1871, American War in Korea, part IV

At any rate, America later sent another envoy to enquire after the Shenandoah and to ask about diplomatic relations, and this time the Koreans seemed to have a ready answer for them:
“Commander Shufeldt’s threat to return with more warships was no idle threat. In the spring of 1868, the USS Shenandoah under Captain John C. Febiger reached the Daedong River’s mouth and received an official letter acknowledging the death of all crewmen of the General Sherman. The Coreans wondered why the Americans wanted to make a treaty: “We have been living 4,000 years without any treaty with you, and we can’t see why we shouldn’t continue to live as we do.” (Sterner, 2003)”

A couple years later Rear Admiral Rodgers and his fleet of ships sailed in.

This brings us to a point in time most Americans have never heard of and which Koreans know as:

The 1871 US Occupation of Kanghwado – Shinmi-yang-yo

“In April 1870, the U.S. State Department told Frederick F. Low, the US minister in Beijing, to negotiate a treaty with Corea that would secure the safe treatment of shipwrecked American sailors, to establish trade, and to look into the murder of the General Sherman crew. ”

Really, they just wanted to establish trade.  Nobody cared what happened to the General Sherman crew.  But it was a useful pretense, and perhaps the Americans thought that mentioning it would be embarrassing enough for the Koreans they would listen to negotiations, feel like they’d been put on the wrong foot?  I don’t know.  But it wasn’t really that important to them.

Rear Admiral John Rodgers was in charge of the small group of ships that carried Minister Low to Corea, and the following information is taken from his reports, either summarized (by myself) or quoting.

The ships arrived and Rodgers chose a suitable anchorage for his ship and promptly renamed the place after a French minister, Korea’s own history and place names notwithstanding.  To be fair, as arrogant as that sounds, the Koreans weren’t really interested in telling the Americans anything beyond “Go home,” and the Admiral needed a name the Americans he reported to could read, understand, and use to communicate with each other.

Rodgers sent other ships ahead to take surveys and soundings of the water passages and reported they were unmolested. His own ship sent a landing party to the nearby port and he says the Coreans seemed of pleasant disposition and :

“A paper with written Chinese characters was handed to one of the officers, and its contents, being translated, conveyed inquiries as to our nation and the purpose of our coming.  The paper was without signature or indication of official character.  An informal reply was sent to it by the minister, giving only the information that we were Americans; that our purpose was friendly, and that we had come to seek an interview with the governing authorities.”

It seems not to have occurred to them that perhaps the lack of signature or official character was meant to convey that the Korean government saw the Admiral and his minister as lacking standing themselves.


Series of Posts:

How a cultural misunderstanding started a war, part 1

Korean war of 1871, Part 2

1871, An America War in Korea, part III

1871, American War in Korea, part IV

The 1871 War with Korea, part V

War with Korea in 1871, Part VI

War With Korea, 1871, Part VII

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