Jefferson Caffery

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Jefferson Caffery (December 1, 1886 – April 13, 1974) was a distinguished American diplomat. He served as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador (1926–1928), Colombia (1928–1933), Cuba (1934–1937), Brazil (1937–1944), France (1944–1949), and Egypt (1949–1955).


Caffery launched his career of international diplomacy in 1911 when he entered the Foreign Service as second secretary of the legation in Caracas in 1911 during the William Howard Taft administration.

He traveled to Iran (then named Persia) in 1916, to Paris after World War I with President Wilson’s peacemakers, then to Washington, D.C., to arrange details for visits by the King of Belgium and the Prince of Wales. In 1920, he was named second-in-command at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid. In 1933, Caffery briefly served as assistant secretary of state under Cordell Hull. Throughout his career he also had worked in lower-ranking diplomatic posts in Belgium, Germany, Greece, Japan, Persia, Sweden, and Venezuela.

As the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Jefferson was heavily involved in the Banana Massacre that occurred in 1928 in the small, coastal town of Ciénaga. Tired of terrible working conditions and very little wages (workers were paid in United Fruit Company store credit), banana farmers went on strike in protest. In order to protect the interests of the United Fruit Company, Caffery reported to U.S. Secretary of State Frank Billings Kellogg that leaders of the strike would be immediately arrested and sent to prison in nearby Cartagena. Martial law was declared soon after and an unknown number of workers and their families were shot by a firing squad in the town square.[1]

In 1934, while ambassador to Cuba, four assailants attempted to assassinate Caffery in front of his home in Havana. The assailants waited outside of his residence for his daily departure to his yacht club. One assailant was killed by a bodyguard, the others escaped. Caffery was not hurt. The event was reported on the front page of the New Orleans Times Picayune, dated May 28, 1934.

In total, he worked 43 years in foreign service under eight U.S. presidents: Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, F. D. Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower.

He was awarded the Foreign Service Cup in 1971 by his fellow Foreign Service officers. He held several honorary degrees and decorations, including the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, in 1954. He received the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor from the president of France in 1949 and the Order of the Cordon of the Republic from the president of Egypt in 1955.

Personal life[edit]

Caffery was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, to Charles Duval Caffery and Mary Catherine (Parkerson) Caffery. He was privately educated in primary and secondary school. He was a member of the first graduating class of Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute, which later became the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He also graduated with a bachelor's degree from Tulane University in 1906. He was admitted to the Louisiana bar in 1909.

Caffery married Gertrude McCarthy of Evansville, Indiana, in 1937 while in Rio de Janeiro. They had no children. He retired with his wife in 1955 to reside in Rome, where he was the honorary private chamberlain to Popes Pius XII, Pope John XXIII, and Paul VI. He returned to Lafayette in 1973, shortly before Mrs. Caffery's death.

The Cafferys are buried behind St. John’s Cathedral in Lafayette. Ambassador Caffery was also bestowed a knighthood in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) by the Grand Master of that Order, for his outstanding service to the Catholic Church.

Caffery was the cousin of U.S. Senator Donelson Caffery and U.S. Representative Patrick Caffery

Posthumous recognition[edit]

A portion of Louisiana Highway 3073 in Lafayette is named the "Ambassador Caffery Parkway" in his memory. In 2000, Caffery was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Koeppel, D. (n.d.). Banana : The fate of the fruit that changed the world. New York: Hudson Street Press.
  2. ^ "Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame". Archived from the original on July 3, 2009. Retrieved August 22, 2009. 

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Montgomery Schuyler, Jr.
U.S. Minister to El Salvador
20 July 1926–22 July 1928
Succeeded by
Warren D. Robbins
Preceded by
Samuel H. Piles
United States Minister to Colombia
28 November 1928–20 May 1933
Succeeded by
Sheldon Whitehouse
Preceded by
Sumner Welles
United States Ambassador to Cuba
Succeeded by
J. Butler Wright
Preceded by
Hugh S. Gibson
United States Ambassador to Brazil
17 August 1937–17 September 1944
Succeeded by
Adolf A. Berle, Jr.
Preceded by
William D. Leahy (to 1942)
United States Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
David K. E. Bruce
Preceded by
Stanton Griffis
United States Ambassador to Egypt
Succeeded by
Henry A. Byroade