-battle ship Vermont, the corvette Macedonian, and the steamer Alleghany. These ships, together with the sloop-of-war Vandalia, originally intended to be assigned to the squadron, and with the ships now on that station - the steamer Susquehanna and the sloops-of-war Saratoga and Plymouth - a portion of which are now near to the term of their cruise, will constitute a command adapted, we may suppose, to any emergency which the delicate nature of the trust committed to the Commodore may present. It is probable that the exhibition of the whole force which will be under the command of Commodore Perry during the first year, will produce such an impression upon a government and people who are accustomed to measure their respect by the array of power which accompanies the demand of it, as may enable him to dispense with the vessels whose term of service is drawing near to a close, and that they may be returned to the United States without any material prolongation of their cruise.

A liberal allowance has been made to the squadron for all the contingencies which the peculiar nature of the enterprise may create. The commanding officer is furnished with ample means of defence and protection, on land as well as sea; with the means, also, of procuring dispatch vessels when necessary, transports for provision and fuel, and for such other employment as may be required. Special depots of coal have been established at various points, and abundant supplies provided. He has, in addition to the instructions usually given to the squadron on this station, been directed to avail himself of such opportunities as may fall in his way, to make as accurate surveys as his means may allow, of the coasts and seas he may visit, and to preserve the results for future publication for the benefit of commerce.

Somewhat allied in character and importance to these projected operations of the Japan squadron is the expedition now prepared for the exploration and survey of the China seas, the Northern Pacific, and Behring's Straits. The naval appropriation bill of the last session of Congress put at the disposal of this department one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars "for the building or purchase of suitable vessels, and for prosecuting a survey and reconnaissance for naval and commercial purposes, of such parts of Behring's Straits, of the North Pacific ocean, and the China seas, as are frequented by American whale-ships, and by trading vessels, in their routes between the United States and China."

Source: Navy Department. Report of the Secretary of the Navy, December 4, 1852. [Washington, DC, 1852]: 295-297.


Secretary of the Navy Report 1853

The East India squadron, Commodore Perry, consists of the steamer Mississippi, Commander H.A. Adams, his flag-ship; the steamers Powhatan, Captain McCluney, and Susquehanna, Commander Buchanan; the sloops-of-war Macedonian, Captain Abbot, Plymouth, Commander Kelly, Saratoga, Commander Walker, and Vandalia, Commander Pope; the store-ships Supply, Lieutenant Arthur Sinclair, Southampton, Lieutenant Boyle, and Lexington, Lieutenant Glasson. Commodore Aulick, whom Commodore Perry succeeded in command of this squadron, returned to the United States early in the year.

The extraordinary revolutionary movements agitating the millions of China and threatening the overthrow of the present dynasty, and the hope indulged of the dawning of a new era in the history of trade and commerce with that singular people, impart unusual importance and interest to the movements of this squadron. In addition to the ordinary duties of the squadron, Commodore Perry was intrusted with the delicate task of endeavoring to open commercial intercourse with the Japanese government. After visiting several smaller islands and having favorable interviews with their inhabitants, he proceeded with the steamers Mississippi and Susquehanna, and the sloops-of-war Saratoga and Plymouth, to Yedo bay, in Japan, where he arrived on the 8th of July last. After much effort, he succeeded in having an interview with one of the ministers of state, delivered in person a communication from the President of the United States proposing to form commercial relations with Japan, gave notice of his intention to return in the ensuing spring for a reply to his proposition, and, after making considerable surveys of the coast and harbor, he returned with his squadron to China, to give all needful protection to the interests of Americans…[Six subsequent paragraphs describing unrelated Pacific Squadron activities not included.].

Besides the employment of the vessels of the navy in these squadrons, the expedition for the survey and reconnaissance, for naval and commercial purposes, of parts of Behring's straits, of the north Pacific ocean, and of the China seas, authorized by the act of Congress of August 3, 1852, which was placed by my predecessor under the command of Commander Ringgold, should be mentioned. It consists of the sloop-of-war Vincennes, Lieutenant Rolando, the brig Porpoise, Lieutenant A.B. Davis, the steamer John Hancock, Lieutenant John Rodgers, the store-ship John P. Kennedy, Lieutenant Collins, and the tender Fennimore Cooper, Master H.K. Stevens. This expedition left the United States in June, and when last heard from had reached Simon's bay, Cape of Good Hope, and was doing well.

