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Tadaatsu Matsudaira (1851 - 1888)

Tadaatsu Matsudaira was an early Colorado pioneer and engineer who worked in the mining industry in Colorado. He was likely the first Japanese immigrant to come to Colorado.

Early Life

Tadaatsu Matsudaira was born in a castle in Tokyo in 1851. His family was one of several families that ruled over different parts of Japan. His father, Tadakata, was ruler of the Ueda Clan, which ruled over what is now Nagano in central Japan. At the time of Tadaatsu's birth, Japan had a very tense relationship with the United States and the two nations almost went to war. In 1859, a treaty was made between the U.S. and Japan that led to greater trade and more Japanese people traveling to the U.S., though in very small numbers.

It was in 1872 that 21-year-old Tadaatsu came to America with his brother Tadanari. Their goal was to study American culture. After studying for a short time, Tadanari returned home to Japan as planned. Tadaatsu, however, ended up staying in New Jersey and became a student at Rutgers University around 1874. By 1875, he transferred to Harvard University in Massachusetts. He spent his time at Harvard studying civil engineering and graduated in 1877. 

A New Career

A year after his graduation, Tadaatsu married Carrie Sampson. Carrie had family ties to Colorado, and her father, William, was soon to become the superintendent of the state reform school for boys in Golden, Colorado. In the meantime, Tasaatsu went to work for Manhattan Elevated Railway and then moved to Wyoming to work for the Union Pacific Railroad. Eventually, he became the city engineer for Bradford, Pennsylvania. This was an important position and many believe he was the first Japanese American to hold such an important office in a city government within the United States. 

Sadly, it seems likely that Tadaatsu had developed tuberculosis by this time. Before there was a cure, people would often move to places like Denver for the dry air. In 1886, that's just what Tadaatsu and his family did. Tadaatsu and Carrie had a son named Taro who died as a small child. They also had a daughter named Fumiye and a son named Kinjiro. By 1887, they were living in their home at 1627 Blake Street in Denver, and Tadaatsu was working for the Colorado State Engineer’s Office overseeing inspections on mining operations. This was another very respectable position, especially considering that Tadaatsu was likely the first person from Japan to ever live in Colorado.

His Legacy

In 1888, Tadaatsu died at only 37 years of age, most likely from tuberculosis. Many members of Denver society showed up for his funeral at Riverside Cemetery, but, as time went on, Tadaatsu's story and grave were largely forgotten by the people of Colorado. His wife and children returned to the East Coast and his son Kinjiro eventually became the mayor of Edmonston, Maryland. It was Kinjiro who was able to preserve the memory of his father. In 1925, Japan sent a new ambassador to the United States who had the last name Matsudaira. Kinjiro sent a letter to the ambassador to ask about any relation between their two families and soon, the story of Tadaatsu’s accomplishments spread across the growing Japanese American community in the U.S. This included the large Japanese American community in Denver.

Eventually, Tadaatsu’s grave was found and people began to pay their respects, marking it with a small stone. In the early 1950s, that stone was removed and the Japanese Association of Denver collected money to erect a large monument at Tadaatsu's gravesite. Bill Hosokawa, a prominent Japanese American journalist in Colorado, worked to promote this monument project. Bill also did some of the most in-depth research ever done on Tadaatsu’s life, and his work is much of the reason we know anything about this early Japanese immigrant at all. In 1952, a great monument was erected in Riverside Cemetery and can still be seen there today. While we still know little about the brief life of Tadaatsu Matsudaira, it’s important we remember him as one of many pioneering immigrants that contributed to building early Colorado.

Word Bank

clan - a large group of people who are related to each other

treaty - an official agreement made between countries

civil engineering - science of building roads, bridges, and other structures


Get Thinking!

Have you or someone you know ever moved to a place where you didn't know the language? What was that experience like?

How do you think Tadaatsu was able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time?

What would you like to accomplish in your own life? What kinds of challenges do you think you would have to overcome?