Commodore Perry (1794-1858)
Matthew Calbraith Perry was born into an established Quaker family at South Kingstown, Rhode Island, on April 10 1794. Known as Calbraith, he grew up in Newport, Narragansett Bay. His father, Craig Christopher Perry, after being imprisoned by the British in the Revolution, had a successful career in the American Navy as well as the merchant service, and Calbraith and three of his brothers would go on to join the navy making the Perrys a prominent naval family.
Perry received his first naval appointment in 1809 when he was fifteen, acting as midshipman aboard the USS Revenge, commanded by his older brother Oliver Hazard Perry. During the early part of his naval career he fought in the War of 1812, patrolled Liberia in 1819-20, and was then involved in suppressing piracy and the slave trade in the West Indies. He commanded a series of ships during the 1820s and 30s, before being promoted to Commodore and the command of the New York Navy Yard in 1840, and fighting in the Mexican-American War of 1846-8.
Perry was a man of many interests. Passionate about naval education, he helped establish a naval curriculum and a gunnery school, and worked to implement an apprentice scheme. He was also interested in the modernisation of the navy, and strongly supported the development and construction of steam-powered ships. It was the trip to Japan in 1852-4, however, for which Perry is best remembered.
When Perry returned to America from Japan in 1855, he was advanced to the rank of rear-admiral, and retired soon afterwards. He died in New York on March 4th 1858 at the age of sixty-three. He was given an extremely lavish funeral, which included a Grand Pageant through the city.
The links below will take you to pages where you can find out more about Perry's trip to Japan, or his interest in coin collecting.