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Region: Japan

Perry's Expedition to Japan, map

Principal Collectors:

Dr. James Morrow

Dr. James Morrow

Agriculturalist on the Perry Expedition to Japan (1853-1854)

Dr. James Morrow was appointed as agriculturalist on Commodore Matthew Perry's U.S. Expedition to Japan. In a letter, Secretary of State Edward Everett instructed Morrow to introduce new plants to the countries in the Far East that were willing to accept seeds from the U.S., note and collect indigenous vegetable products along the way for introduction into the U.S., and preserve the seeds and dried specimens of as many plants as possible. In addition, Morrow brought, demonstrated, and gave American agricultural equipment to the Japanese.

Morrow departed on the expedition on the ship Vandalia on March 6, 1853-three months after Perry had departed. He brought many seeds and live plants and many scientific books to aid him in classifying specimens. Aboard the ship, he took care of the live plants and acted as assistant surgeon for two and a half months of the over four month voyage. When Morrow arrived in Japan, shared scientific interests led him to become friends with Reverend Samuel Wells Williams, and the two traveled throughout the country collecting plants and other natural history specimens.

Upon his return to the U.S., Morrow had collected seventeen cases of plants, including between 1,500 and 2,000 dried and live specimens. The journal of his observations on the expedition wasn't received it in time to include in publications of the official expedition narrative (the journal was later published in 1947). Descriptions of the plants, however, were included in volume II of the narrative. Perry received $20,000 for his efforts on the expedition, yet Morrow only received $600. After much appeal, Morrow was given $3,000 for his work over the two year period.

Other Accomplishments:

-Earned his Bachelor's degree from the Literary University of Franklin College (now the University of Georgia at Athens) (1843)
-Received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania (1846)
-Attended the Medical College of the State of South Carolina (1848-49)

Dr. James Morrow
Matthew C. Perry

Matthew C. Perry

Commander of the Perry Expedition to Japan (1852-1854)

Commodore Perry was the first to successfully open trade with Japan when he persuaded the country to sign the Treaty of Kanagawa-an agreement to trade with the United States-on March 31, 1854. The historic expedition that resulted in the treaty began when Commodore Perry sailed from Virginia in 1852 and arrived in Japan in 1853 with a fleet of warships to display American power. Perry had prepared for the expedition by studying Japanese traditions and culture, and arrived insistent upon speaking directly with the highest Japanese official. Perry delivered a letter discussing United States trade demands, spent a year exploring China, and then returned to Japan where the treaty was agreed upon.

After Perry's return to the United States in 1855, he received a $20,000 reward from Congress for his success and produced a three volume expedition report using part of his reward. He was also advanced to the rank of rear admiral.

Other Accomplishments:

-Midshipman aboard the USS Revenge (1809)
-Fought in the War of 1812
-Advanced to Lieutenant (1813), Captain (1837), and then Commodore (1842) in the U.S. Navy
-Commanded the New York Navy Yard (1840)
-Commanded the African Squadron to suppress the slave trade (1843-44)
-Commanded naval forces in the Mexican-American War (1846-48)

[Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum]

Matthew C. Perry
Rev. Samuel Wells Williams

Rev. Samuel Wells Williams

Botanist and Interpreter on the Perry Expedition to Japan (1852-1854)

Reverend Samuel Wells Williams left his printing business in China to act as interpreter on Commodore Matthew Perry's expedition to Japan. Although-by his own admission-Williams was not proficient in Japanese, having only learned the fundamentals of the language aboard a navy ship, Perry requested him. Williams agreed to the position, telling Perry that "he must not... expect great proficiency in me, but I would do the best I could."

Williams was also a naturalist. With an interest in science, he and Botanist James Morrow became friends during the expedition, and they traveled the country collecting natural history specimens. Williams was an enthusiastic collector, and devoted much of his free time to observing natural history. Perry once exclaimed, "Why, our interpreter is as good an interpreter of nature as he is of the people of these regions!"

