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Robert H. Pruyn


Robert H. Pruyn (1815-1882) was born in Albany, New York to a very esteemed Dutch family. He was a graduate of the class of 1833 with his bachelor’s degree and class of 1836 with his master’s degree at Rutgers College. Afterwards, he went on to be a practicing lawyer in Albany as well as serving as a member of the New York State Assembly from the years 1848-1854. Pruyn was a close friend to William Henry Seward, who was the Secretary of State under President Abraham Lincoln. With a recommendation from Seward, Pruyn was appointed as Minister to Japan by President Lincoln in 1861 and stayed in Japan until 1865.

Pruyn was among the first of the Americans to communicate with the Japanese as well as helping to create a relationship between both the United States and Japan as well as Rutgers and Japan. Pruyn was able to successfully negotiate with Japan during the Shimonoseki campaign. During this, a series of battles ensued, starting when the Choshu fired at a US merchant ship in 1863. This ended in 1864 when the British, Dutch, French, and Americans joined together for a two-day final battle. In the end, it was Minister Pruyn who negotiated the treaty with Japan, which included payment from Japan. The Tokugawa were unable to pay the amount which was then used as leverage for the Japanese to open their ports, specifically the opening of ports in Hyogo and Osaka. Pruyn along with the other American representatives in Japan helped create “the foundation of what has been termed the ‘traditional friendship’ of America and Japan” through their consistency and their efforts to work with Japan rather than taking advantage of Japan (Treat 410).


Perrone, Fernanda. “The Rutgers Network in Early Meiji Japan.” Rikkyo American Studies, vol. 39, Mar. 2017, p. 81.

Treat, Payson Jackson. The Early Diplomatic Relations between the United States and Japan, 1853-1865. 1917.