Source: Navy Department. Report of the Secretary of the Navy, December 5, 1853. [Washington, DC, 1853]: 299-300.


Secretary of the Navy Report 1854

The East India Squadron consists of the sloop-of-war Macedonian, Captain Joel Abbot, the Senior officer on the station; the steam-frigate Powhatan, Captain W.J. McCluney; and the sloop-of-war Vandalia, Commander John Pope. The steam-frigates Mississippi and Susquehanna, the sloop-of-war Plymouth, and the store-ships Southampton, Supply, and Lexington, are now on their way home-the steamers returning by the way of San Francisco. Commodore M.C. Perry, recently commanding this squadron, is, by permission of the department, returning to the United States by the way of England.

The vessels of the squadron, owing to the civil war existing in China, have had frequent calls made upon them for the protection of American citizens and property, and have been of great service to our countrymen in that remote region.

Commodore Perry, with the steam-frigate Powhatan, as his flag-ship, Captain W.J. McCluney; the sloop-of-war Macedonian, Captain J. Abbot; the steam-frigates Susquehanna, Commander F. Buchanan, and Mississippi, Command S.S. Lee; the sloop-of-war Vandalia, Commander John Pope; and the store-ships Southampton, Lieutenant Commanding J.J. Boyle, and Lexington, Lieutenant Commanding J.J. Glasson, arrived at Yedo bay, Japan, on the 13th of February, for the purpose of fulfilling the plans of which he had notified them the year before, and of endeavoring to establish commercial relations between Japan and the United States. By indomitable perseverance and remarkable management, he succeeded finally in overcoming the obstinacy and prejudices of the Japanese government, and induced it to enter into a treaty of amity and peace, by which two if its ports, Hakodade and Simoda, were opened to vessels, and shipwrecked mariners of American vessels are guarantied to have ample protection and kind treatment on whatever part of the coasts they may be cast. The above-mentioned ports were fully surveyed by our vessels, and are represented to be very convenient and commodious. Presents were also exchanged between the Japanese government and the United States.

The treaty having been concluded, it was entrusted to Commander H.A. Adams, who was directed to proceed in the Saratoga, Commander W.S. Walker, to San Francisco, and thence to Washington. On the arrival of the Saratoga at the Sandwich Islands, a more speedy conveyance offering, Commander Adams left her and reached Washington with the treaty on the 10th of July. Commodore Perry and those who accompanied him in his novel and perilous undertaking deserve well of their country. A new era seems, through their instrumentality, to be dawning upon the commerce of the world. It is difficult to calculate the wonderful results which present and future generations may experience from this promised gradual dropping off of the cruel fetters with which ignorance has so long embarrassed commerce and this hopeful prospect of the spread of civilization and liberty and good government, so cheering to the Christian statesman.

The Saratoga proceeded on her way to the United States, and arrived at Boston September 1st, having been absent from the country for four years. I have expressed to Commander Walker and his officers, as also to the crew, my just appreciation of their good conduct, not withstanding the expiration of their terms of enlistment.

I regret to state that, whilst the Plymouth was engaged in surveying the Bonin Islands, Lieutenant John Matthews, with thirteen of the crew, when in a boat, encountered a severe typhoon, and were all lost. Lieutenant Matthews has a high reputation in the navy as an officer, and the men are represented to have been among the best of the crew.

The vessels of the expedition for the survey, and reconnaissance of Behring Straits, the North Pacific ocean and China seas, after leaving Simon's bay, Cape of Good Hope, proceeded to Hong Kong, China; the sloop-of-war Vincennes, Commander C. Ringgold, and the brig Porpoise, Lieutenant Commanding A. B. Davis, by the way of Van Dieman's Land, through the Coral seas, passing the Caroline and Ladrone and Bashee islands, arriving at Hong Kong on the 17th of March; the steamer John Hancock, Lieutenant Commanding John Rodgers, the store-ship John P. Kennedy, Lieutenant Commanding N. Collins, and the tender Fennimore Cooper, Lieutenant Commanding H.K. Stevens, by the way of the Straits of Sunda and Gaspar, the Carimata and Billeton passages, and the Sooloo sea. Their arrival at Hong Kong is reported by Commander Ringgold early in June.

