Clio Logo

Built in 1781, the four-room cottage serves as a local history museum, complete with a colonial garden, exhibits and artifacts, and a growing library of historical documents related to the history of Perth Amboy. The museum is operated by the Kearny Cottage Historical Society and supported by volunteers and donations. The museum's collections reflect the maritime history of the region, as well as the lives and legacy of the Kearny family throughout the 18th and 19th century. The home was owned by a prominent eighteenth-century family that exerted considerable influence in local and state circles. Michael Kearny and his wife Elizabeth Lawrence (also known as the poet, "Madame Scribblerus") lived there and their son, Commodore Lawrence Kearny (1789-1868), was born and died at this location. Lawrence was best known for commanding a squadron that arrived in Canton in 1842 with the charge promoting free trade for Americans in the Far East.


  • This historic home was originally located on High Street, but has twice been moved. The home is now located next to the Raritan River and offers exhibits related to the history of Perth Amboy.
  • Learn more about the long history of the US Navy's "Open Door Policy" in China. Bruce A. Elleman, International Competition in China, 1899-1991: The Rise, Fall, and Restoration of the Open Door Policy
  • Learn more about Sino-American relations in Kearny's time and throughout the 19th century. The Golden Ghetto: The American Commercial Community at Canton and the Shaping of American China Policy, 1784-1844

Kearny was born in this Perth Amboy home in 1789 and joined the Navy near the time of his 18th birthday. Kearny served aboard the US Constitution prior to the War of 1812, at which time he was serving aboard the Enterprise. During that war, he was appointed to command the Caroline, a medium-sized sailing vessel known as a schooner. Promoted to lieutenant during the war, he was appointed to command larger vessels and won some recognition for capturing a British vessel near the end of the war. 

After the war, Kearny joined America's small but growing fleet in the Mediterranean and charged with fighting pirates that were still preying on American merchants. When the First Opium War (1839-1842) between Chinese forces and British merchants erupted, Kearny was commanding the US Constellation and commanding the East India Squadron. Kearny's small squadron was tasked with protecting the small but growing number of American merchant vessels operating in East Asia. During that mission, 
Kearny demonstrated initiative and diplomatic skill by securing and trading privileges for American merchants in Canton.

Kearny choose Canton because it was only Chinese port during that time period where foreign merchants were allowed to trade. 
Kearny's mission led to the signing of the Treaty of Wanghia in 1844. This treaty gave the United States most favored nation status, effectively giving American merchants the same trading privileges extended to Britain. The treaty established terms of trade and set tariff rates (tariffs are taxes on imports). It also provided American merchants with legal immunity from Chinese courts with one exception-the treaty obligated American merchants and sailors to hand over anyone they found dealing in opium-an addictive and illegal drug that British and other foreign merchants were smuggling into China. 

Kearny's mission became
 the first of many 19th century naval missions aimed at helping United States businesses gain a foothold in Asian markets. By the late 19th century, and with European powers dividing China into "spheres of influence," the United States pursued a new policy in China that American leaders referred to as "The Open Door Policy." 

Kelly Buchanan, The Treaty of Wanghia. Library of Congress, Feb 4, 2011 http://blogs.loc.gov/law/2011/02/the-treaty-of-wanghia-pic-of-the-week/ accessed 9/7/15