Medina Diplomats: December 7, 1797 – October 16, 1961

TALIM October 16 1961
"On October 9, the new office building of the Consulate General was completed, and on October 16 the move from the old buildings was completed."

The laconic entry of the anonymous diplomat or consular clerk, writing in his or her best "Palmer Method" penmanship, belies its historic importance.  What is being described above, from one of our research library's precious "Miscellaneous Record Books," is the end of close to two centuries of American diplomatic and consular presence in the medina of Tangier.

TALIM Miscellaneous Record BookThat was exactly fifty years ago today.

We rerun the tape to December 7, 1797, when the first American Consul, James Simpson, arrives in Tangier to establish the first American Consulate TALIM American Consular Servicein the Arab world, in a Muslim country, and on the continent of Africa.  A trilogy of firsts.

Others precede Simpson on the State Department's list of Tangier Principal Officers – Thomas Barclay, the "Emissary to Barbary" who in 1786 traveled to Morocco to negotiate America's first treaty with an Arab, African, or Muslim head of state, was the first named as Consul, but he died en route to post.  So the honors must go to Simpson, who managed to arrive here, stayed for more than twenty years in sometimes rudimentary conditions, and died at post.

Simpson died the year before Sultan Moulay Slimane gave the current Legation property to the United States in 1821. Tangier was to remain the only overseas diplomatic property owned by the United States through most of the 19th century.

I'm not sure when the State Department started the practice of its consuls, consuls general, diplomatic agents, ministers, and ambassadors keeping a running log of everything they and their staff did in Miscellaneous Record Books, but when I served in the Foreign Service, starting in 1979, I believe the practice had already ended.

Embassies had already become sprawling domains of many different US Government agencies, and gone were the quaint days when the marriage of US citizens by the Consul General merited mention in the handwritten record book.  And now, things are so universally electronic that the closest thing would be the ephemeral email inbox.  Not quite as romantic as the leather-bound books of the American Consular Service.

So what happened after October 16, 1961?  The US Consulate General in Tangier moved to its new quarters in modern Tangier, into a building that featured glass and concrete, the antithesis of the Old Legation, as our building is sometimes still called.

Some day, we'll revisit the story of that new building, which lasted a quarter of a century.  But that's another story.  Today, we think back fifty years, when America's oldest diplomatic building saw its last consuls and ministers, and started on a journey that we continue today.

Gerald Loftus

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