220 Years Ago This Week

By September McCarthy | May 11, 2011
Photo by: Courtesy of Kushimoto Town Tourism Association (http://www.kankou-kushimoto.jp/english/sub01.html) Oshima Island, Japan -- the site of Kendrick's visit to Japan in 1791. Today it is also the site of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Memorial Museum which was built in 1975 to commemorate Kendrick's visit. Also in 1975, the Japanese people donated $5,000 toward the restoration of the Capt. Kendrick House here in Wareham.

Two-hundred and twenty years ago this week, Captain John Kendrick of Wareham became the first American to sail into the closed nation of Japan.  It was May 1791 and Kendrick was in the middle of an historic seven year voyage into the Pacific.  His mission was to establish an American outpost on the Pacific Northwest Coast, open trade routes to China, and find the legendary Northwest Passage. 

When Kendrick arrived at Kushimoto on the south coast of Japan, the island nation had been in self-imposed isolation, shutting out all foreigners for 150 years. Japanese records talk about the strange red-haired barbarians from America who arrived during a storm and stayed several days in the harbor.  Kendrick managed to sail off just before samurai warriors arrived to capture him.  This was one of a long string of adventures that befell Kendrick and his crew. 

Although Kendrick has been little recognized until now, awareness of his achievements is growing.  A dozen years before Lewis and Clark set out on their landmark journey across America, Kendrick already owned 1,000 square miles of land on what would become Vancouver Island.  During his life, he was known to George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and other national leaders.  His story has all the makings of an American epic.  However, Kendrick never made it home to tell his tale. 

Author Scott Ridley will be at the Old Methodist Meeting House, 495 Main Street, Wareham, telling Kendrick's story from his new book Morning of Fire: John Kendrick's Daring American Odyssey in the Pacific, on Monday, May 16 at 7:00 p.m. Admission is free for members of the Wareham Historical Society and $3 for non-members. The presentation will be followed by a book signing and social time featuring coffee and baked goods. We look forward to seeing you there!

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