Robert Peet Skinner

Journey to Abyssinia: The Hidden Empire, Page 1

News photo “Ambassador to Greece Arrives on the S.S. Leviathan”

Consul Robert Peet Skinner of Massillon shown here in his later years.
Collection of the Massillon Museum
(BC 2520.1)

Official portrait of King Menelik II

Abyssinians identified themselves not as “Negros” but Semitic or Middle Eastern peoples, tracing their lineage all the way back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Menelik himself was a decedent of the royal blood line of Solomon.

Collection of the Massillon Museum
Gift of Mrs. Horatio W. Wales (05.12.41)

Part 1: Mr. Skinner

This summer I had the pleasure of digitally converting the scrapbooks that documented Skinner’s extraordinary life that led him from the deserts of Africa to the sun-soaked islands of Greece. This scanning project was supported in part by an award from the Ohio Historical Records Advisory Board, through funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission’s (NHPRC), National Archives and Records Administration. Now the project is completed: every photograph taken and stored saved from malicious mildew and the stains of time. However, it did not end without Mr. Skinner leaving a lasting impression on me. Mr. Skinner was a man of faith and conviction. He cared deeply for his family and hometown of Massillon. I was inspired by his journeys and philosophy to create this exhibit honoring him and his hard work. This exhibit chronicles the story of Skinner’s biggest contribution to the history of the United States and the world. It would take almost a decade for his idea to bear fruit but as you will see his perseverance and tenacity paid off.

Robert Peet Skinner was born in Massillon, Ohio in 1866.  At an early age, he took an interest in a then lawyer from the neighboring city of Canton, William McKinley (later president).  Skinner thought very highly of McKinley and even predicted he would become president someday.  At the age of 19, Skinner became the owner and editor of The Independent, a local newspaper.  It was there that he would follow McKinley’s exploits that eventually lead to the White House in 1896.  Soon after the election, Skinner married Helen Wales, a member of a prominent Massillon family.  Due to the Wales family’s connections, President McKinley invited Skinner and his new wife to the White House for dinner.  During their visit, the President offered Skinner a wedding present, a commission as American Consul to Marseilles, France and Minister to the Three Baltic Republics.

This was the springboard to Skinner’s career in the foreign service.  As Consul, he oversaw the wellbeing of American citizens in France.  However, Marseilles was also the epicenter of French colonial governance and as a consequence he had a microscope into the world of European trade.  It didn’t take long for the nation of Abyssinia to catch Skinner’s eye.

Abyssinia, modern-day Ethiopia, was a rich with natural resources.  Precious metals and oil lay beneath its soil, while the land itself was among the most fertile on the continent.  Skinner realized the potential for American trade and that it needed to be facilitated quickly, as France was currently vying for control and Italy was licking its wounds after a failed hostile takeover of the region.

Page 2: Photos

Page 3: Land of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah

Page 4: Photos

Page 5: Making a Treaty with Menelik

Page 6: Photos

Page 7: Conclusion

Additional resources:
View Skinner's scrapbooks online!

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