Wareham, Japanese officials celebrate Capt. John Kendrick

May 3, 2016

Nearly 60 years before U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry used gunboat diplomacy to force trade with isolationist Japan in 1853, Wareham’s own Captain John Kendrick arrived on the island nation’s shore.

April 29 marked the 225th anniversary that Kendrick and his crew made landfall in Kushimoto giving him the likely distinction of being the first American official to meet the Japanese.

In celebration of the event, members of the Wareham Historical Society, the author of Kendrick’s biography and officials from Kushimoto conducted a two-hour press conference via Skype on April 28. During the conference, it was announced that new information related to Kendrick’s visit had come to light – a first-person account that chronicled the event.

The discovery occurred after Hayato Sakurai, an advisory curator for a museum in Kushimoto, contacted the Wareham Historical Society last October.

Historical Society President Angela Dunham said Sakurai was interested in celebrating the 225th anniversary of the visit.

“We began efforts to link up communications between schools in Kushimoto and Wareham,” said Dunham. “We also invited Scott Ridely, author of a book about John Kendrick, to meet Mr. Sakurai. Their discussions led to Mr. Ridley’s discovery of a rare American document that contains a day-by-day record of Kendrick’s ten-day visit.”

According to Dunham, it’s an exciting discovery. Using the information, Ridley and Sakurai put together a new book on the visit.

“It was a daring event not only for Kendrick and his friend Captain William Douglass and their crews, but for the people from the villages around Kushimoto as well,” Ridley said.

When Kendrick visited, Japan had been a closed nation for more than 150 years. During that time trade was limited to the Dutch, who were only allowed to dock one ship per year in Nagasaki.

The strict policy kept foreigners out and the Japanese people isolated.

“It would take more than sixty years before Commodore Matthew Perry appeared at Tokyo Bay,” Ridley said. “Kendrick’s visit was the first American contact and foreshadowed what would happen.”

Though born on Cape Cod, Kendrick settled his family in Wareham. The Kendrick house is located at 100 Main St. and houses a museum in his honor.

Dunham said after Kendrick was killed by British cannon fire at Honolulu in 1794, his family remained in the house.

She said Japanese officials are considering redesigning their Friendship Museum as a replica of the Kendrick House.

“We are also talking about doing a shared celebration in the near future,” Dunham said. “It’s wonderful the way history is still alive and creates these bonds.”