1881 to 1896
August 17 - September
The Spafford family and a core group of their millennialist "Overcomer" friends depart the Chicago area and travel to the Holy Land. The travelers includes Mary and John C. Whiting and their young daughter Ruth (b. 1880), Horatio Gates Spafford's visionary sister Margaret Lee (d. 1891), well-to-do Chicago widow Amelia Gould (Sister Elizabeth) (d. 1914), business man William Rudy (d. 1915), Lizzie and Otis Page (Brother Samuel) and their daughter Flora (who would marry Fareed Naseef), and a young nanny, Annie Aiken. Captain William and Mary Sylvester join them in Great Britain. Upon arrival in Jerusalem, this group of eighteen men, women, and children take up residence in a house on the Old City wall in the Muslim Quarter, between Herod's Gate and Damascus Gate. They soon found a benevolent utopian Christian Protestant community that becomes known as the American Colony. They pool their resources and live communally. Without actively seeking converts, they do benevolent works, forge ties with local Arabs and Jews, and promote interfaith appreciation and friendship.
British Opthalmic Hospital founded in Jerusalem by the Order of St. John.
June 10, 1882
John D. Whiting (d. 1951) is the first baby born in the American Colony in Ottoman Palestine. After his birth the colonists move increasingly towards the observance of celibacy. Through prayer, Horatio Gates Spafford and the Whitings come to the conviction that community members should endeavor to focus on affairs of the spirit rather than of the body. They hope that practicing celibacy, as many religious orders do, will promote feelings of equality and brother-sister relationships among members of the colony, rather than special focus on particular family members, and that this discipline will help members achieve spiritual readiness for the coming Millennium.
Selah Merrill serves his first term as American Consul in Jerusalem. Though lacking personal observation of the community, Merrill is highly critical of the American Colony's communal ethos and non-denominational religiosity. Conflict with the American Consul's office and the State Department marks the colony's formative years. Merrill serves additional terms as U.S. Consul in Jerusalem in 1891-93 and 1898-1907.
Horatio Gates Spafford teaches English at the Alliance Israelite boys' school in Palestine.
American Colony member and Christian convert Jacob Eliahu (b. 1864) is adopted by the Spaffords and takes their name. A Sephardic Jew from Ramallah, Jacob Spafford (Brother Jacob) is a student teacher at the London Jews Society mission school when he forms friendships with American Colony members. He continues to join relatives for Jewish holidays and observances while serving in a long and highly respected leadership capacity in the American Colony. He is particularly close to Anna Spafford, who relies on his stewardship and business acumen. Jacob Eliahu Spafford, who counted English, Spanish, Swedish, Arabic, and Hebrew among his fluent languages, will die in an automobile accident in Palestine July 19, 1932.
Horatio Gates Spafford's young nephew and adopted son Robert (Rob) Eugene Lawrence (b. 1861), becomes the first of the original colony members to die. Lawrence succumbs to sun stroke after working in high heat conditions in the desert, preparing ground to plant trees at an Arab village.
Original colony founder John C. Whiting dies of liver congestion in Jerusalem, and is buried at the American Cemetery, Mount Zion.
American Colony leader Horatio Gates Spafford dies from "congestive chills" (malaria or a malaria-like illness). The grief-stricken Anna Spafford is criticized for the degree of joy and optimism she chooses to attach to her husband's death, as she emphasizes his salvation and transition to heaven to their followers.
Anna Spafford assumes leadership of the American Colony.
Edwin S. Wallace serves as American Consul in Jerusalem. Like Selah Merrill, he is suspicious and obstructionist in his views of the American Colony. In 1897-98 the colony members come to loggerheads with him over desecration of colonists' graves in the American Cemetery on Mount Zion. The remains are disinterred without notice and bones intermingled under a change in administration of the burial yard.
With support from the American Consulate in Jerusalem, U.S. relatives of Mary Whiting challenge Whiting's fitness as a parent. A custody case ensues over guardianship of John D. Whiting and his older sister Ruth. With a $60,000 inheritance at stake, willed to the children by their maternal grandmother, a trial to determine the merits of the matter takes place in Chicago. The Whiting and Spafford families and other American Colony members travel to America. Anna Spafford gains newspaper publicity for her spirited testimony as to the religious beliefs in the community. The court finds in Mary Whiting's favor and dismisses the petition against her. The Whiting children are free to return to Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Anna's charismatic personality gains new converts to the American Colony enterprise among a group of Swedish-Americans who offer her hospitality during her stay in Chicago.