The First African American Diplomat

Ebenezer D. Bassett
Ebenezer D. Bassett was appointed as the Minister of the Republic of Haiti in 1869

Ebenezer D. Bassett

The first African American to serve as a diplomat was Ebenezer D. Bassett, appointed as the United States Minister Resident in Haiti in 1869. The educator, abolitionist, and advocate for black rights handled bilateral ties during deadly civil wars and coup d’états on the island of Hispaniola for eight years. In one of the most important but challenging postings of his time, Bassett served with distinction, bravery, and honesty. First African American Diplomat

Biography First African American Diplomat

Ebenezer D. Bassett was the second child of Eben Tobias and Susan Gregory, and he was born in Connecticut on October 16, 1833. In the middle of the 1800s, Bassett attended college, which was unusual. In 1853, he became the first black student to enroll in the Connecticut Normal School. He later began teaching in New Haven, where he met the illustrious abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Later, he was appointed head of the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (ICY).

As a strong advocate for the four million black slaves who had to be freed during the Civil War, Bassett also assisted in the Union Army’s recruitment of African Americans as troops. President Ulysses S. Grant elevated Bassett to the position of Minister Resident to Haiti, making him one of the highest-ranked black officials in the federal government. First African American Diplomat


The American Minister Resident dealt with hurricanes, fires, many tropical diseases, commercial claims brought by citizens, diplomatic immunity for his consular and commercial representatives, and other events throughout his tenure.

General Pierre Boisrond Canal, a political fugitive from Haiti, presented him with the biggest obstacle. The general was a member of a group of young leaders who effectively overthrew Sylvan Salnave as president in 1869. Canal had retreated to his residence outside the capital by the time the following Michel Domingue administration took power in the middle of the 1870s. However, Domingue, the new president of Haiti, mercilessly pursued Canal and other people who he believed to be a threat to his authority.

General Canal visited Bassett and asked for political refuge. Over a thousand, Dominique’s soldiers, encircled Bassett’s house due to the stalemate. Finally, Bassett arranged for Canal’s safe escape to exile in Jamaica after a five-month siege of his home.

As was customary with a change in power, Bassett presented his resignation after the Grant Administration in 1877. He served as the Haitian consul general in New York City, New York, for an additional eleven years after his return to the United States. He moved back to Philadelphia, where his daughter Charlotte worked at the ICY, before passing away on November 13, 1908, and resumed living there. Bassett passed away at the age of 75. First African American Diplomat

In addition to his symbolic significance as the first African American ambassador, Ebenezer D. Bassett was a role model. He belongs to the hall of fame of outstanding American diplomats because of his commitment to human rights, gallantry, and courage in facing pressure from Haitians and his own country’s capital.

Related article: Beautiful Haiti passport from 1955


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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...