1889 Consular Dispatch from Baghdad

By Potter, Lee Ann | Social Education, November-December 2007 | Go to article overview

1889 Consular Dispatch from Baghdad


Potter, Lee Ann, Social Education


In the late summer of 1888, officials at the U.S. Department of State appointed John Henry Haynes of Rowe, Massachusetts, to become the first U.S. consul in Baghdad. At that time, Baghdad--along with all of present day Iraq--was part of the Ottoman Empire, as it had been for more than three centuries. As the twentieth century approached, U.S. diplomatic and commercial interests in the region were well established and growing. There were already American consulates in the Ottoman capital of Constantinople, as well as in Beirut, Cairo, Jerusalem, Sivas, and Smyrna. In addition, American consular agents worked in 23 other cities within the empire.

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Establishing a consulate at Baghdad had been discussed as early as 1885, when members of the American Oriental Society formed a committee to raise funds to send the first American archaeological expedition to Mesopotamia. Committee members, affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, formed the Babylonian Exploration Fund and corresponded with authorities in Washington, including President Grover Cleveland, urging them to consider the interests of science as well as commerce as they established and filled consulates in places of archaeological importance. They also combined their efforts with those of American merchants interested in doing business in Baghdad. Although their attempts took three years, they were ultimately successful.

Haynes was an archaeologist who had lived in Turkey since 1881. He was employed by the Fund and would serve as the photographer and business manager for the expedition that would excavate the ruins at the ancient city of Nippur (Niffer) in southeastern Iraq. While working for the Fund, under the leadership of its director, John Punnett Peters, Haynes would also serve as the American consul, fostering trade relations among companies in the United States and Baghdad. As consul, he received no pay from the government. The other U.S. consuls appointed to work in the Ottoman Empire received annual salaries that ranged from $1,000 to $5,000.

Haynes sent his first three dispatches to Washington while he was still in Constantinople. His first and second messages, both dated September 14, 1888, acknowledged that he had received his instructions and transmitted his oath of office. His third message, sent 13 days later, announced that he would be leaving Constantinople for Baghdad that day and stated that he expected to arrive in Baghdad in early November.

He sent his fourth dispatch, featured in this article, on January 9, 1889, to George L. Rives, the assistant secretary of state. In his single-page, handwritten message, he announced that he had safely arrived in Baghdad after having been "unavoidably delayed on the overland journey by caravan from Alexandretta." The message was sent via Constantinople and reached Washington in late February.

For the next three years, Haynes wrote nearly two dozen additional dispatches to officials in Washington. His successor, John C. Sundberg, a Norwegian-born doctor who became a naturalized American citizen and the second U.S. consul in Baghdad, wrote more than 20 dispatches during his period of service between 1892 and 1895. Some were a single sentence, others went on for 8 to 10 pages and more. Many of their letters and telegrams contained simple acknowledgements of instructions, regulations, or supplies received. Others included routine requests for stationary or forms, complaints about not getting paid, and (particularly in Haynes's case) requests for leave. But many included details and observations that revealed much about Baghdad in the first few years of America's consular presence in the city.

Both consuls wrote about commerce and economic concerns. They included detailed descriptions about the exportation of products such as wool, cotton, and dates to firms in American cities, primarily New York and Philadelphia. In some cases, they mentioned companies by name, and they commented on the impact of tariffs. …

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