Townsend Harris was born in Hudson Falls, New York
. In the 1840's, he was a prominent member of New York City
's Board of Education
, and in 1847
, he founded the Free Academy
, now known as the City University of New York
. After this, Harris became interested in the China
trade, and travelled to Shanghai
During the next few years, trade between the United States and China began to skyrocket. In 1854, Harris was sent to the port city of Ningpo to become the American consul there. After Matthew Perry successfully pulled off the opening of Japan, however, President Franklin Pierce had Harris moved to Japan, along with a young Dutch interpreter named Henry Heusken.
Harris and Heusken arrived in Shimoda in August of 1855. They moved into a Zen temple, Gyokusenji, hoisted an American flag, and turned it into an American consulate-general, one of the first foreign legations ever opened in Japan.
Harris soon became involved with a 17-year-old girl named Kichi. The relationship between Harris and Kichi is one of the most well-known folk tales in modern Japanese history, and was the basis of a John Wayne movie called The Barbarian and the Geisha. Unfortunately, nobody really has a definitive version of the story: some say that the daimyo of Shimoda ordered Kichi to keep Harris occupied, while others say that Harris saw Kichi leaving a bathhouse and asked for her geisha services. History only tells us that Kichi was deeply ashamed of her relationship with the barbarian, and after running a restaurant in Shimoda for several years, she committed suicide in 1892. After her death, she became known as Tojin Okichi, "Honorable Kichi of the Foreigner."
At first, Harris was a very unwelcome guest in Shimoda. Eventually, his foreign ways (such as drinking milk) began to rub off on the locals, and they took a liking to him. In 1858, he was permitted to meet with Shogun Tokugawa Iesada in Edo, and drafted the Treaty of Amity and Commerce to open up Tokyo and Osaka to American trade. Harris' treaty prompted five more European powers to sign similar treaties with the Japanese government.
In 1862, Harris returned to the United States, and shogun Tokugawa Iemochi presented him with a high-quality Japanese sword, which ended up in the hands of none other than Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant.
Harris moved back to Manhattan, and went on to found the ASPCA. He died a bachelor in 1878, and is now buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, surrounded by cherry trees donated by the Japanese government.