CHAPTER X. AMERICAN-JAPANESE INTERCOURSE PRIOR TO THE ADVENT OF PERRY
WITH the Declaration of Independence, the trade of the United States with her quondam mother-country naturally declined without showing any appreciable increase in commerce with other nations, and her shipping was diverted from accustomed lines on account of English navigation laws. Discouraging commercial conditions like these, aggravated by small returns from their agricultural pursuits, turned the attention of the New England people to adventures in the Far East very early in the history of this country. Already in 1784, within a year after the definitive Treaty of Peace was signed, a bark flying the flag of the Stars and Stripes made a bold cruise into Oriental waters, where in those days the English Union Jack overawed all other national ensigns. As the bark approached the coast of China, it was unexpectedly hailed by two French men-of-war, and, escorted by these, entered the port of Canton. The bark carried but little merchandise, but the business transacted was exceedingly lucrative. Especially were furs disposed of at a good price. Next year the voyage was repeated, and in three years as many as fifteen American vessels visited this port, largely with seal-skins, otter and other furs from the South Seas and the north-west coast of this continent. These vessels brought a cargo of tea, silks, and other Chinese produce.
In those days, Japan was apparently passed over or passed by, as impossible of access. It is true that in 1797, an American ship, the Eliza of New York, Captain Stewart, made a voyage to Nagasaki. This was perhaps the first time that the American flag was seen in our waters. The Eliza repeated her voyages for several years following, but on no occasion except the last did she come on her own initiative. She was hired by the Dutch in Batavia, who, afraid of the English navy in the Indian seas in the days when Holland was under Napoleon's rule, dared not make their regular visit to Japan, When Captain Stewart made his last voyage in 1803, he attempted to open trade on his own responsibility, but was not successful.
In 1798, an American ship, the Franklyn, Captain James Devereux, made its way to Japan, sailing under Dutch colours. The next year there came, also under the charter of the East India Company, a Salem ship, Captain John Derby. It is recorded that these men came and left their footprints on the sands, soon to be washed away, however. Individually they left no trace, but they counted as landmarks in the development of American-Japanese intercourse; for not a "black ship," as a foreign vessel was then called, was sighted, without being watched and studied and discussed-thus contributing a blow, however slight, to the final overthrow of Exclusivism.
As the China trade developed, the skippers discovered the new importance of the Hawaiian Islands, known on their charts ever since the time of Captain Cook (1792). Situated in mid-ocean, they afforded a most convenient stopping-place for replenishing the supply of water, for making repairs, and for avoiding occasional storms. It was not long before they found that sandal-wood, which fetched an exorbitant price in China, grew in abundance in these islands. This wood gave a fresh impetus to Oriental trade. However, commerce founded upon sheer exploitation is not guaranteed a long lease of life. Fur-bearing animals decreased year by year, owing to the ruthlessness with which they were hunted. The sandal-wood forests were felled, and this without scruple. In the first two decades of the nineteenth century, the foundations of trade with China were in jeopardy, and, with them, American interests in the Pacific.
The Pacific coast was not yet connected with the Atlantic, and the first city founded there, Astoria, suffered heavily during the War of 1812. The American merchant marine in the Pacific also underwent severe loss, together with the navy, at the hand of the Britishers. Nevertheless, during this "War of Paradoxes", American commerce showed a wonderful power of growth, especially in the New England States, and when peace was concluded the New England merchants sought a new field of investment. What their fathers lost in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the coast of Newfoundland, they attempted to regain in the Pacific. Fishing had been practically wiped out during the Revolution; but in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, whaling became a profitable outlet for investment. It was not a new industry, having been carried on prior to the Revolution; but its importance grew rapidly after the War of 1812. In eager pursuit of prey, the American whalers soon rounded Cape Horn and their black ships could be counted by scores-in a few years by hundreds-between the Hawaiian Islands and Japan.
