Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Matthew Calbraith Perry and the Anniversary of the Treaty of Kanagawa

John Kennedy
Director of Museum Education and Community Outreach
Naval War College Museum

Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858) was eight years younger than his older brother Oliver Hazard Perry. He was born in Newport, Rhode Island, April 10, 1794. He entered naval service in 1809 and, as a midshipman, was with his brother at the Battle of Lake Erie. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1813. Over the next forty-nine years he was involved in several key events in history. He participated in the Second Barbary War under the command of Commodore William Bainbridge, cruised off West Africa and the West Indies in operations to suppress piracy and the slave trade, and claimed the Florida Keys for the United States.

Matthew Calbraith Perry is recognized for his efforts to modernize the Navy. He was keen in his support of naval education, promoting both an apprentice system for new seamen and establishing a worthy curriculum for the United States Naval Academy. Matthew oversaw the construction of the USS Fulton and became its first captain, ushering in the use of steam power and earning the title, “the Father of the Steam Navy”. He was also instrumental in organizing the first corps of naval engineers and establishing the first naval gunnery school.

During the 1840s, he was promoted to commodore and placed in a post-captain billet as commandant of the New York Navy Yard. Later in the decade, he was in command of the African Squadron enforcing the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. 1845 and the Mexican-American War found him actively involved as second-in-command to Commodore David Connor. Later, as Connor’s replacement, he supported Winfield Scott during the siege of Veracruz and, as Scott moved inland, Perry attacked various ports, capturing Tuxpan and Tabasco, actually leading the landing force ashore during the latter attack. 

Trade with Japan was restricted to only Dutch and Chinese vessels, under the policy of sakoku. Between 1800 and 1849 several attempts had been made by the United States to open trade but negotiations were not successful as requests often fell on deaf ears. Following the 1849 visit by Captain James Glynn, the recommendation was made that future negotiations to open Japan be supported by a strong naval presence, one that would project power and force a resolution to the impasse. 

Matthew Calbraith Perry was carefully chosen to lead the expedition to Japan. Assigned to command the East India Squadron in December of 1851, he spent the next several years preparing for the assignment, reading all available material regarding Japan and interviewing people familiar with the country and its customs. Perry was not about to make the same mistakes committed by previous naval missions. Well aware of the diplomatic and ceremonial responsibilities that would fall to him, care was given to selection of food, wine and spirits as well as to the providing of appropriate entertainment. A bandmaster, a French chef, botanists, and artists were enlisted to provide support to Perry as he set out to impress the Japanese with the full majesty and power of the United States Government.

Commodore Perry arrived at Uraga Harbor in July 1853. Told that he would have to leave and sail to Nagasaki, the only Japanese port open to foreigners, he refused and ordered a limited bombardment to demonstrate US naval power and resolve. Forced to allow Perry ashore, delegates of the Japanese emperor were presented a letter by Perry on July 14, 1853, in what is present day Yokosuka. Perry then departed and promised to return for the reply.

In February 1854, Perry returned with great pomp and even more ships. He found a treaty waiting for signature that acquiesced to nearly all of the demands by the US Government. Known as the Treaty of Kanagawa, it was signed by Perry on March 31, 1854. The Perry expedition, an achievement that reflected his strategic planning and implementation, culminated in a treaty of amity and trade with Japan. It has been described as one of the major American diplomatic successes of the 19th century. When he returned to the United States, Commodore Perry was awarded $20,000 by Congress for his service and a further $360,000 was appropriated to enable him to write his account of the mission to Japan. The three volume set entitled Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan, performed in the years 1852, 1853, and 1854, under the command of Commodore M.C. Perry, United States Navy, by order of the Government of the United States was authored by Francis L. Hawks, D.D. L.L.D, and was compiled from the original notes and journals of Commodore Perry and his officers. Perry served as the editor and approved the final version of the work.

Matthew Perry Monument located in Touro Park in Newport, RI.  Designed by John Quincy Adams Ward in 1869, it sits on a pedestal designed by Richard Morris Hunt

Matthew Calbraith Perry died March 4, 1858. Originally buried in New York City, his remains now reside near his father, Christopher, and his brother, Oliver Hazard Perry, at Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island. An exhibit at the Naval War College Museum focuses on the Perry Family's contributions to American naval history.

Monument over the grave of Matthew Perry, Island Cemetery, Newport, RI.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

On This Day in History: Yeomanettes Enlist in the Navy

I've been in frigid Greenland and in sunny Tennessee,
I've been in noisy London and in wicked, gay Paree,
I've seen the Latin Quarter, with its models, wines, and tights,
I've hobnobbed oft with Broadway stars who outshone Broadway lights;
But North or South or East or West, the girls that I have met
Could never hold a candle to a Newport yeomanette.
Newport Recruit, 1918

When Loretta Walsh joined the Naval Reserve on March 17, 1917 – becoming the first enlisted woman to serve in the U.S. Navy – she was continuing a long tradition of women serving in the U.S. military. Women fought alongside their male counterparts in the American Revolution, the Mexican War, and the Civil War, though not in an official capacity and often disguised in order to conceal their gender. The Navy first accepted women for service in 1908 when it established the Nurse Corps, but those who joined received neither rank nor rating and were considered little different than civilian employees of the Navy.

Nina Ferris served as a yeomanette at Newport from 1917-1918

By 1916, World War I had been underway for two years and military planners considered that U.S. involvement was becoming more likely. As the Navy was the country’s first line of defense in a European war, Congress passed the Naval Act of 1916 in order to provide for its expansion. The act authorized the construction of ten battleships, six Lexington-class battlecruisers, ten Omaha-class scout cruisers, fifty Wickes-class destroyers, and numerous other smaller warships to be built over a period of just three years. Since the addition of so many ships would severely stretch the Navy’s manpower reserves, Congress also passed the Naval Reserve Act which allowed the enlistment of "all persons who may be capable of performing special useful service for coastal defense." The idea was to fill the ranks with reservists who could perform most land-based jobs, thus freeing up sailors to serve on ships. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels realized that the gender-neutral language in the law meant that women could be recruited too. Soon thereafter, the Bureau of Navigation instructed district commanders to enlist women for service as radio operators, stenographers, nurses, messengers, chauffeurs, and other non-combat jobs. The majority of women who signed up became yeomen (a rating that specializes in administrative and clerical duties) and were designated as yeomen (F).

Yeomen and yeomen (F) of the Second Naval District, Newport, 1918

Several hundred yeomen (F) served in Newport at the Supply Office, Second Naval District. Many more completed their initial training at the Yeoman School before moving on to wartime assignments. One of the immediate problems the Navy faced was finding living quarters for women. Naval facilities at that time did not have housing for single women, and many yeomen (F) were forced to stay with nearby family or friends. Some roomed at local YWCAs or shared apartments. In Newport, the Navy subsidized room and board for the women and allowed them to find offsite housing on their own.

Yeomen (F) in front of Founder’s Hall, Newport, during World War I

Yeomen (F) enlisted for the standard four years. The Navy stopped enrolling women just days before the armistice was signed in November 1918, at which time a total of 11,275 yeomen (F) were in service. Secretary Daniels advised commanders that many civilian positions on shore would be opening up in the peacetime Navy. He instructed them to offer these positions to reservists first before making any new hires. Many yeomen (F) applied for and received appointments to these positions. Regardless of their enlistment date, all yeomen (F) were officially discharged on October 24, 1920, though a few inadvertently remained on the books until March 1921. These pioneering women helped pave the way for an even greater expansion of women’s roles during World War II.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum