For many, the term “diplomatic courier” might conjure up Hollywood images of Tyrone Power or Cesar Romero adventuring through foreign lands delivering the U.S. government’s most important communiques. But the family of the first diplomatic courier shared a piece of the real story behind the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Courier Service when they presented a treasure trove of historic documents and artifacts to Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) officials during a press conference at the DSS Denver Resident Office on April 11.
The story of the documents and their journey through history began in 1918 when General John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing handpicked U.S. Army couriers, known as “the Silver Greyhounds,” as his wartime messengers. They soon took on a diplomatic role in Paris, when they were formally assigned to the U.S. Commission to Negotiate Peace at the end of World War I. The group, created and led by Major Amos J. Peaslee, was tasked with reopening diplomatic routes to U.S. embassies and diplomatic posts across post-war Europe and into Bolshevik Russia. The new diplomatic courier service was integral to the peace process leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
“Through an unexpected but fortunate bit of timing, the descendants of Major Peaslee recently began searching out a permanent home for his personal archive of documents and artifacts,” said Director of the Diplomatic Couriers Eddie Salazar, who spoke during a press conference where the Peaslee personal collection was displayed. “We connected with Robin Peaslee Dougall, the grandson of Major Peaslee, who was housing the collection in the garage of his Colorado Springs townhouse, and then we flew to Denver to publicly announce this important donation and to display several pieces from the collection.”
“The Peaslee collection had quite a journey during the past hundred years,” Salazar said. “It originated in Paris and across Europe a century ago, found its way to the Peaslee family estate in East Greenwich, New Jersey, then to a basement in Seattle, Washington, and finally to Colorado Springs.”
After the news conference, the collection was shipped via U.S. diplomatic courier to the U.S. Department of State headquarters in Washington, D.C., where it will find its permanent home at the U.S. Department of State Diplomacy Center.
“Documents from his time attest to the adventurous life a diplomatic courier lived in those days,” Salazar said, “a spirit of adventure and ingenuity that lives on in today’s Diplomatic Courier Service.”
Among the hundreds of photos, files, personal papers, and artifacts in the collection were Major Peaslee’s personal, engraved copy of the Treaty of Versailles, his original diplomatic passport (which, when unfolded, is twice the size of a modern 8½ x11 sheet of paper), and a silver-headed riding crop.
The riding crop has its own story. War records indicate that the Silver Greyhounds, led by Major Peaslee, was the first group of Allies to enter the city of Metz literally minutes after the German military withdrew. Although on a Sunday, when the town was usually closed for business, the townspeople were so pleased to see Americans, they opened their local shops in a gesture of welcome. Major Peaslee purchased the silver-headed riding crop, which he later had engraved, “November 17, 1918,” the date the couriers entered Metz.
In February 1919, under the mantras, “never hesitate” and “look sufficiently important,” Peaslee, tossed that same silver-headed riding crop -- along with his coat and hat -- to an official guarding the door to the room in the Elysée Palace, the residence of the president of France, where U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was scheduled to read and discuss the Covenant of the League of Nations with a small group of international delegates. Although he was not officially cleared for admittance, “Without waiting for [the official’s] reaction, I swept through the door and was in the council chamber,” said Peaslee in Three Wars with Germany, a book he co-authored with Admiral Sir W. Reginald Hall.
Today, the Diplomatic Courier Service has grown from the small group of men in Paris led by Major Peaslee, to a diverse, 21st century organization operating out of ten global hubs and moving millions of pounds of classified material around the world each year.
Interested in learning more about Major Peaslee and the proud history of the Diplomatic Courier Service? Learn more.
About the Author: Barbara Gleason serves in the Diplomatic Security Service's Office of Public Affairs.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.