With the curiosity of a budding historian, Alexander Smith, a rising high school senior at Stratford Academy in Macon, has investigated the origin’s of Georgia’s consular corps and discovered that the state has been hosting foreign emissaries since the end of the 18th century.
By tracking down historical information through contacts with the state’s consular offices, Georgia archives, historic almanacs and diplomatic records of expatriate networks, he has compiled a listing of the origins of the potpourri of consuls general and honorary consuls making up the 67 representatives of foreign governments currently operating in the state.
Sounding much like a consul himself, he told Global Atlanta that he has included his findings into a research paper and hopes his research will be used to promote trade, investment and academic and cultural exchanges between Georgia and the rest of the world.
As the son of Macon attorney Christoper Smith, who serves as an honorary consul of Denmark, he comes upon this interest quite naturally.
Alexander Smith’s father encouraged him to pursue his research as a means of tracing the origins of foreign direct investment in the state, stimulating further interest in the contributions of past foreign representatives to strengthen existing ties, building awareness of the state’s dependency on international trade and generating further research.
“It may even prompt Georgia based companies who have yet to wade into the international waters of trade and investment to consider doing so,” Christopher Smith told Global Atlanta.
Praise for the effort already has been bestowed on Alexander Smith for his efforts from a small group of state officials, consuls and academics with whom he has shared his work.
Abby Turano, the deputy commissioner of international relations at the Georgia Department of Economic Development who acts as a liaison between the state and the consular corps, complimented the effort, saying “I don’t think most people had any idea how far back this tradition goes, and this research demonstrates just how long our connections to the rest of the world have been strengthening Georgia.”
Bruce S. Allen, the honorary consul of the Principality of Liechtenstein and a fellow Maconite, said of the report, “I feel that this paper should be of great value to both the state of Georgia and to those nations that have partnered with our state in trade and economic development through the establishment of consular missions.”
“I was very impressed to see how far back the various consular relations have extended,” he added. “I think too that Georgia companies who have yet to extend their sales overseas should look upon this paper as an invitation to market abroad.”
No less effusive was Lance Askildson, vice provost and chief international officer at Kennesaw State University, who called the paper “a fascinating piece of local history that helps tell an important part of the story for Atlanta’s status as a global city.”
Alexander Smith has demonstrated his propensity to unearth neglected global connections in the past. As recently as January he underscored the tenuous link between Macon and the small South Pacific island of Niue with the 100-year-old iconic Macon eatery, Nu-Way Weiners Inc., due to the similarity in which their names are pronounced as in “new-ay.”
Inconsequential as the link may seem, it was enough to encourage Ian Latham, New Zealand’s honorary consul general to partake in a ceremony at the eatery in Macon.
Niue remains a self-governing island but New Zealand provides it with its defense and foreign policy. “These things are important,“ Mr. Latham said during a luncheon celebrating the connection at the Nu Way. “They make the world a smaller place.”
While Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport makes the world a smaller place in a big way with its flights to more than 70 overseas destinations, it wasn’t until the 20th century that Atlanta really emerged as the home of its consulates.
Mr. Smith’s research shows that in the 19th century 16 of the consulates were based in Savannah including those of Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Norway and Venezuela.
The predominance of consulates on the coast more than a 100 years ago makes sense in terms of the importance of maritime trade. But it’s easy to overlook the importance of their presence not only on trade but the culture of the city.
In his research of historic Savannah, he found a reference to an unnamed British deputy consul dating back to 1789, but much to his father’s pleasure, the first recorded reference to a named consul was to William Scarborough, who was appointed vice consul of Denmark in Savannah in 1802.
Just as Christopher Smith would have it, Mr. Scarborough whose domicile known to this day as the “Scarborough House” serves as a museum for a collection of ship models, paintings and maritime antiques. Built in 1819, the legacy seems doubly appropriate given that Mr. Scarborough was a principal owner of the “Savannah,” the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean when Savannah was a major outlet for the South’s cotton trade.
The Belgian consulate general at Alexander Smith’s request traced its first mention of an honorary consul to Savannah dated March 3, 1834. More than a hundred years later in 1950, Charles Leonard, Belgium’s consul general in New Orleans, wrote the following about Savannah:
“17th port in the United States, it is used as much for intercoastal as for international commerce. Its direct commerce volume with Belgium is rather slender but each month a definite tonnage is expedited to our country and the port statistics acknowledge the entry of Belgian merchandise, mainly industrial diamonds, jute, drawn and construction steel.”
Savannah, of course, has become far more important than in the 1950s but with the growth of Atlanta most all of the foreign representatives have migrated to Georgia’s capital nearer the airport. A few honorary consuls represent their countries from their hometowns explaining the presence of Mr. Smith, Dr. Allen, and Uganda’s honorary consul Jack Ellis all based in Macon.
For the same reason, Anna Maria Mccaa, the former honorary consul of Ecuador, was based in Tucker during her tenure and Kevin Casebier, the recently appointed honorary consul of Latvia, Marietta.
Europe remains the primary source of foreign representatives with 31 official offices; South America, 13, Africa, 8; North America including the islands of the Bahamas, Barbados, Haiti and Jamaica, 6; and Asia, 6 (including Israel); Iceland falls geographically into both North America and Europe; Turkey into Asia and Europe; and New Zealand, not into Australia but rather Zealandia.
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