Ethiopia’s diplomatic relationship with the United States is comparatively recent. Because of distance and the American isolationist posture from 1776–1941,1 there was no official contact between the two for a long period. The US concentrated on internal economic development, territorial expansionism to the west, and industrialization. However, individual US citizens went to Ethiopia for a variety of reasons. In the late 19th century, Henry M. Stanley, a special correspondent for New York Herald, accompanied the British expedition under Sir Robert Napier (1868) and witnessed the fall of Makdala and the death of Emperor Theodros.
Some African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans who profess Ethiopianism have historically looked up to Ethiopia. Its long history and culture and the divination in the Old Testament that “Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God” (Psalm 68, verse 31) has made Ethiopia attractive especially to diaspora Africans. Ethiopia is known and romanticized by some Americans. After the Battle of Adwa, in 1896,2 for example, a young Haitian, Benito Sylvian, arrived at Emperor Menelik’s court in 1897 and became the Emperor’s aide-de-camp. Similarly, Dr. Joseph Vitalien, from the French colony of Guadeloupe, visited Ethiopia and remained there to serve as Emperor Menelik’s personal physician. He helped found two early hospitals in Ethiopia: the Ras Mekonnen Hospital in Harar (1903) and the Menelik II Hospital in Addis Ababa (1909).
William H. Ellis, an African-American cotton grower in Texas, later a Wall Street stockbroker, and an admirer of Emperor Menelik, visited Ethiopia in 1899. Ellis received permission to grow cotton in Southern Ethiopia and establish a textile factory. In the diplomatic arena, Ellis convinced Menelik to enter into a Treaty of Amity and
1 President James Monroe charted the American isolationist policy, which is referred to as The Monroe Doctrine of 1823.
2 Refer to Paulos Milikias and Getachew Metaferia, ed. 2005. The Battle of Adwa – Reflections on Ethiopia’s Historic Victory Against European Colonialism,” New York: Algora Publishing.