According to whaling records, on November 9, 1843, Mercator Cooper left Sag Harbor as captain of the 440-ton ship Manhattan on a whaling voyage. On March 14 and 15, 1845, its crew rescued 22 shipwrecked Japanese sailors in the Bonin Islands.
The Manhattan set sail for Edo to repatriate the sailors. The Japanese normally wanted to avoid contact with outsiders. However, on April 18, 1845, an emissary from the shogunate gave the ship permission to proceed. “About three hundred Japanese boats with about 15 men in each took the ship in tow,” according to Cooper’s log. “They took all our arms out to keep till we left. There were several of the nobility came on board to see the ship. They appeared very friendly.”
It had been over 220 years since so many foreigners had been so close to the Japanese metropolis, but no one from the vessel was permitted to actually land in Japan.
The Japanese examined his ship and took particular note of Pyrrhus Concer, a crewman from Southampton, Long Island, who was the only African American on board, and of a Shinnecock Native named Eleazer. They were the first dark-skinned men the Japanese had seen, and they wanted to touch their skin.
They thanked the Manhattan’s crew for returning the shipwrecked sailors and told them to never return, not even to bring back more castaways, on pain of death. On April 21, 500 small boats towed the Manhattan 20 miles out to sea.
Cooper took with him the map that charted the islands of Japan that had been found on the disabled Japanese ship. This is now located in the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
News of Cooper’s encounter was extensively publicized in the United States. Matthew Perry was said to have used the map on his visit to Japan on July 8, 1853.
Cooper’s home in Southampton is now owned by the Rogers Memorial Library.
Pyrrhus Concer’s home was torn down — and it’s been almost a decade fighting to restore this extraordinary hero’s homestead and to have a visitors center to be included as part of the local history curriculum with the schools, as well as to display the over 400 phenomenal items found on the grounds of his homestead, located at 51 Pond Lane, during an architectural dig. Among the arrowheads, belt buckle and 400 items, one item in particular — a Japanese calligraphy brush — was said to be a thank you gift to Mr. Concer for assisting in the rescue.
The Cooper name and buildings are highly respected throughout the village. Why has Pyrrhus Concer not been given his full honor and respect in this village? He was more honored by Japan in the 1800s. Respect?
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Southampton African American Museum
One fine body…