At the outbreak of World War I, U.S. Diplomat William H. Hunt was serving as the U.S. Consul in St. Etienne, France.
Hunt was born a slave in Tennessee in 1863. He claimed to have been born on June 29, 1869, so he could get into school at the age of twenty-six posing as a twenty-year-old, this was a lie he took to his grave. Although June 29 might have been his actual day of birth, the year 1869 has been disproved by historians.
Hunt was of mixed race and very fair skin. His father, William B. Hunt, was a white slave owner who fathered numerous children with different slave women. Hunt’s mother, Sophia Hunt, one of his father’s slaves, was a mulatto and had a white grandfather.
At the end of the Civil War, Hunt’s mother relocated the family to Nashville, Tennessee, where he attended McKee School and later Bellevue Academy until he had to get a job to help provide for the family.
Hunt found work as a porter, jockey, and handyman, but later decided to go back to school. He attended Lawrence Academy where he was the first African American student. He graduated four years later in 1894 and enrolled in Williams College in western Massachusetts in the fall of the same year. He did not complete his studies due to what he alleged to be racial discrimination. He later began working for the Price McCormick Company as a clerk in New York City, NY. During this time, he met Ida Alexander Gibbs, the daughter of Mifflin Wistar Gibbs. The two married on April 12, 1904.
Hunt formed a friendship with Mifflin Gibbs, and in 1897 when Gibbs was appointed to be the U.S. Consul in Antananarivo, Madagascar, by President William McKinley, he hired Hunt to be his clerk and assistant in 1898. Hunt later became vice Consul in May 1899 and was chosen by President Theodore Roosevelt to succeed Mifflin Gibbs as U.S. consul in Antananarivo in August of 1901. In November of 1906, Hunt became the U.S. consul in St. Etienne, France in 1906 and served in that position until 1927 when the office was officially closed.