Other Accomplishments:

-Attended the Rennselaer Institute to study natural history
-Traveled to China to run the press of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions at Canton (1833)
-Editor of the Chinese Repository, a monthly periodical in which he wrote many articles on topics that included religion, nature, and Chinese culture (1848-51)
-Authored The Middle Kingdom: A Survey of the geography, government, literature, social life, arts, and history of the Chinese Empire and its inhabitants.
-Published a dictionary of the Chinese language (1874)
-First professor of the Chinese language in the United States (Yale University, 1877)

[Photo courtesy of George Baxley]

Rev. Samuel Wells Williams

U.S. Japan Expedition Commodore Matthew C. Perry -


Rev. Samuel Wells Williams and Dr. James Morrow were appointed to collect botanical specimens on the U.S. Japan Expedition. Their searches allowed them to explore more of the country than the other expedition members, and Williams said, “If there is anything which has rendered the expedition to Japan pleasant to me it is the walks in search of flowers…with an agreeable companion in Dr. Morrow, so that we have both been pleased with our rambles, with each other, and with the objects of our search.”

Perry with colleagues
Perry with colleagues.
The U.S. Japan Expedition, commanded by Commodore Matthew C. Perry, had a mission to obtain open trade with Japan. All previous attempts, including four American expeditions and fourteen international expeditions, had failed to initiate trade. Commodore Perry was the first to be successful and persuaded Japan to sign the Kanagawa Treaty on March 31, 1854. Perry clearly saw the benefits trade with Japan could provide the United States, but he also knew that gathering information about the country’s natural history was important.

Before the expedition began, Botanist Morrow was given the task to deliver western seeds and plants to the Japanese. Many of his early journal entries document his struggle to keep the plants alive on the ship en route to Japan. He was given a box, seeds, and directions to water the plants until the ship crossed the Equator, but it was nearly impossible to grow the plants as the box was constantly under danger of being covered in saltwater during the tumultuous voyage. Many ended up dying, but he mentioned that the “oak, maple, and Kentucky coffee-tree look better than any of the others.”

Upon his arrival, Morrow frequently notes that he “found some new flowers” to add to his collection. Sometimes the Japanese helped him collect, and Morrow said that “they knew the names of most of [the flowers] we found. They had dug up for me three small pines, and a peach tree for setting out, and seemed to understand for what purpose I wanted them.”

The Japanese gratefully received western seeds, and Morrow states that, due to the importance of agriculture in the country, the seeds were the only object the men were able to accept without hindrance by the government. Morrow would often give the most seeds to those that showed the greatest curiosity in the western agricultural equipment he demonstrated. The Japanese were fascinated with the quality of flour produced by an American corn mill, and Morrow was intrigued with the Japanese version of a cotton gin and the bark they used to produce strong paper. The Japanese had never seen a garden engine with a hose that would pump water, and a crowd of over 200 people gathered to watch the water being pumped into the air. Morrow notes that they looked “carefully at the suction hose as though they thought they had learned the secret of putting out fires.”

Morrow spent his evenings on the ship pressing the plants he collected. He accumulated seventeen cases of dried and live plants to bring to the U.S., some of which were placed in the U.S. Botanic Gardens. The expedition resulted in a three-volume report, which contained a list of plants collected in Japan and compiled by Asa Gray. Only a portion of the 1,500 to 2,000 plants brought back to the U.S. were sent to Gray for description, and 41 new species and one new genus were identified. Clematis williamsii was a new species named after Williams, whom Gray described as “a cherished friend and correspondent, author of one of the best works that have appeared upon the Chinese empire, and a good naturalist, as well as a learned oriental scholar.” Morrow was given the same honor, lending his name to Lonicera morrowi.

Brown University Library. “Matthew Calbraith Perry.” Perry Visits Japan: A Visual History, n.d.

Gray, Asa, et. al. "List of Dried Plants Collected in Japan by S. Wells Williams, Esq. and Dr.
James Morrow." Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan, performed in the years 1852, 1853, and 1864, under the command of Commodore M.C. Perry, United States Navy, by Order of the Government of the United States. Washington, D.C., A.O.P. Nicholson, printer, 1856. Vol. II: 305-332.

Harvard University Herbarium. “U.S. Japan Expedition (1852-1854) and U.S. North Pacific
Exploring Expedition (1853-1856).” Library of the Gray Herbarium, n.d.

Morrow, James. A Scientist with Perry in Japan, the journal of Dr. James Morrow. Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1947.

Navy Historical Center. “A Brief Summary of the Perry Expedition to Japan, 1853.” Navy
Department Library, n.d.

The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. “Perry Collection: Perry and the Trip to
Japan.” Commodore Perry: Naval Diplomat and Collector, n.d.

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