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Collection American Colony in Jerusalem, 1870 to 2006

About this Collection

The papers of the American Colony in Jerusalem, a non-denominational utopian Christian community, consist of approximately 16,600 items, spanning the years 1786-2007, of which about three-fourths of the materials (50,288 images) have been digitized and presented on this site. The American Colony was founded in 1881 by a small group of American expatriates and their associates in Ottoman Palestine. The collective community expanded greatly in numbers in 1896 with an influx of Swedish millennialist migrants and members of Arab Christian and other heritage backgrounds. It operated businesses, provided social welfare services during World War I, and continued to thrive and contribute to the civic life of Jerusalem throughout the British Mandate period. The collection was donated to the Library of Congress between 2004 and 2009 by the board of directors of the American Colony of Jerusalem, Ltd., which is made up of American, British, and Swedish descendants of the early members.

Most of the manuscripts date from 1870 to 1968. They were initially assembled by colony member Bertha Spafford Vester, daughter of American Colony founders Horatio Gates Spafford and Anna T. Spafford, while writing her memoir Our Jerusalem (1950), and later by her daughter-in-law Valentine Vester and others at the American Colony Hotel.

Collection items include draft manuscripts, letters, postcards, telegrams, diaries or journals, scrapbooks, newslippings, printed materials, photographs, hand-drawn maps and ephemera. Most items are in English, with some materials in Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, and Swedish.

The collection content reflects the activities of many members and leaders of the American Colony across generations and through decades of political changes in the Middle East, with emphasis on the Ottoman and British Mandate periods and continuing after the 1948 creation of the state of Israel. Highlighted is the leadership by members of the Spafford, Vester, and Whiting families. The collection also documents the activities of many others and their interactions with those in the larger community and region, including information pertaining to the colony’s Swedish members and other residents and employees, as well as neighbors, friends, diplomats, dignitaries, educators, governmental and religious leaders, and associates in Jerusalem and internationally.

Among the businesses, social services, and collectives operated by the American Colony, the materials document the American Colony Photo Department, Vester & Company American Colony store, American Colony Nurses, American Colony School of Handicrafts, Anna Spafford Baby Home (now the Spafford Children’s Center), Christian Herald Orphanage, and other enterprises operated in Jerusalem and the United States under colony auspices. The collection provides information about international visitors to the colony and changes in colony membership and operations over time. It charts the colony’s role in the arts, business, commercial, educational, philanthropic, social, religious, and political life of Jerusalem and its importance in the Middle East tourism and hospitality industries. Major figures include Anna Spafford, Horatio Gates Spafford, Jacob Spafford, Bertha Spafford Vester, Frederick Vester, Grace Spafford Whiting, John D. Whiting, G. Eric Matson, Lewis Larsson, Valentine Vester, and other associates and leaders of colony businesses and activities.

Items available in digital format include all items from the collection which were originally displayed as part of the Library of Congress exhibition on the American Colony in Jerusalem presented at the Library in 2005. These items, which include mixed media manuscript, print, and photographic materials, constitute the entirety of Part I of the collection housed in the Manuscript Division.

Also available online is the entirety of Part II of the collection, with the exception of one restricted series, and a select portion of Part III. The forty-eight Bertha Vester diaries, which make up the first section of Part II of the collection, were written between 1923 and 1968. They vary in size and content, and were composed in Jerusalem and during travels to the United States and other areas of the world. They record the personal lives of the Vester, Spafford, and Whiting families; internal politics of Jerusalem civic life and the American Colony; and firsthand views on Turkish, Arab, Jewish, and British colonial society and modern world events.

Description of Series

The American Colony in Jerusalem Collection is arranged in three parts and multiple series as described below. A finding aid (PDF and HTML) to the collection is available online with links to the digital content on this site. Other collections at the Library of Congress with American Colony in Jerusalem content are listed on the Related Resources page.

  • Part I: Topical File, 1871-2004 (Boxes I: 1-3)
    Correspondence, hymns, photographs, photograph albums, scrapbooks, account book, wartime passes, lace sample book, lists, printed matter, and other papers gathered for a 2005 Library of Congress exhibit on the history of the American Colony. Arranged according to the order and thematic topics used in the exhibit.
  • Part II: Our Jerusalem, circa 1786-1942 (Boxes II: 1-9)
    Correspondence, notes, writings, lectures, printed matter, and other papers compiled by Bertha Spafford Vester as resource files for her book, Our Jerusalem. Most files are arranged chronologically by year. Others are grouped by type of material and therein chronologically.
  • Part II: Bertha Spafford Vester Diaries, 1920-1968 (Boxes II: 9-31)
    Diaries and folders of loose items that were removed from each volume. Arranged chronologically.
  • Part II: American Colony Members, 1810-2006 (Boxes II: 32-34)
    Correspondence, diaries, notes, financial records, wills, printed matter, registers of American Colony members, and other papers. Arranged alphabetically by name of person or type of material and therein chronologically.
  • Part II: Business and Legal Files, 1811-2006 (Boxes II: 35-40)
    Correspondence, memoranda, minutes, legal documents, financial records, and other business documents relating to the American Colony and the Spafford family. Grouped into files pertaining to the American Colony and those concerning the Spafford family and therein alphabetically by topic or type of material.
  • Part II: Chronological File, 1893-1968 (Boxes II: 41-45)
    Correspondence, legal documents, notes, printed matter and other papers concerning the activities of the American Colony. Arranged chronologically by year.
  • Part II: Miscellany, 1869-2005 (Boxes II: 45-46)
    Hymns, poetry, and other writings by Horatio Gates Spafford (1828-1888), notes, oral history transcript, photographs, and printed matter. Arranged alphabetically by type of material and therein chronologically.
  • Part II: Restricted, 1887-1984 (Boxes II: R47-R49) Digital content not available.
    Business and legal files. Arranged and described according to the series, containers, and folders from which the items were removed.
  • Part III: Bertha Spafford Vester Files, 1861-1991 (Boxes III: 1-9) Selected digital content available.
    Correspondence, writings, photographs, passes, permits, financial papers, scrapbooks, and other papers. Arranged alphabetically by type of material, name or topic, and therein chronologically.
  • Part III: John D. Whiting Files, 1906-1924 (Boxes III: 10-11)
    Catalogues, correspondence, permits and passes, writings, and other papers relating primarily to John D. Whiting. Arranged alphabetically by type of material and therein chronologically.
  • Part III: Valentine Vester Files, 1989-2007 (Boxes III: 11-19) Digital content not available.
    Correspondence, newspaper clippings, photographs, and other papers. Arranged alphabetically by type of material and therein chronologically.
  • Part III: Miscellany, 1879-1997 (Boxes III: 19-21) Selected digital content available.
    Diary, hymn book, notebooks, photographs, writings, and other items. Arranged alphabetically by type of material and therein chronologically.