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. Ebenezer D. Bassett
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. Ebenezer D. Bassett
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 of 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. Ebenezer D. Bassett
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.