By George Mesthos
In 1819, American diplomacy in Florence got off to a rough start. U.S. Consul Thomas Appleton at Livorno designated Florentine Giacomo “James” Ombrosi to represent the United States interests in the capital of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany; however, the Grand Duke refused to recognize his credentials. Ombrosi improvised as a “Black Market Consul,” living outside the medieval walls and setting up shop at a cafe to provide services. In 1823, U.S. President James Monroe named Ombrosi as consul, but it was not until Tuscany became part of the nascent Kingdom of Italy in 1860 that the host government formally recognized a U.S. Consul General in Florence.
Many aspects of those early consuls’ work are familiar today. They shepherded American authors and artists, defended U.S. commercial interests and carried out citizen services like jail and hospital visits. Other aspects, like running guns to revolutionaries in Greece, are a thing of the past.
Over two centuries in Florence, the consulate general has witnessed the birth of modern Italy, Florence’s brief tenure as its capital, two world wars, the Cold War and the rapid growth of the presence of American investors and students. The millions of personal ties forged over 200 years together has strengthened one of America’s most enduring bilateral relationships.
To celebrate the bicentennial of this bilateral relationship, ConGen Florence took a decidedly 21st century approach. Using the hashtags #Insieme200 or #Together200, consulate staff used social media to link contemporary stories of partnership to many historical examples of the shared U.S.-Florence experience.
The hashtag is allowing ConGen Florence to collect a treasure trove of digitized images and stories of collaboration between American, Italian and Sammarinese then and now. These stories are being told by artists and abolitionists, Buffalo Soldiers and Monuments Men, tourists, students and even former presidents.
To view the stories, visit the hashtags #Insieme200 or #Together200 on Facebook and Twitter.
George Mesthos is vice consul at Consulate General Florence.