Sunday, August 2, 2015

The "American Colony" in the Holy Land in 1866, "Shamefully Humbugged by their Prophet"

Forthcoming publication
The second half of the 19th century saw many missionaries, adventurers and tourists from the United States visiting the Holy Land. They were aided by the invention of steam engine ships and the new invention of photography that provided pictures of the Holy Land that spurred their interests.

Photograph of the colony founder, George
Jones Adams, c. 1841 (Library of Congress)

One eccentric missionary was George Jones Adams of Maine who attempted to establish an "American Colony" in Jaffa.  He failed miserably, even at one point appealing to American government officials and the Governor of Maine for assistance.

Two contemporary writers described Adams and his colony.  One was an extraordinary writer and actress from Jerusalem named Lydia Mamreoff von Finkelstein Mountford (1855-1917) whose clippings we discovered in a New Zealand archives.

The other writer was an American humorist named Mark Twain.  He met some of the colony's survivors on his return from his "Innocents Abroad" voyage in 1867 and described their travails.

According to von Finkelstein -

Lydia Mamreoff von Finkelstein (Flickr,
public domain)

In the year 1866 a large American colony came out, and settled in Jaffa. It was called the American Adams colony. The colonists held their estate under great disadvantages. Mr Adams, either through design or in ignorance of the laws, possessed no title deeds; neither were the colonists, who purchased lots, provided with the necessary documents — all holding the property under bills of sale and purchase, whose legality and validity could have been questioned at any moment. Consequently interested parties took advantage of their position, and the best and the largest portion of the land they had paid for was lost, and all the trees out of a fruit plantation cut down, rooted up, and carried away because they whose duty it was to protect the colonists against such legalised frauds, either from interested motives or through gross negligence, omitted to secure for the purchasers the title deeds, which documents also were only rendered legal under certain conditions.

The American Colony encampment on the sea shore near Jaffa
(with permission of the Maine Historical Society)

Foreigners, or their agents, should be thoroughly acquainted with what perhaps at the first may seem to be the minor details of the laws of purchase and tenure before they buy real estate in Syria or Palestine ; otherwise they run a risk of paying the price many times over in bribes and lawsuits to substantiate their claims. The several American colonies proved failures through a number of causes, jealousies of and ill-will towards such enterprises existing in many quarters.

The American Colony, picture courtesy of the Library of Congress
First, the Ottoman Government never was, nor is it at the present day [1888], capable of appreciating the motives of foreigners in colonisation, and cannot see, any reason, beyond a political one, for the settlement of Europeans or Americans in the country. Secondly, besides having in the local authorities a positively hostile government to struggle against, the colonists received no proper support from their consular representatives, a circumstance perfectly well known to the native and other residents, who were not slow to avail themselves of the opportunities thus afforded them, not only to encroach on the rights of the colonists, but to overreach and wrong them in all transactions, great or small. Thirdly, the difficulties of colonists have always been increased by the jealousies of the Latin Convents....  Aroha News (New Zealand), October 24, 1888, "Palestine Fifty Years Ago and Palestine Today." 

Mark Twain, 1867 (Library of Congress,
Photo taken by Abdullah Frères in

According to Mark Twain --

...But I am forgetting the Jaffa Colonists. At Jaffa we had taken on board some forty members of a very celebrated community. They were male and female; babies, young boys and young girls; young married people, and some who had passed a shade beyond the prime of life. I refer to the "Adams Jaffa Colony." Others had deserted before. We left in Jaffa Mr. Adams, his wife, and fifteen unfortunates who not only had no money but did not know where to turn or whither to go. Such was the statement made to us.

Our forty were miserable enough in the first place, and they lay about the decks seasick all the voyage, which about completed their misery, I take it. However, one or two young men remained upright, and by constant persecution we wormed out of them some little information. They gave it reluctantly and in a very fragmentary condition, for, having been shamefully humbugged by their prophet, they felt humiliated and unhappy. In such circumstances people do not like to talk....Innocents Abroad, Chapter 57.

1 comment:

  1. Let's not forget the 1858 Outrage incident ( when Americans were killed, beaten and two married women brutally raped. By Arabs.