By Kathryn Hammond
Portugal’s Azores islands, an archipelago in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, celebrates the 225th anniversary as the oldest continually operating U.S. consulate in the world, July 7. Opened in 1795 on two of the Azores’ nine islands—Faial and São Miguel—President George Washington commissioned John Street as the Azores’ first consul. Given its geo-strategic location in the North Atlantic—nearly 1,000 miles from Lisbon and 2,500 miles from the east coast of the United States—the consuls in the Azores have experienced a front-row seat in world history.
In its earliest years, the consulate’s officers helped secure cargo of wrecked or sunk American vessels and provided aid to destitute American seamen. During the Civil War, the consulate dispatched information about Confederate ships in Azorean waters, including the steamer CSS Alabama, which had sunk and plundered American whaling ships. During World Wars I and II, American military bases were established on the islands.
In 1899, all passengers arriving to the Azores were subject to a strict quarantine due to the bubonic plague outbreak in Europe. Similarly in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a quarantine was in place once again.
Currently the U.S. is represented on the island of São Miguel in the capital of Ponta Delgada. A consul who also serves as principal officer and three locally-employed staff—with an average tenure of 29 years—work at the consulate.
Records from the early 20th century reveal a consulate involved with matters familiar to today’s consular service—the status of naturalized American citizens born in the Azores, their children, and migration from the Azores to the United States. As Consulate Azores celebrates their rich historic ties, they also look forward to the continued friendship with the people of the Azores.
Kathryn Hammond is a supervisory special agent with the Diplomatic Security Service and the principal officer in Ponta Delgada.