The First American Mission to Ethiopia (1903-4)
The Star of Ethiopa Medal
In 1903 the first American diplomatic mission arrived in Ethiopia. The story is told by Robert P. Skinner, Commissioner to the mission, in Abyssinia of To-Day, subtitled "An Account of the First Mission Sent by the American Government to the Court of the King of Kings (1903-1904)" (Longmans, Green & Co., New York, 1906).

Most of the photographs were taken by the expedition, but some of the photos acquired during a side trip to Harrar are credited to Postmaster, J.A. Michel. Ras Makonnen and Michel had visited the American camp together.

During the trek from Dire Daoua [terminus of the railway at that time] to Addis Abeba the expedition arrived at Choba. "As this was the first telephone station on our route, it was decided to send a few messages to inquiring friends. It was December 13, and we had been out of touch with the great world for two weeks. The telephone director was amiability itself. He 'allooed' vigorously in our behalf, but M. Michel, the very capable gentleman in charge at Harrar, was absent, it being Sunday, and communication could not be established. (page 60)" A message to forward was left with the telephone director, who could not even read Amharic. When the expedition returned a month later the message had not been sent, but the offer was made to immediately send it.

The expedition of officers and soldiers were greeted at Addis Abeba by Leon Chefneaux, Menelik's advisor [Alfred Ilg was absent in Europe at the time]. Meetings with Emperor Menelik II were most cordial, being held in the Aderach, or audience hall. The arrival of Menelik and his entourage is shown in one photo, while the American party is

Click photos to enlarge

Menelik II

American Party
shown in the other, leaving in military parade. The meeting was likely Ethiopia's first with an outside power that was only interested in commerce, with no hidden political agenda. The first Treaty was signed between Ethiopia and the United States on December 27, 1903. Of note on communications is Article V: "Throughout the extent of the Ethiopian Empire the citizens of the United States of America shall have the use of the telegraphs, posts, and and other means of transportation upon the same terms as the citizens of other Powers. (page 225)" [See entire Treaty below.]

As the American party prepared to leave, they were decorated with the Star of Ethiopia medal.


Gold plate, green enamel outline and center, red textured enamel in cross and around center. Amharic over lion. Ribbon yellow with green and red bands.  Amharic "M" on reverse.

Note: An e-mail from Owain Raw Rees indicates the illustration is not the Order of The Star but the Order of Menelik II instituted in 1924 – some twenty years after the mission.

"[Menelik] had brought in at once the decorations intended for the members of the party. There were two incidents connected with these decorations, which are illustrative of Menelik's character. Before we had been long in the capital, M. Chefneux had said one day! 'The Emperor desires to give decorations to the officers of your party, and medals to each of your men. He knows that you cannot under your form of Government accept these decorations without referring the matter back to your higher authorities; but he wants to have the pleasure of offering them, as he would not wish to have it even suspected by others that honours of this king, which he sometimes bestow on official visitors, had been omitted in your case.'

"His Majesty personally handed the medallion and ribbon of the Star of Ethiopia to each of the five officers present, leaving that task to the Grand Chamberlain when it came to the turn of the men. The text of the patent accompanying the decorations reads:

"'The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has conquered. Menelik II, chosen the Lord King of Kings of Ethiopia. To all who see these presents, greeting! As the kingdoms of the earth decorate the doers therein for their discernment, their intelligence, their valiance, and their ability, so we decorate , class officer, in our order of the Star of Ethiopia, the insignia of which he has our permission to wear upon his breast.
Written in our city of Addis-Ababa the 17th day of December, A.D. 1896' (being December 27, 1903, modern style).

"After all our soldiers had stepped forward, saluted, and retired, it was noticed that two medals still remained in the silver dish from which they had been distributed. Now, it had been mentioned quite casually to the Emperor on the day of our arrival that two of the soldiers had been returned to their ship immediately after reaching the railway terminus on account of illness. I had completely forgotten ever having spoken of this matter until the Emperor pointed to these two remaining medals, and said:

"'Two of your American soldiers could not come any further than Dire-Daouah with you on account of being sick. I don't want them to be left out of this little ceremony. It marks the beginning in our relations, which will have some place in history. So I wish you to take these medals back with you, and present them in my name to the two sick men as souvenirs of this occasion.'

"It seemed to me that as an evidence of kindly thought and tact this occurrence is worthy of permanent record. The decorations conferred upon the commissioned officers of the United States present have been since deposited in the Department of State at Washington, as the statute requires. (pages 202-4)"

There were post offices at Harar and Addis Abeba, but none at Dire Dawa during this first American mission. Someone must have sent letters. Can anyone illustrate a cover? A list of the members of the American Party follows.

