The American Colony in Jerusalem, 1870-2006


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A Community in Jerusalem


A group of men and women in a courtyard
descriptive record icon enlarge image icon In the American Colony main house courtyard. Included standing are (from middle to right), Jacob Eliahu Spafford, Anna Spafford, William Rudy and Elijah Meyers. Seated are Otis Page and Mary E. Whiting. American Colony in Jerusalem virtual exhibition, LOC

The travelers from America took up residence in a house on the Old City wall, located in the Muslim Quarter, between Herod’s Gate and Damascus Gate. Among them were regulars from the house meetings at the Spafford’s home in Lake View. There was Mary and John C. Whiting, and their small daughter Ruth; Amelia “Elizabeth” Gould, a well-to-do widow; William Rudy, a business man who would manage the group’s finances; Rob Lawrence, Horatio’s adored nephew, and Margaret “Maggie” Lee, Horatio’s sister, who was given to prophetic visions. Otis and Lizzie Page brought their daughter Flora, and the children were cared for by baby nurse Annie Aiken.

The Spaffords braved the trip with their small daughters Bertha and Grace, the surviving two out of the three children born to them after the shipwreck (young Horatio, their only natural-born son, died of illness the year before their departure). The two Spafford girls who came to the Holy Land with their parents grew to adulthood and spent their long lives as residents of the colony in Jerusalem. Bertha would become a major chronicler of colony activities. In the first year in Ottoman Palestine a baby boy, John D. Whiting, was born to the Whitings. He grew up among the other young people of the colony and in 1909, he married Grace Spafford. Whiting worked closely with his sister-in-law Bertha Spafford and her husband Frederick Vester as a second-generation leader in the colony. In the fledgling years of the colony, Anna and Horatio Gates Spafford also adopted a local young man, Jacob Eliahu (Spafford). Talented and multi-lingual, he was the son of Sephardic Jews from Turkey. The Spaffords met him through the London Jews Society. With his many gifts, Jacob Spafford would prove an invaluable member of the colony until his death decades later.

Group portrait          Portrait of three men
descriptive record icon enlarge image icon Left: Bedouin, 1902 (group of American Colony young people with Bedouin visitors to the colony). Image from members and activities of the American Colony (Jerusalem) photograph album (page 31, no. 112). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC.  LC-DIG-ppmsca-15830-00112
descriptive record icon enlarge image icon Right: John Whiting, Hussein al-Husseini and Ismail al-Husseini, [ca. 1910?]. Image from members and activities of the American Colony (Jerusalem) photograph album (page 78, no. 310). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division, LOC. LC-DIG-ppmsca-15830-00322

In all the original group of religious pilgrims numbered eighteen men, women, and children. They took up housekeeping and lived and worshiped cooperatively, in a fraternal mode they felt mirrored the early apostles. Their communalism, the economic sharing and  celibacy they soon adopted, was similar in Christian democratic principles to practices in other nineteenth-century religious utopias. They pooled their financial resources, shared their meals, and distributed household duties among themselves according to abilities. Without actively seeking converts, they reached out to neighbors in the Jerusalem community and offered generous hospitality at their table. Their lively musical prayer and song sessions soon became popular attractions for locals as well as for Christian visitors to Jerusalem.

Under the Spaffords’s leadership, colony members fostered interfaith friendships, visited the bedsides of the sick, and provided succor to the needy. Colony members studied Arabic, and in their first years in Ottoman Palestine, successfully forged social relationships with officials of the Turkish regime, with Muslim and Christian Arabs and Jews, business men, educators, and community leaders, as well as Bedouin groups. Palestinians came to work in the household, and individuals whose families were originally from India, Romania, Germany, Egypt, and Great Britain joined their enterprise. The colonists also founded a school for children and worked in the community as teachers in Jewish and Arab schools.

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