The American Colony in Jerusalem, 1870-2006

American Colony in Jerusalem Timeline 1828-1980


1873, Nov. 22 - Dec. 1

While progressing across the Atlantic ocean in the middle of the night, the luxury steamer Ville du Havre is mortally damaged in a shocking collision with another vessel, the Loch Earn, under starlit skies. The Spafford party and a group of ministers who befriended them on the ship are among the passengers who gather on deck as the Ville du Havre is sinking. After life boats prove too few or unuseable, the majority of those aboard the vessel die in the disaster. The four Spafford girls, their governess, and their family friends are lost. Anna Spafford is among those rescued from frigid water. In all, some 232 perish in the shipwreck.  Anna is among the 87 who survive, 60 of whom are officers or crew. She and other survivors are transported to safety aboard a passing cargo ship, the Trimountain.  Upon reaching shore in Cardiff, Wales, Anna  telegraphs the tragic news to her husband in Chicago that she among their traveling party is “saved alone.”

circa 1873       

Horatio Gates Spafford writes the lyrics for the popular hymn of faith and consolation, “It Is Well with My Soul.”

circa 1874

At Dwight L. Moody’s encouragement, and as an andedote to grief, Anna Spafford volunteers to do anti-vice work among Chicago’s poor as a volunteer with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

1876, November 16                            

The Spaffords begin their family anew. A son, Horatio Spafford, is born at Lake View. The boy will die of scarlet fever at home,  Feb. 11, 1880.

“It is Well With My Soul,” with music by P. P. Bliss, is copyrighted in 1876. It is first sung at Farwell Hall, Chicago, in November.


Horatio Gates Spafford publishes Waiting for the Morning and Other Poems in Chicago, including the lyrics to “It is Well With My Soul”.

1879, Mar. 24 

Birth of the Spaffords' daughter Bertha Spafford in Illinois (d. 1968). In her adulthood Bertha Spafford (Vester) will assume leadership of the American Colony in Jerusalem and become involved in social service work with women and girls in Jerusalem.


The Spaffords and friends Mary (Lingle) Whiting (1850-1931) and John C. Whiting (d. 1886) join others in splitting off from their Fullerton Avenue Presbyterian Church congregation. They begin to hold prayer meetings in Lake View. Their group of faithful stress the mercy of God and optimism in religious practice. They believe, with many others of their era, that the Second Coming of Christ is nigh. They are popularly dubbed “Overcomers.”

1881, Jan. 18  

Birth of the Spaffords' seventh and last natural-born child, a daughter, Grace Spafford in Illinois (d. 1964). Grace Spafford will travel to Palestine with her parents as an infant and grow up in the American Colony in Jerusalem. She will spend her lifetime as a primary member of the colony and die in Jerusalem. She works in her youth as a teacher, volunteer, and nurse.


Birth of Hol Lars Larsson (Lewis Larsson) in Sweden (d. 1958). While an American Colony member Larsson will become a principal photographer of the Middle East.  He served for many years as the Swedish Consul in Jerusalem.


Two shipsdescriptive record icon enlarge image icon The sinking of the steamship Ville du Havre.  Photographic copy print of lithograph. New York: Currier & Ives, ca. 1873. American Colony in Jerusalem Collection, Manuscript Division, LOC

Manuscript pagedescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Draft manuscript of hymn “How Long, O Lord!” by Horatio Gates Spafford. American Colony in Jerusalem Collection, Manuscript Division, LOC

Grace and Bertha Spafforddescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Sisters Grace and Bertha Spafford, Jerusalem, 1880s.  Image from portraits of the Whiting and Spafford families and other members of the American Colony (Jerusalem) photograph album (page 6, no. 6). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, DIG-ppmsca-18413-0006

Group portrait of a wedding partydescriptive record icon enlarge image icon Wedding of Edith and Lewis Larsson, American Colony, Jerusalem, 1912. G. Eric & Edith Matson Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC, LC-DIG-matpc-23227