The American Colony in Jerusalem, 1870-2006

Detail from a formal group portrait of men, women and children
[Detail] American Colony members at the Tomb of the Kings, May 24, 1901.
About this image


This presentation features selected documents from the American Colony in Jerusalem Collection. The full collection in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress represents well over 10,000 items stemming from the history of the American Colony, a non-denominational utopian Christian community founded by a small group of American expatriates in Ottoman Palestine in 1881.

The physical collection focuses on the personal and business life of the colony from the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, through World War I and the British Mandate, and into the formation of the state of Israel.  It includes draft manuscripts, letters, postcards, telegrams, diaries or journals, scrapbooks, printed materials, photographs, hand-drawn maps and ephemera. Most collection items are in English, with some material in Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, and Swedish.

Items in the collection begin in 1786 and date to 2006. The bulk of the materials date from 1870 to 1968.  Included are items related to the leadership of the colony by members of the Spafford, Vester, and Whiting families.  There is information as well pertaining to the colony’s Swedish members and other residents, as well as neighbors, friends, diplomats, dignitaries, associates in Jerusalem and sponsors in the United States.

Documented are the colony’s business, educational, and philanthropic enterprises, including the American Colony Photo Department, the Vester and Co.–American Colony Store, the American Colony Nurses, the American Colony School of Handicrafts, the Christian Herald Orphanage, and the Spafford Baby Home. American Colony leader Bertha Vester’s diaries, written from home in Palestine and during trips to the United States between 1922 and her death in 1968, record personal life in the Vester family, internal politics of the American Colony, and Vester’s first-hand views of Turkish, Arab, Jewish, and British colonial society and modern world events.

The materials in the collection were initially retained by Bertha Vester in connection with her writing of the memoir Our Jerusalem, and later by her daughter-in-law Valentine Vester and others at the American Colony Hotel. The collection is a gift to the Library of Congress from the board of directors of the American Colony of Jerusalem, Ltd., which is made up of descendants of the early colonists.


American Colony Chronology


A Community in Jerusalem