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EVERETT A. COLSON, ADVISOR to EMPEROR HAILE SELASSIE, ETHIOPIA

The cover had a blue registration label for SYDNEY—C/ N.S.W. and the stamps consisted of an orange ½d, a green 1d and a red-brown KGV Head stamps, as well as the green 3d airmail stamp. They were postmarked by a REGISTERED/ B 14 MR 33/ SYDNEY N.S.W. The cover was addressed to E.A. Colson Esq, Box 215, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Abyssinia) (Figure 1).

The reverse had 4 postmarks, the second from the left was the same dated Registered Sydney as on the front, the top right postmark was a transit REGISTERED/ 16 MAR 33 12-30PM/ STH AUSTRALIA, and immediately below was a transit ADEN/ REG./ 5 APR 33 with an arrival postmark on the left which was partially illegible ( - )/ 7/ IV 1933/ ADDIS ABABA (Figure 2).

In spite of the frequent mention of Everett Andrew Colson in Time Magazine and in Google Books on Ethiopia, it was surprisingly difficult to get a coherent history about him. What follows is a ‘cobbled’ account of this white American diplomat who was respected by Emperor Haile Selassie and revered by the Ethiopian people. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette of September 3, 1935 headlined ‘Yankee Adviser at Selassie’s Elbow, Mystery Figure in Ethiopian Policy’ and continues: "Seated at the elbow of Haile Selassie, ruler of the Ethiopians, as he strives desperately to keep his kingdom from being plunged into bloody conflict with Italy, is a native of [Warren,] Maine Yankee who smiles often but never tells a joke. He is Everett Andrew Colson. Public accountant, lawyer, war department employee and now financial advisor to Ethiopia."

"Records at the state and war departments here (in Washington D.C.), tell little of the short, sturdy [elsewhere he is described as tall and thin, which is validated in Figure 4] blue eyed New Englander who almost over night has become a glamorous and mysterious figure in the tense African situation. He entered Government service from Massachusetts.  A highly skilled public accountant, Colson in 1920 was shunted to Haiti where he became deputy general and acting receiver general for the American Government. Ten years later as Colson was returning to United States, Ethiopia sent a mission here in search of a financial adviser. The state department was asked to submit the names of likely candidates. It did, and on this list was Colson’s name. He has been in Ethiopia ever since". [The Ethiopians insisted on a qualified black man who was an international financial expert for the job, but Washington stated that Colson was the best man for the position, which was born out. Colson became Haile Selassie’s confidant and friend.]

"Messages from abroad describing the secret activities of the British promoter preceding the ceding of a chunk of the Ethiopian Kingdom to Anglo-American Oil interests, make no mention of Colson. But friends here privately profess to see his hand in the deal. Some go even further and believe he engineered it. Colson is about 55 [but Time Magazine stated that he died at 50]. He speaks French and Spanish fluently." Two pictures of Colson, the first taken from the newspaper, and the second (as shown by the red arrow) in a group of men, standing behind the seated Emperor Haile Selassie, are seen in Figures 3 and 4.

Between 1928 and his coronation as Emperor late in 1930, Haile Selassie made a series of crucial decisions designed to fortify the Monarchy. He took steps to introduce a written constitution, to recruit instructors for the army from Europe’s smaller states, and to reform the empire’s finances. Fiscal reform was a priority. In 1930 the Emperor estimated that taxes were worth between 40 and 50 million Ethiopian silver dollars, but only one third were collected in cash. The exchange rate had fallen by a third since the beginning of 1929 and by 1932 the value of the silver dollar in US dollars was half what it was in the 1920s. In 1931 exports earned half that of 1928. The extravagance of the Coronation and the high salaries promised to the foreign advisors threw the government into dire crisis.

Meanwhile the Emperor had recruited Everett Colson who remained until 1936. Colson was determined to free the Ethiopian Government .from the rigid rates of duties described by the Franco-Ethiopian Klobukowski treaty of 1908; in 1931 he secured the introduction of excise taxes which weighed most heavily on imported luxuries. Colson also sought to deprive foreign business of European consular jurisdiction. Under his guidance, a special finance committee undertook reform of the currency and drafted a code for the mixed court (the meaning of "mixed" not defined). Colson advised this committee how to force the railway company to scale down discriminatory freight rates, especially on imported petrol and to pay fully the Ethiopian Government’s annual dues; he also proposed a variety of other self-financing schemes. Colson lived with his wife in Addis Ababa in a bungalow with a sizzling tin roof. His payment at the time of his hiring was $9,000 per year. A picture of Haile Selassie is seen in Figure 5.

The Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-36), was an armed conflict that resulted in Ethiopia's subjection to Italian rule. The war demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations when League decisions were not supported by the great powers. Although Colson’s health had deteriorated from heart disease, he acted as the sole-named Ethiopian diplomatic delegate at the 17th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the League of Nations held from September 21 until October 10, 1936, and he appealed against the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy. He became ill in Europe and returned to the U.S.A. where he died on February 24, 1937 at the George Washington Hospital, Washington D.C..

A map of Ethiopia in 1908 after the first Italo-Ethiopian war shows the area of influence of Italy on Ethiopia in the north and south. Aden (a transit postmark on the reverse of the cover, see Figure 2) is across a short stretch of water in Yemen (Figure 6).

 

Addendum (December 2009):  I regard this paper as a work in progress, for Colson deserves a better telling of his remarkable service whilst in the employ of the USA Government.  I was fortunate in receiving a reply to my email requesting information about Colson in his early years.  I received a reply from Jamie Kingman-Rice, Public Service Librarian, Maine Historical Society:  "According to the Warren Maine Vital Records, ....the only Everett listed is an Everett A. (Colson)...born 27 Feb 1885 child of David Colson.....he is living with his uncle Everett A. Andews in 1900, (with) no indication of where his parents are.

I would be delighted to receive further information concerning Everett Colson's short career.

Within a day, Jamie Kingman-Rice came up with the following, found at Arthur Douglas Stover's (2006) Eminent Mainers: Succint Biographies of Thousands of Amazing Mainers etc. as shown in Figure 7.

 
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