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MADRAS MISCELLANY

100 years of U.S. representation

S. MUTHIAH

Photo: s. thanthoni

New beginning The U.S. Consulate on Mount Road

It was a few months early, but the U.S. Consulate General did remember last week that it was 100 years ago that the Department of State raised its representation in Madras to a Consulate and staffed it with professional Consular officers. It was in D ecember 1908 that Nathaniel B. Stewart took charge in Madras as the U.S.’s first Consul and spent the next two years here. With Indian Independence, the Consulate became a Consulate General and, on August 15, 1947, Roy E.B. Bower became the last Consul and the first Consul General.

Long before all this, however, the U.S. appointed Consular Agents in Madras who were expected to report directly to the State Department. The first Consular Agent, Joseph L.T. Thompson, assumed office on May 24, 1867 and served till October 1872. But nearly 75 years before Thompson, the United States was represented in Madras, that first representative being a local merchant, William Abbott, who served in that capacity for nearly a decade.

Abbott’s appointment was in many ways a matter of convenience. When the American ship Chesapeake sailed up the Hooghly to anchor in Calcutta in 1786, just ten years after the declaration of Independence, trading links between the United States and the East India Company’s territories began. As trade grew, George Washington in 1792 appointed a Massachusetts businessman, Benjamin Joy, as America’s first Consul in India. Joy arrived in Calcutta in 1794, but John Company refused to accept his credentials. He, however, was allowed to stay on as the U.S. Government’s commercial agent. Joy appointed William Abbott, a Colonial American-born merchant in Madras with whom he was doing business, as American consular representative on November 24, 1794. As things turned out, Abbott, who did not have the best of reputations in Madras, was more Joy’s agent in Madras than the U.S. Government’s.

Abbott, despite his dubious record, became His Worship the Mayor of Madras in 1797 and, after his year’s tenure, became less of a wheeler dealer. But till then, from the time he arrived in Madras in the early 1780s, he was associated with one shady deal after another. This included a financial scandal in which Thomas Parry, the senior-most merchant of Madras at the time, was involved.

A curious fact is that when Nathaniel Stewart arrived in Madras and wanted office space, he rented it from Parry & Co. in 1908. Later, when Parry’s original building was pulled down and its present headquarters, Dare House, was inaugurated in October 1940, the Consulate’s tenancy continued. It was only when the present Consulate General’s home was opened on Mount Road on January 3, 1969, that the connection with Parry’s came to an end.

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