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Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858)

Matthew Calbraith Perry

Born in South Kingstown, Rhode Island (USA), Matthew Perry joined the Nay at age 15. He supervised the construction of the Fulton, the first naval steamship, and became its first captain in 1837, then was promoted to commodore rank 5 years later.

Perry directed the Gulf squadron during the Mexican War of 1846-1847. In 1853, he was sent to Japan on a mission to open the country from its two and a half century of isolation.

Commodore Perry and his fleet of four Black Ships penetrated the fortified harbour of Uraga, taking no care of directions to go to Nagasaki. He presented the Tokugawa authorities with a letter from president Fillmore addressed to the Japanese emperor, and refused to deal with minor officials.

Forcing the government to listen to his proposal, he said he would come back seven months later to hear the answer. At his return, he took no less than 11 ships to assure the signature of the treaty, which would permit the US to buy coal in Japan and trade in the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate.

Perry effectively ended Japan's self-infliced isolation, as France, Britain, Russia and the Netherlands soon negotiated similar treaties with Japan, opening up 8 ports to foreign trade. They were known as the unequal treaties, in which Japan had to give up tariff autonomy and legal juridiction (such as extraterritoriality) in the treaties' ports.

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