Commissioner Skinner, Robert P.
Surgeon Pease, Dr. A. P. L.
Secretary Wales, Horatio W.
Captain (U.S.M.C.) Thorpe, G. C.
Lieutenant (U.S.N.) Hussey, C. L.
Sergeant Glenn, Robert J.
Corporal Wood, Walter
Hospital Steward Fearnley, William H.
Messenger, American Consular Service Riviere, Hubert Vivien
Privates Aldrich, Roy M.
Coleman, John M.
Dauth, Frederick
Durland, Ralph A.
Flay, Hudson J.
Freel, John F.
Gates, Leonard L.
Hebert, Benjamin F.
Howell, Theodore E.
Maddock, Ritchie S.
Nelson, Charles
Nilton, John G.
O’Connor, Patrick
Rossell, Joseph A.
Schultz, William
Scott, Henry J.
Steele, Harry R.
Tweig, George J.
Vernon, William
Wurm, William

Signed at Addis-Ababa, December 27, 1903. 
Ratification advised by the Senate, March 12, 1904. 
Ratified by the President, March 17, 1904. 
King of Ethiopia notified of ratification, August 2, 1904. 
Proclaimed, September 30, 1904.



WHEREAS a treaty of commerce between the United States of America and His Majesty Menelik II., King of Kings of Ethiopia, was concluded on the twenty-seventh day of December, one thousand nine hundred and three, the original of which treaty, being in the Amharic and French languages, is word for word as follows: 


His Majesty Menelik II., King of Kings of Ethiopia, and the United Staes of America, having agreed to regulate the commercial relations between the two countries and develop them, and render them more and more advantageous to the two contracting Powers: His Majesty Menelik II., King of Kings of Ethiopia, in the name of the Empire, and Robert P. Skinner, in the name of the United States of America, have agreed and stipulated that which follows:


The citizens of the two Powers, like the citizens of other countries, shall be able freely to travel and to trans- act business throughout the extent of the territories of the two contracting Powers, while respecting the usages and submitting themselves to the tribunals of the countries in which they may be located.


In order to facilitate commercial relations, the two Governments shall assure, throughout the extent of their respective territories, the security of those engaged in business therein and of their property. 


The two contracting Governments shall reciprocally grant to all citizens of the United States of America and to the citizens of Ethiopia all the advantages which they shall accord to other Powers in respect to Customs duties, imposts, and jurisdiction.


Throughout the extent of the Ethiopian Empire the citizens of the United States of America shall have the use of the telegraphs, posts, and all other means of transportation upon the same terms as the citizens of other Powers.


In order to perpetuate and strengthen the friendly relations which exist between Ethiopia and the United States of America, the two Governments agree to receive reciprocally representatives acceptable to the two Governments. These representatives shall not, however, be maintained at their posts unless they are agreeable to the receiving Power; in such cases they shall be replaced.


The duration of the present treaty shall be ten years. It is understood that at the expiration of these ten years the two Governments shall be able to modify all or any part of this treaty. The. Government which shall request at that time the modification shall make its proposal to the other Government one year before the expiration of the treaty.


The present treaty shall take effect, if ratified by the Government of the United States, and if this ratification shall be notified to His Majesty Menelik II., King of Kings of Ethiopia, within the period of one year. His Majesty Menelik II., King of Kings of Ethiopia, in the name of his Empire, and Robert P. Skinner, in virtue of his full powers, in the name of the United States of America, have signed the present treaty, written. in double text, Amharic and French, and in identical terms.

Done at Addis-Ababa this seventeenth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-six, in the year of grace (corresponding to December 27, 1903).

[Seal of MENELIK II.] 

And whereas it is provided by the said treaty that it shall take effect' if ratified by the Government of the United States of America, and 'if this ratification shall be notified to His Majesty King Menelik II., King of Kings of Ethiopia, within the period of one year';

And whereas the said treaty has been duly ratified on the part of the United States of America, and notification of such ratification was given to His Majesty Menelik II., King of Kings of Ethiopia, on the second day of August, one thousand nine hundred and four; 

Now, therefore, be it known that I, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, have caused the said treaty to be made public, to the end that the same and every article and clause thereof may be observed and fulfilled with good faith by the United States and the citizens thereof. 

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington this thirtieth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and twenty-ninth. 


Acting-Secretary of State.

Note: The treaty was written in French and Amharic. The English is a translation.

                    Last update: October 10, 2011