As yet, however, they were exposed to dangers of manifold kinds, notably to the depredations of their English rivals and to the mercy of storms and waves. The danger resulting from the latter source could not well be avoided unless they had friendly havens, but such there was none, as Japan, far from affording shelter, carried the logic of exclusion to its extreme conclusion, by treating as criminals whomsoever drifted by misfortune to her shores. As for the former danger, the United States had despatched a few gunboats to cruise in the whaling districts for the protection of her citizens. Commodore Porter was one of the officers who were sent out for this purpose, and he could recommend no better means of security to American whalers than that of bringing Japan into amicable relations with his country. To this end, he addressed a letter to Secretary Monroe in 1815. This was the year that a squadron under Decatur was sent to the Mediterranean and a treaty was signed with Algiers. Why should not another squadron be sent westward to Japan? The proposal seemed about to be put into effect, and the Commodore was to be sent as envoy, with a frigate and two sloops of war. In the meantime the whaling industry made steady progress. In 1822, as many as twenty-four whaling vessels anchored at one time in the harbour of Honolulu. About this time, not only on the seas, but also on land, the United States was expanding with great strides, and it is no wonder that John Quincy Adams should urge that it was the duty of Christian nations to open Japan, and that it was the duty of Japan to respond to the demands of the world, as no nation had a right to withhold its quota to the general progress of mankind. Still no official step was taken, indeed nothing definite was planned until 1832-under his successor, Andrew Jackson-when it was suggested that Mr. Edmund Roberts should be appointed as a special agent to negotiate treaties with Oriental courts. But again nothing came of the plan. Mean- while interest in Japan was awakened in some influential quarters and for unexpected reasons.
The Black Current, the Kuro-Shiwo, flows from the tropics along the eastern coast of Japan, and continues to flow northward beyond the limits of that Empire, then turns in a large curve and joins with a current that washes the western shores of America. Many a shipwrecked sailor and fisherman of Japan must, in the course of centuries, have drifted on these currents and been cast ashore on the American continent. Mr. Charles Wolcott Brooks enumerates a large number of well authenticated cases of this kind, in his monograph on Japanese Wrecks, Early Maritime Intercourse of Ancient Western Nations, as well as in his pamphlet on the Origin of the Chinese Race.
Now about the middle of the third decade of the last century, a band of fishermen who were wrecked on our coast were carried away by the Kuro-Shiwo, and were picked up near Astoria. As curious specimens of humanity, they were cared for, and, after being sent from place to place in the United States, they were taken to Macao, China, where there were American houses, in the hope that they could be more easily shipped from there back to their home. An American merchant residing here, C. W. King by name, saw in the return of these men, seven altogether, an opportunity to begin negotiations for the opening of trade with Japan.
Mr. King equipped at his own expense a mer- chantman, the Morrison, for this errand of mercy. To avoid every possible cause for suspicion, he removed all guns and armament, which sailing- craft of all descriptions used to carry at that time.
To further emphasise the peaceful character of the undertaking, he took with him his wife. They were accompanied by three clergymen who have since made their names famous in the history of Christian missions-Peter Parker, Charles Gutzlaff, and S. Wells Williams. Dr. Williams had learned some Japanese from the shipwrecked sailors who were to be sent home by the Morrison. I may mention here that it was Dr. Williams who was the chief interpreter during subsequent negotiations with Perry. Mr. King took with him a number of presents-such as books, instruments, etc., with the view of impressing the Japanese with the greatness of his country and of the triumphs of Christian civilisation. While the preparations for departure were being made, Dutch traders brought the news to the Japanese authorities that a "Morrison" might visit their harbours at any time. Hereupon forts were repaired, cannons were put in prime order, sentinels were multiplied at all the main points of defence on the coast. Thus by the time the Morrison entered the Bay of Yedo in 1837 with every manifestation of good will, she was so mercilessly fired upon that she had to weigh anchor and flee. She attempted landing a few days later in the southern port of Kagoshima, but here, too, she received no more hospitable reception. For all his good intentions, Mr. King reaped nothing but hostile feeling. As Dr. Williams writes: "Commercially speaking, the voyage cost about $2000 without any returns; and the immediate effects, in a missionary or scientific way, were nil."
For the students of Japanese history of this period, unusual interest and pathos are attached to this voyage of Mr. King's. For, in the thirties or forties of the last century, while Japan was still under the strictest régime of seclusion, there was working in certain small circles a powerful leaven of Western knowledge, which was soon to leaven the whole Empire. Among the pioneers of European culture may here be mentioned two of the most prominent-Noboru Watanabe and Choyei Takano. They were tireless in gathering information about the West and in their effort to convince the authorities of the futility and folly of exclusion.