During the absence of Commodore Perry, with the greater part of the East India Squadron, at Japan, the civil war raging in China, and particularly in the vicinity of Canton, so alarmed American citizens holding immense property in that region, that Commander Ringgold considered it proper to suspend temporarily the special duties to which he was assigned, and render protection to his exposed countrymen and has thus failed to accomplish a large portion of the surveys that had been planned for the present year. In addition to these embarrassments, Commodore Perry informs the department, under date of August 9, that, on his arrival at Hong Kong, he found the expedition laboring under serious disadvantages, owing to the unfortunate affliction of Commander Ringgold, which has rendered it necessary, in the opinion of the medical officers, that he should return to the United States. Commodore Perry having placed in charge of the expedition an experienced officer, Lieutenant John Rodgers, the next in rank, and the plan of operations marked out by him being considered judicious, the Department has directed him to proceed with all despatch to its execution.

Source: Navy Department. Report of the Secretary of the Navy, December 4, 1854. [Washington, DC, 1854]: 387-389.


Secretary of the Navy Report 1855

The East India Squadron, Commodore Joel Abbot, consists of the flag-ship, the sloop Macedonian, the steam-frigate Powhatan, Captain William J. McCluney, and the sloop-of-war Vandalia, Captain John Pope. The store-ship John P. Kennedy, transferred from the North Pacific. Exploring Expedition, is stationed at Canton, under the command of Commander Oliver S. Glisson.

Commodore Matthew C. Perry, recently in command of this squadron, has returned to the United States. The steam-frigate Susquehanna, Captain Franklin Buchanan, arrived from this squadron at Philadelphia on the 10th of March; the steam-frigate Mississippi, Commander Sidney Smith Lee, at New York, on the 23d of April; the sloop-of-war Plymouth, Commander John Kelly, at Norfolk, on the 11th of January; and the store-ships Supply, Lieutenant Arthur Sinclair; Lexington, Lieutenant John J. Glasson; and Southampton, Lieutenant Junius J. Boyle, at New York, on the 12th and 16th of February, and the 31st of March, respectively.

The treaty with Japan having been ratified by the Senate, Commander Henry A. Adams was sent out with it to China, and on his arrival Commodore Abbot was directed to despatch a vessel-of-war to Japan, that an exchange of ratification of the treaty might be made with the Japanese authorities. The Powhatan, Captain McCluney, having on board Commander Adams, who was duly empowered to effect the exchange, reached Japan safely, and having accomplished his undertaking on the 21st of February last, Commander Adams returned to the United States. It was the intention of Commodore Abbot to have visited Japan this year, but important matters at Shanghai, occurring at the time of the proposed visit, prevented it.

The continuance of the civil war in China has required the untiring efforts and activity of this squadron to afford protection to the lives and property of American citizens. Numerous hordes of pirates infest the Chinese waters and interfere seriously with commerce in that region. Commodore Abbot has at all times shown himself prompt and judicious in the discharge of the delicate duties imposed upon him. Several engagements have taken place between detachments from the American men-of-war on that station and the pirates, which have resulted most disastrously to the latter. Many of the piratical junks have been destroyed, their depots on shore burnt, and a number of the pirates killed.

In these several encounters, the officers and men have conducted themselves gallantly, and honorable mention is made of Lieutenants Pegram, Preble, Rolando, E.Y. McCauley, and Sproston; Assistant Engineers Stamm and Kellogg; Acting Masters' Mates J.P. Williams and S.R. Craig; and Private Benjamin Adamson, of the Marine Corps, who was dangerously wounded. I deem this a proper occasion to suggest the purchase or building of one or two steamers or light draught, to be used in the Chinese rivers, as indispensable for the protection of the immense property belonging to citizens of the United States in China.

Source: Navy Department. Report of the Secretary of the Navy and Accompanying Documents, December 3, 1855. [Washington, DC, 1855]:6-7.