The American Colony in Jerusalem

American Colony members after the arrival of the Swedes, photographed in front of the Tombs of the Kings, ca. 1905 (50)

The community grew over the years. Visiting Chicago in 1894, Anna Spafford made contact with Olaf Henrik Larsson, the leader of the Swedish Evangelical Church. Inspired by Anna's words and full of messianic fervor, the Swedes from Chicago decided to join Anna on her trip back to Jerusalem. Larsson also exhorted his relations and friends in Nas, Sweden, to go immediately to Jerusalem. As a result, thirty-eight adults and seventeen children sold all their possessions and set off for the Holy Land to join the Colony, arriving there in July 1896.

The Colony, now numbering 150, moved to the large house of a wealthy Arab landowner outside the city walls. The extensive land attached to the house was quickly put to use for the Colony's support. Part of the building was used as a hostel for their frequent visitors from Europe and America. A small farm developed with cows and pigs, a butchery, a dairy, a bakery, a carpenter's shop, and a smithy. The American Colony Store provided additional support through the sale of images, souvenirs, artifacts and archaeological objects worldwide.

The American Colony at Work

When the Swedes, who eventually joined the American Colony, left for Jerusalem, they brought their carpentry tools, hand looms, knitting machines and many farm implements with them. This photo of Horatio Spafford is encased in a frame crafted by the American Colony Carpentry Shop. Colony members also collected specimens of the flowers mentioned in the Bible that they pressed and pasted on cards and in albums and books to sell to tourists and pilgrims. Members fashioned this memoriam for Horatio when he died in 1888, at the age of sixty.

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Photographic Department of the American Colony

In 1898, the Colony bought an old camera to document the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany to Jerusalem. From this humble beginning, the photographic studio became world famous for the thousands of images it produced of the Holy Land and the Middle East. Among the Colony members who worked in the studio were Lewis Larsson, Lars Lind, John Whiting, Frank Baldwin, and Eric Matson, whose photographic archive is housed in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

American Colony (S. Narinsky, photographer). Assorted postcards of the Holy Land. Card 1. Card 2. Card 3. Card 4. Card 5. Card 6. Palestine: Jamal Bros., ca. 1921. Rotary photogravures. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (22 a-f)

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Inventory of Antiquities

In 1904 Bertha Spafford married Frederick Vester, whose father's curio shop in Jerusalem had recently been bought by the American Colony. Renamed “Fr. Vester & Co., The American Colony Store,” the business greatly expanded its clientele and range of offerings to include photographs and collections of antiquities as shown in this inventory of ancient glass and pottery sold to the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Inventory of antiquities sent to Dr. Gordon, University Museum, September 4, 1913. Carbon typescript on letterhead. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (21)

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American Colony Scrapbook

In this scrapbook the Colony collected articles and stories that were published about its members between 1881 and 1930. In this article from the Troy Times (New York) dated December 9, 1916, the history of the Colony's settlement in Jerusalem and the various activities of the Colony are described. As a new addition to the Library's collections, this scrapbook, like many items in the American Colony-Vester Collection, will receive conservation attention to preserve it for posterity.

“American Colony Founded in Jerusalem by Native of Lansingburgh,” published in the Troy Times (December 9, 1916) in an American Colony scrapbook kept between 1881 and 1930. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (9)

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