Matthew Calbraith Perry was a Commodore of the United States Navy and commanded a number of ships. He served in several wars, most notably in the War of 1812 and the Mexican–American War.
Perry took an interest in the education of naval officers and assisted in the development of an apprentice system that helped establish the curriculum at the United States Naval Academy. With the advent of the steam engine, he became a leading advocate of modernizing the US Navy and came to be considered The Father of the Steam Navy in the United States. He is also responsible for ending reign of the Tokugawa Bakufu.
Prior to events series, Matthew Calbraith Perry was assigned a mission by American President Millard Fillmore to force the opening of Japanese ports to American trade, through the use of gunboat diplomacy if necessary. The growing commerce between the United States and China, the presence of American whalers in waters offshore Japan, and the increasing monopolization of potential coaling stations by the British and French in Asia were all contributing factors. The Americans were also driven by concepts of manifest destiny and the desire to expand western civilization to what they perceived as more backward Asian nations. The Japanese were forewarned by the Dutch of Perry’s voyage, but were unwilling to change their 250-year-old policy of national seclusion.
There was considerable internal debate in Japan on how best to meet this potential threat to Japan’s economic and political sovereignty. Perry embarked from Norfolk, Virginia for Japan, in command of the East India Squadron in pursuit of a Japanese trade treaty. He chose the paddle-wheeled steam frigate Mississippi as his flagship, and made port calls at Madeira, St Helena, Cape Town, Mauritius, Ceylon, Singapore and Macao and Hong Kong, where he met with American-born Sinologist Samuel Wells Williams, who provided Chinese language translations of his official letters, and where he rendezvoused with Plymouth. He continued to Shanghai, where he met with the Dutch-born American diplomat, Anton L. C. Portman, who translated his official letters into the Dutch language, and where he rendezvoused with Susquehanna.
Perry then switched his flag to Susquehanna and made call at Naha on Great Lewchew Island (now Okinawa) from May 17–26. Ignoring the claims of Satsuma Domain to the islands, he demanded an audience with the Ryukyuan King Shō Tai at Shuri Castle and secured promises that the Kingdom would be open to trade with the United States. Continuing on to the Ogasawara islands in mid-June, Perry met with the local inhabitants and purchased a plot of land.
Perry finally reached Uraga at the entrance to Edo Bay in Japan on July 8, 1853. His actions at this crucial juncture were informed by a careful study of Japan's previous contacts with Western ships and what he knew about the Japanese hierarchical culture. As he arrived, Perry ordered his ships to steam past Japanese lines towards the capital of Edo, and turn their guns towards the town of Uraga. Perry refused Japanese demands to leave, or to proceed to Nagasaki, the only Japanese port open to foreigners.
In the meantime, the Japanese government was paralyzed due to the incapacitation by illness of shōgun Tokugawa Ieyoshi and by political indecision on how to handle the unprecedented threat to the nation's capital. On July 11, Rōjū Abe Masahiro temporized, deciding that simply accepting a letter from the Americans would not constitute a violation of Japanese sovereignty. The decision was conveyed to Uraga, and Perry was asked to move his fleet slightly southwest to the beach at Kurihama, where he was allowed to land on July 14, 1853.
Perry spent his last years preparing for publication his account of the Japan expedition, announcing its completion on December 28, 1857. Two days later he was detached from his last post, an assignment to the Naval Efficiency Board. He died awaiting further orders on March 4, 1858, in New York City, of rheumatic fever that had spread to the heart, compounded by complications of gout and alcoholism.