Commodore Perry Notes

for The U.S. War Against Asia
by William P. Meyers

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The Mississippi’s daily consumption of coal was about 26 tons. [91]

Having reached Madeira, on December 14, 1852 Perry sent Secretary of the Navy John P. Kennedy a letter saying that his intent is to secure “one or more ports of refuge and supply … should the Japanese government object to the granting of such ports upon the main land, and if they cannot be occupied without resort to force and bloodshed,” then bases should be established in the Lew Chew group [now the Ryukyu Islands; Okinawa]. He calls Japanese rule of Okinawa “grinding oppression.” Therefore “the occupation of the principal ports of those islands for the accommodation of our ships of war, and for the safe resort of merchant vessels of whatever nation, would be a measure not only justified by the strictest rules of moral law, but which is also to be considered, by the laws of stern necessity.” [93]

Further, Perry has experience: “In my former commands upon the coast of Africa, and in the Gulf of Mexico, where it fell to my lot to subjugate many towns and communities …” “It would be good policy to counteract the discreditable machinations of the Dutch, by circulating printed publications representing the true condition of the various governments of the world, and especially to set forth the extraordinary prosperity of the United States under their genial laws.” [94] Doubtless Perry planned to mention Negro slaves happily picking cotton and native American Indians ecstatic at being confined to their reservations.

Perry knew that the Japanese knew about the world: “The government of Japan keeps in its employment linguists of all modern languages; and such is their curiosity, that these publications, if admitted at all, will soon be translated.” [94] “When we look at the possessions in the east of our great maritime rival, England, and of the constant and rapid increase of their fortified ports, we should be admonished of the necessity of prompt measures on our part.” [94]

The armada stopped at Shanghai. “While Perry was in Shanghai, the revolution, which was still in progress, had made great headway.” Perry describes it as a rebellion led by a “sagacious man” of the Chinese against the Manchu. “He professes a faith somewhat similar to the Mormons in America, and gives forth that he has constant communion with God, and has been acknowledged as his Son.” [142]{This is now called the Taiping Rebellion} The Plymouth was left to protect private American interests in Shanghai [143]

On May 17th the armada set sail for the Lew Chew Islands [Okinawa] consisting of the Mississippi, the Susquehanna, the Supply and the Caprice. The Plymouth and Saratoga, stationed at Macao, were to follow later. [143]

On May 26, 1853, the squadron anchored in Napha harbor [now Naha], “the principle port of the Great Lew Chew Island” [Okinawa]. Okinawa had an ambiguous status: it was clearly ruled from Japan, but also acknowledged China as a sovereign. [145]

Perry’s conduct in Okinawa was purposeful practice for his visit to Japan proper. He purposefully disobeyed the local authorities by forcibly visiting and surveying the island, at the same time ordering his men to be courteous within that context. He demanded a house on the island, then that a warehouse for coal be built. His officers flew the American flag from the highest crag they could find, a symbol of conquest. [158, and generally 145-224]

On July 2, 1853, the armada left Okinawa for Japan. It consisted of the Susquehanna (flagship), Mississippi, Saratoga, and Plymouth. The Supply remained at Okinawa. The Caprice returned to Shanghai. [225]

On July 7th the armada came in sight of Japan, at the entrance to Yedo (now Tokyo) bay. [227]

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