Posted by: Emma Hutchins, Public Diplomacy Intern
In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote of the bustling port city Odesa, “I have not felt so much at home for a long time as I did when I ‘raised the hill’ and stood in Odesa for the first time.” On Tuesday June 18, Ambassador Tefft returned to the city about which Twain spoke so glowingly, to join local government officials of Odesa and a Raytheon representative in unveiling a plaque honoring the opening of the first U.S. Consulate in Odesa in 1830 (Raytheon donated the plaque).
Designated as a porto franco, or “free port,” in 1819, Odesa offered numerous opportunities to develop trade relationships and was positioned as an ideal candidate for joining the growing number of global cities that held U.S. Consulates. The provisions for such consulates were outlined in an April 14, 1792, act of U.S. Congress in hopes of promoting U.S. commercial opportunities abroad and providing support for American sailors throughout the world. Consequently, many of the earliest consulates were directed by prominent businessmen who, although they were unpaid and not required to hold U.S citizenship, generally had strong business interests and strategic networks in their regions.
In response to Odesa’s growing commercial potential, U.S. President Andrew Jackson appointed Charles Rhind, a prosperous New York merchant, to both spearhead the new Consulate in Odesa and help negotiate a treaty with the Ottoman Empire to expand trade access for American ships in the region. Both of Rhind’s endeavors were successful, and after a brief term as Consul, Rhind relinquished his position to wealthy Greek businessman John Ralli. Ralli assumed duties as U.S. Consul for nearly thirty years until his death in 1859, thereby making him the longest-serving U.S. Consul at Odesa and a symbol of the United States’ commitment to fostering international trade with Odesa.
For the rest of the 19thcentury and up until 1918, when the beginning of the Civil War in Russia and Ukraine prompted the U.S. to withdraw its presence from Odesa, the U.S. Consulate continued to encourage exchange between U.S. merchants and local traders. While the official U.S. Consulate in Odesa concluded its services in 1918, Ambassador Tefft and his predecessors over the past 21 years of U.S.-Ukrainian bilateral relations have often visited Odesa to continue U.S. connections with the city and provide a reminder of the strong economic partnership between Americans and Ukrainians, which will hopefully continue to prosper in the future.