A few months after the unhappy episode of King's enterprise had transpired, the rumour reached the ears of Watanabe and Takano that a "Morrison" was coming to Japan, whereupon the latter published a booklet entitled The Story of a Dream. This zealous exponent of Western learning was naturally opposed to the policy of resorting to force, should a "black ship" approach our dominion. In his pamphlet he ridiculed the idea of defending our territory against a foreign navy by relying upon old-fashioned rifles and wooden barracks and cotton curtains. He grows still more sarcastic when he exposes, as he thinks, the utter ignorance of the authorities about things Western. "The idea of taking the name of Morrison for that of a ship is simply absurd. Why, it is the name of a man, a great scholar, who is well versed in Oriental lore, familiar with all the classics of China. Should a man of his eminence honour our land with a visit, we should receive him with due respect and hospitality." Takano was himself mistaken as to the bearer of the name Morrison. He was thinking of the Rev. Robert Morrison, who, however, had been dead since 1834. Such an error on the part of so well-meaning and progressive a student of Occidental affairs is in itself touching; but the climax of pathos is reached when for his Story of a Dream he was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, and though he fled from the execution of the law for a little while, hiding himself or wandering about under different assumed names, so closely was he pursued that, in order to escape an ignominious death, he put an end to himself. His colleague, Watanabe, a great scholar as well as painter, whose works adorn the literature and art of our nation, did not fare much better.
To return to the Morrison, Mr. King, upon coming back from the fruitless expedition, made public his experience and his reflections on it in a book, The Claims of Malayasia or the Voyage of the "Morrison," the first book published in America on Japan. In the most earnest tone, he appeals to "the champions of his country's benevolence," not to despair about opening the sealed portals of Japan. He argues that Great Britain and America divide the maritime influence of the world, and that "America is the hope of Asia beyond the Malay Peninsula, that her noblest effort will find a becoming theatre there." He tells his countrymen "that Japan will more readily yield to and repay their efforts, and that China can be more easily reached through Japan." He calls upon all the best instincts of the American public-its Christian sympathies, its commercial interests, its republican glories-to exert themselves in this heaven-appointed task lying before it.
Mr. King's appeal was evidently little heeded. American interests in the Pacific were not appreciated enough to call forth response from the Government or the people. Meanwhile American trade with China was increasing and the whaling industry was constantly assuming greater magnitude.
In 1839, out of some 555 American ships engaged in whale-fishery, the overwhelming majority cruised in the Pacific. Professor Coolidge says that in 1845, according to the local records, 497 whalers, manned by 14,905 sailors, visited the Hawaiian Islands, and of the total, three-fourths flew the flag of the United States. Two years later, the number of vessels rose to 729, and the capital invested in the enterprise was calculated at $20,000,000. By 1848, the New Bedford men passed through Behring Straits into the Arctic Ocean, and of the whole American fleet, no less than 278 were in North Pacific waters.
It was chiefly in the interest of whaling that the Hon. Zadoc Pratt of Prattsville, Orange County, N. Y., member of Congress and chairman of the Select Committee on Statistics, laid before the House a report, in 1845, concerning the advisability of taking prompt action by sending an embassy to Japan and Korea. The next year, Commodore Biddle was appointed to head an expedition and embark with a fleet consisting of the Columbus and the Vincennes. He was provided with a letter from President Polk to the Emperor of Japan. The object of this expedition was to ascertain whether the ports of Japan were accessible. The Commodore arrived are and well in the Bay of Yedo, and opened communications which continued for ten tedious days, at the end of which, on receipt of the following anonymous note, he left.
The object of this communication is to explain the reasons why we refuse to trade with foreigners who come to this country across the ocean for that purpose.
This has been the habit of our nation from time immemorial. In all cases of a similar kind that have occurred, we have positively refused to trade. Foreigners have come to us from various quarters, but have always been received in the same way. In taking this course with regard to you, we only pursue our accustomed policy. We can make no distinction between different foreign nations-we treat them all alike; and you, as Americans, must receive the same answer with the rest. It will be of no use to renew the attempt, as all applications of the kind, however numerous they may be, will be steadily rejected.
We are aware that our customs are in this respect different from those of some other countries, but every nation has a right to manage its affairs in its own way.
The trade carried on with the Dutch at Nagasaki is not to be regarded as furnishing a precedent for trade with other foreign nations. The place is one of few inhabitants and very little business is transacted, and the whole affair is of no importance.
In conclusion, we have to say that the Emperor positively refuses the permission you desire. He earnestly advises you to depart immediately, and to consult your own safety by not appearing again upon our coast.
