Guide to Matthew C. Perry's "Report on the Navies of Europe," 1839
A collection in the
Special Collections & Archives Department,
United States Naval Academy
589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5029
Prepared by: David D'Onofrio
(Original Guide by Mary R. Catalfamo, June 1986)
Special Collections & Archives Department
United States Naval Academy
Matthew Calbraith Perry, younger brother of Oliver Hazard Perry, was born on April 10, 1794 in Newport, Rhode Island to Christopher Raymond Perry and Sarah Wallace Alexander. In 1809, at the age of fourteen, Perry entered the U.S. Navy as a midshipman, first serving under the command of his older brother aboard the schooner U.S.S. Revenge. During the War of 1812, he served aboard the frigates U.S.S. President and U.S.S. United States.
Perry spent the first few years after the war mostly on duty in African waters, serving first in Stephen Decatur's squadron during its action against Algiers in 1815. In 1820, he was second in command aboard a transport vessel that conveyed African-Americans to Liberia under the auspices of the American Colonization Society. Six years later, Perry received his first diplomatic experience under Commodore John Rodgers during treaty negotiations with the Ottoman Empire.
In 1833, Perry was named second in command of the New York Navy Yard, where he became an advocate of naval educational reform and steam power. Perry proposed a naval apprenticeship system, helped found the U.S. Naval Lyceum at the Navy Yard, and organized the Navy's first gunnery school. In regards to the adoption of steam power, Perry oversaw the construction of the prototype steamship U.S.S. Fulton, and served as her first commander. While at the New York Navy Yard, Perry also issued his report on the navies of Europe.
In 1843, Perry returned to sea service and African waters as the commander of the Africa Squadron. While under his command, the Squadron conducted anti-slaving operations and provided support for African-American colonists in Liberia. In 1846, Perry transferred to the Gulf of Mexico for combat service during the Mexican War, where he relieved Commodore David Connor as commander of U.S. Navy forces in the Gulf. While in command, Perry's forces combined with those of General Winfield Scott to capture of Veracruz.
Four years after the conclusion of the Mexican War, in January 1852, Perry received command of the East Asia Squadron for the purpose of negotiating a treaty with Japan. On July 2, 1853, he led a squadron of four vessels into Edo (Tokyo) Bay, bearing a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the Emperor of Japan requesting that American vessels be allowed access to Japanese ports. After delivering the letter to representatives of high rank, Perry departed. Seven months later, Perry returned to Japan, and on March 31, 1854, the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed, allowing American access to the ports of Hakodate and Shimoda. Upon his return, Perry authored the three-volume account of his expedition to Japan, entitled Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan. On March 4, 1858, Matthew Calbraith Perry died at his home in New York City.
Anderson, David L. “Perry, Matthew Calbraith (10 Apr. 1794-4 Mar. 1858),” in American National Biography, Volume 17, edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, 367-369. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
"Perry, Matthew Calbraith," in Concise Dictionary of American Biography, 3rd ed. New York: Scribner, 1980.
Scope and Content Note
Matthew C. Perry's "Report on the Navies of Europe," was completed March 23, 1839 from data accumulated throughout 1838. The report consists of various tables detailing the numbers and armament of naval vessels of the various European navies, as well as those nations' ability to effectively man and deploy their fleets.
Perry's report is divided into two sections. The first section consists of various tables detailing the naval fleets of England, France, Russia, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Sardinia, the Kingdom of Naples & Sicily, and the Ottoman Empire, including counts of the number of vessels in each class (such as line of battle ship, frigate, corvette, and gunboat), and the number of guns for each. For larger navies, such as the English, French, Russian, and Dutch navies, the report typically includes tables listing the number of vessels under construction, in commission, and in ordinary. For the navies of England, France, and Russia, Perry also breaks the fleets down by station assignment, while the data on England goes so far as to list the number of vessels used as hospital ships, receiving ships, coal ships, and slop ships. For the remaining, small navies, the report typically consists of a list of the types and number of vessels in commission. The entry for the Turkish (Ottoman) navy also includes basic specifications for the ship-of-the-line Mahmoudieh.
The second section of the report contains notes on the various nations' abilities and methods for manning their fleets, as well as Perry's impressions on the navies' character and capabilities. In his notes on England, Perry gives his opinion on the practice of impressment and its role in manning the English fleet, as well as England's advantage of having a mostly native born corp of seamen. Regarding France, Perry notes a royal mandate regarding fleet size, and states that France can "put to sea a powerful fleet in a shorter space than any other nation in the world," with the exception of Russia during particular seasons. In the segment on Russia, he marvels that the Tsar has amassed the largest fleet at the present day despite the disadvantages of "restricted commerce, ice bound seas, and unfavorable climate," and that Russian sailors appear superior to the British in their use of "great guns and small arms." As with the entries for fleet size, Perry's notes on the remaining navies' complement of seamen are relatively brief. Despite this brevity, Perry does offer opinions on the courage of Italian sailors, as well as his belief that "Arabs and Egyptians make much better sailors than the Turks."
Additional manuscript material at the Naval Academy pertaining to Perry can be found among the holdings of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. The museum's Perry collections, which mostly pertain to Perry's expedition to Japan, include several letters from Perry to the Chief of the Bureau of Provision and Clothing, letters from Perry to Captain William J. McCluney, a letter concerning the description of specimens collected by Perry, a letter from John Adams to Perry, and a set of Perry's hydrographic notes.
Official U.S. Navy documentation regarding Perry, such as Journals of the Japan Expedition, Reports on Ordnance Experiments, and additional official correspondence can be found in the Records of the Department of the Navy at the National Archives.
Selected letters and writings of Perry can also be found at Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, including letters to Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft and John L. Cunningham; and a paper read before the American Geographical and Statistical Society.