Black Ships
Facing “East”:  Gunboat Diplomacy
Ships captivate artists, and the visual record of Perry’s mission is no exception. In its 1853 Valentine’s Day edition, the American magazine Gleason’s Periodical gave Commodore Perry a spectacular send-off with a two-page engraving of a large fleet readying for departure.

Titled, “A Superb View of the United States Japanese Squadron, Under the Command of Commodore Perry, Bound for the East,” the illustration included twelve vessels.  In fact, the squadron that embarked for Japan was comprised of only four ships.
The commodore is pictured being rowed to the steamer
Mississippi, his flagship for the first Japan mission.
Viewed close up, the illustration provides an excellent
depiction of the innovative “rigged steamship.”
Perry played a major role in mechanizing the US Navy.  His famous flagship on the second Japan mission, the Powhatan, is pictured here.
A luminous 1853 painting of the Powhatan breathes romance and even mystery into its stolid form, capturing the romance of the steamship in American eyes.
Perry’s fleet included both sail and  steam-driven ships. In response to the wind, the steamers conserved fuel by hoisting sail. At times, they towed the sail ships to speed the journey along.
Foreign gunboats within view of Mt. Fuji were a shocking sight to
the Japanese.
The single-sail junks that secured Japan’s sealed borders posed a
striking contrast to the technologically advanced American vessels.
A cross-section view of the Susquehanna reveals the complex inner life of the steam-driven warships.

Click here for a larger view and guide.
A cross-section view of the Susquehanna
Perry’s squadron, February 12, 1853 issue of Gleason’s Pictorial.
Lithograph of the Powhatan, probably based on a daguerreotype.
Oil painting of the Powhatan from C. B. Stuart, Naval and Mail Steamers of the United States, 1853, Yokohama Archives of History.
Lithographs based on watercolors and drawings by William Heine, (Japanese Junk by Meffert), W. T. Peters, and daguerreotypes by Eliphalet M. Brown. From Francis L. Hawks’ 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. Vol. 1. Washington, D. C., 1856.

On viewing images from the historical record: click here.

Black Ships & Samurai © 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
A project of professors John W. Dower & Shigeru Miyagawa
Design and production by Ellen Sebring, Scott Shunk, and Andrew Burstein


Black Ships & Samurai II Encounters: Facing East Encounters: Facing West Black Ships: Facing East Black Ships: Facing West Portraits: Facing East Portraits: Facing West Gravestone Courtesan The Black Ship Scroll