Matthew C. Perry Biography

Military Leader, Diplomat (1794–1858)
Matthew C. Perry was a 19th century U.S. Naval officer who fought in the Mexican War and headed an important expedition to Japan to open diplomatic relations.


Born on April 10, 1794, in South Kingston, Rhode Island, Matthew C. Perry commanded the first U.S. Navy steamship, the Fulton, and led naval forces in the Mexican War. President Millard Fillmore sent Perry on a naval expedition to Japan. Perry's efforts resulted in a treaty between Japan and the United States, and opened the Far East to U.S. influence. Perry died on March 4, 1858, in New York City.

Younger Years

Matthew Calbraith Perry was born on April 10, 1794, in South Kingston, Rhode Island, the son of a U.S. Navy captain and younger brother of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Matthew was educated at local schools and began his naval career at the age of 15. His first duty was on his older brother's ship. He served during the War of 1812 at the Battle of Lake Erie. Blockaded in New London, Connecticut, by a British fleet, he journeyed to New York, where he courted and married Jane Sidell in 1814.

Early Career

Between 1815 and 1833, Matthew C. Perry was called upon for myriad duties. He fought Algerian pirates in the Mediterranean Sea, helped repatriate African Americans to Liberia, West Africa, and took command of his first ship, the USS Shark, claiming Key West off the Florida coast for the United States.

Between 1833 and 1844, Perry was stationed at the New York Navy Yard. There, he helped advance the U.S. Navy by advocating the conversion of U.S. sailing ships to steam power. He also established a Navy museum and assisted in developing the curriculum for the U.S. Naval Academy at West Point. During the Mexican War, he commanded naval forces and played an important role in supporting General Winfield Scott's capture of Veracruz (also written "Vera Cruz").

Expedition to Japan

By the 1852, the U.S. had been trading in the Orient for several years. That year, President Millard Fillmore sent Matthew C. Perry to Japan to open diplomatic and trade relations. Perry surmised Japan's traditional isolation policy could be changed if he didn't take "no" for an answer, and came with a superior naval force to press his demands. On July 2, 1853, Perry arrived in Tokyo Bay. After threatening to deliver the president's message by force, if necessary, the ruling Shogun government relented and asked for time to consider the president's offer. In 1854, Perry returned to Japan with seven ships and 1,600 men. After more than a month of negotiations, the Treaty of Kanagawa was concluded on March 31 of that year; the pact assured the good treatment of shipwrecked U.S. seamen, permitted U.S. ships to fuel and supply at two Japanese ports, and arranged for a U.S. diplomat to reside in Japan to further trade relations.

Final Years

Perry returned to the United States a hero in 1855, and was awarded a grant from Congress and promoted to rear admiral. He became an authority on the Far East, and stressed the danger of an inadequate American presence in the western Pacific Ocean.

Perry spent his last years writing his memoirs. He died of rheumatism of the heart on March 4, 1858, in New York City.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!