Commodore Biddle's mission was worse than a mere failure. It had the effect of lowering the dignity of his country in the mind of the Oriental. The defiant and haughty tone running through the foregoing note was, I dare say, the result of his having accepted insult without strong demonstration. It may be, he meant only to be cautious and courteous, and that his caution and courtesy were sadly misconstrued. I refer to an unpleasant incident which occurred during his interview with certain Japanese officers. He describes it as follows: "I went alongside the junk in the ship's boat, in my uniform; at the moment that I was stepping on board, a Japanese on the deck of the junk, gave me a blow or push, which threw me back into the boat." He says that the conduct of the man was inexplicable; but after assurance had been obtained from the officials that the man would be severely punished, nothing further was asked or demanded by the Commodore. A stronger attitude on his part might have ended in his reaping the glory of opening Japan, or, at least, in relieving the sufferings of many of his countrymen; because, with the growth of whaling in Japanese waters, the ship-wrecked sailors and deserters landing on our coast increased in number. Only two months before Commodore Biddle appeared, the Lawrence, under Captain Baker, who had sailed from Poughkeepsie the previous summer, was wrecked on the coast of one of the Kurile Islands. Seven of the crew survived. At first they were treated kindly, but no sooner had their presence been reported to the authorities than they were placed in close confinement, subject to privation and ill-treatment which lasted for seventeen months, so that all the while that Biddle was negotiating in the Bay of Yedo these poor creatures were in dire distress. They were finally liberated and sent to Batavia by a Dutch ship.
Two years later, the crew of another whaler, the Ladoga, on account of bad treatment, deserted the ship in five boats, two of which were soon swamped. The surviving three parties, consisting of fifteen men-nine of whom were Sandwich Islanders-drifted upon an islet near the town of Matsumaé (now Fukushima). Suspected of being spies, they were put in jail in Matsumeé and afterward in Nagasaki. Their repeated attempts to break away from the prison only seemed to confirm the Japanese in their suspicion, and the rigours of confinement were doubled. One Maury, a Hawaiian, hung himself in the prison; Ezra Goldthwait died of disease, or, as was charged, of medicine prescribed by a quack. Suffering from brutal treatment one day, "on being taken out of our stocks," so narrates one of the prisoners, "we told the Japanese guards that their cruelty to us would be told the Americans, who would come here and take vengeance on them. Our guards replied, sneeringly, that they knew better, and that the Americans did not care how poor sailors were treated; if they did, then they should have come and punished the Japanese at Yedo, when a Japanese had insulted an American Chief." The last allusion was to the incident which have already related concerning Commodore Biddle.
With nothing to break the monotony of their irksome captivity, except growls and threats from the guards, the poor sailors of the Ladoga were on the verge of despair, when one evening the report of a distant gun, a sure signal of the approach of a foreign ship, reached their ears. A foreign ship it was. James Glynn, Commander of the U. S. Ship Preble, was dispatched by Commodore D. Geisinger upon the advice of John W. Davis, U. S. Commissioner to China, to whom the news of the captivity of the Ladoga's crew had been communicated by J. H. Levyssohn, Superintendent of Dutch trade in Deshima. The Preble entered the harbour of Nagasaki on the 17th of April, 1849. After a week's conference, it was arranged that the ship-wrecked mariners, who had been suffering so long from the effect of their misfortune, should be delivered up immediately. Accordingly, on the 26th, they were all carried to the town-house, where, for the first time, they unexpectedly met another of their countrymen, McDonald, who had been lodged in another part of the town. They were all taken away by Commander Glynn.
The story of the above-mentioned Ronald McDonald is so unique as to be worthy of further notice. His life and character-sketch have been penned by a number of writers. (R. E. Lewis, Educational Conquest of the Far East, 1903; also Mrs. Eva Emery Dye, McDonald of Oregon, 1906.) Born in Astoria, Oregon, this son of a Chinook princess and a Scotch employé of the Hudson Bay Company had in his childhood probably heard the country of Japan frequently mentioned, or had in all likelihood seen the Japanese who in 1831 were drifted ashore at the mouth of the Columbia River. In 1845, when in his twenties, he shipped at Sag Harbour in a whale-boat, the Plymouth. He made an arrangement with the captain that, when they neared the coast of Japan, he should be left alone in a small boat, so contrived that he could capsize it himself. It was his intention to cast himself ashore and obtain some knowledge of the land and the people of this terra incognita. He was accordingly set adrift, and coasted along the shore for a day or two, when he discerned some fishermen at a distance. He beckoned to them, and, as they approached, he jumped into their boat and landed with them about twenty-five miles from Soya in Hokkaido. During the eight days that he remained under the roof of the fishermen, he was treated most kindly; but the good people, fearing that they were disloyal to the law in harbouring a foreigner, notified an officer of his presence, and, when he came, poor McDonald was taken to Matsumaé and afterwards transferred to Nagasaki. In each of these places, he received reasonable attention. Lodging was provided for him in a temple, and, though narrowly watched, he was not treated like a prisoner but was allowed to occupy himself in teaching English.
