Artifact Spotlight: Matthew C. Perry Cocked Hat, c. 1825

---John Pentangelo, Curator/Registrar

M.C. Perry's Cocked (fore-and-aft) hat

Today begins Newport's 28th annual Black Ships Festival which commemorates the historic achievements of native son Commodore Matthew C. Perry.  The day marks the anniversary of Perry's landing and first meeting with the Japanese at Uraga, in 1853. On his second expedition, he negotiated the Treaty of Kanagawa which ended two centuries of Japanese isolationism and made Perry a national hero. The Black Ships Festival celebrates the signing of the treaty, which brought the two countries together as trading partners. "Black Ships" is the term the Japanese used when referring to the commodore's fleet.

To mark the occasion, the museum has installed a new display case in the Perrys of Newport exhibit. One of the artifacts is the recently conserved cocked hat of Matthew C. Perry.  The hat dates to an earlier period in his long naval career. Though the expedition to Japan was his crowning achievement and the reason most learn about the naval officer in school, Perry served in several wars and affected substantial reforms in the navy. This hat is a reflection that the treaty with Japan was but one piece of the man's legacy.

He was appointed a midshipman in 1809 and served in the War of 1812, the Second Barbary War and the Mexican War. He also sailed to West Africa several times and in 1843 served as the first commander of the African Squadron with orders to protect American commerce and suppress the transatlantic slave trade. In the 1830s Perry founded the U.S. Naval Lyceum and helped to organize the first naval apprentice system. Often called the "Father of the Steam Navy," he commanded the first steam-powered warship, USS Fulton, and organized the first Naval Engineer Corps. Perry died in New York City in 1858 and was later buried in Newport's Island Cemetery along with his brother Oliver Hazard.

Detail of the "No.2" button
(Click to enlarge)
 This hat is dated between 1820 and 1830 when the gilt button at the loop of gold lace was in use for lieutenants and masters commandant. The regulations of 1820 established four types of buttons to identify different officers. According to James C. Tily's Uniforms of the United States Navy (Thomas Yoseloff, 1964), "The No. 2 button was to be worn by masters commandant, lieutenants commandant, lieutenants of line battleships, and mere lieutenants--an eagle looking to the right, perched on a branch and holding a shield with its left wing." Perry was promoted to lieutenant in 1813 and master commandant in 1826. In 1830 bullion was introduced in the hats for masters commandant and captains and all officers were authorized to wear the No. 1 button (showing an eagle with head turned left, perched on the stock of an anchor).

Gift of Commander John Meigs                                                                  72.07.01


Hat Images, Courtesy of Naval War College Museum
Perry Image, Courtesy of the Library of Congress


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