The very year (1848) that the crew of the Ladoga were wrecked and McDonald of the Plymouth succeeded in landing (both of these ships were on whaling voyages), three American sailors belonging to another whaler-the Trident-were wrecked on one of the Kurile Islands. They, together with some twenty-seven English seamen who had also been wrecked while out whaling, were returned home through the Dutch factory.
That the narrow cleft in the sealed door of Japan, into which Perry drove his wedge of diplomacy, was the rescue of American whalers, Mr.
Fillmore implies in his address before the Buffalo Historical Society: "The proceedings which resulted in the opening of Japan sprang from a wrong perpetrated by that nation and which, like many other wrongs, seems to have resulted in a great good."
There were causes other than the mere safety of whalers which led to the inception of the American expedition to Japan. On the one hand, the rise of industrial and commercial commonwealths on the Pacific, the discovery of gold in California, the increasing trade with China, the development of steam navigation-necessitating coal depots and ports for shelter,-the opening of highways across the isthmus of Central America, the missionary enterprises on the Asiatic continent, the rise of the Hawaiian Islands; on the other hand, the awakening knowledge of foreign nations among the ruling class in Japan, the news of the British victory in China, the growth of European settlements in the Pacific, the disssemination of Western science among a progressive class of scholars, the advice from the Dutch Government to discontinue the antiquated policy of exclusion-all these testified that the fulness of time was at hand for Japan to turn a new page in her history.
Intelligent interest was now aroused on this side of the Pacific in the question of opening Japan. We must remember that the middle of the last century was the era of American clippers. In the year 1848, Robert J. Walker, then Secretaryof the Treasury of the Treasury, called public attention to " Japan, highly advanced in civilisation, containing fifty millions of people, separated but two weeks by steam from our western coast. . . . Its commerce," he continues, "can be secured to us by persevering and peaceful efforts."
During the next year, Aaron Haight Palmer of New York, who accumulated what was at that time a vast amount of information respecting Oriental nations, in his capacity as Director of the American and Foreign Agency of New York (1830-47), saw the great necessity of establishing commercial relations with the East, and sent memorials upon the subject to the President and the Secretary of State. He was backed by memorials from the principal merchants of New York and Baltimore. In his letter to Secretary Clayton, on the plan of opening Japan, he recommends four measures to be followed: (1) to demand full and ample indemnity for the ship-wrecked American seamen who had been unjustly treated; (2) to insist upon the proper care for any American who might from any misfortune repair to the coast of Japan: (3) to the opening of ports for commerce and for the establishment of consulates; (4) to claim the privilege of establishing coaling stations, and also the right of whaling without molestation. Mr. Palmer says that, in the event of non-compliance with the above on the part of the Shogun, a strict blockade of Yedo Bay should be established.
James Glynn, who had for two years been cruising about the North Pacific Ocean, and who, as we have seen, had had opportunity to learn something of the Japanese people, writing in 1851 of the prospect of Chinese trade, speaks of the absolute necessity for a coal depot on the coast of Japan; and in his letter expresses a strong belief in the possibility of securing such a depot by proper negotiation, and of eventually opening the whole Empire.
About this time a newspaper article concerning some Japanese waifs who had been picked up at sea by the bark Auckland, Captain Jennings, and brought to San Francisco, attracted the attention of Commodore Aulick. He submitted a proposal to the Government that it should take advantage of this incident to open commercial relations with the Empire, or at least to manifest the friendly feelings of this country. This proposal was made on the ninth of May, 1851. Daniel Webster was then Secretary of State, and in him Aulick found a ready friend. The opinions of Commander Glynn and Mr. Palmer as authorities on questions connected with Japan, were asked. Their letters on this occasion evince keen diplomatic sagacity.
Clothed with full power to negotiate and sign treaties, and furnished with a letter from President Fillmore to the Emperor, Commodore Aulick was on the eve of departure when, for some reason, he was prevented. Thus the project which was set on foot at his suggestion was obstructed just as it was about to be accomplished and another man, perhaps better fitted for the undertaking, entered into his labours.
But by relating the achievement of Perry, I shall trespass beyond the limit I have set to this narrative, which is to concern itself with American- Japanese intercourse prior to Perry's advent.