The American Colony in Jerusalem

Group portrait in the courtyard of the American Colony compound, ca. 1900 (41)

In a rented house in the Old City, the group quickly adapted to their new surroundings. Because they had no interest in proselytizing, they were warmly received by the local community, among whom they soon began philanthropic work. Called the “American Colony” by their neighbors, they sought to live a communal life on the model of the early Christian church. Horatio continued to search the Bible for guidance and for signs of the end of time when Jesus Christ would reappear in Jerusalem. Although the Colony was criticized and harassed by several of the American consuls in Jerusalem for their seemingly unorthodox religious life, the Colony survived and thrived as a religious community.

Letter to Piazza Smith

Horatio met the Scottish astronomer, Charles Piazza Smith, during a trip to London in 1870. Smith popularized the idea that each measurement of every passage, chamber, and gallery of the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt, indicated a historical event or prophecy and elucidated many mysteries referred to cryptically in the Bible. Horatio and Anna's eldest daughter Bertha of their second set of children, believed that Smith instilled in Horatio an interest in the prophecies of the Old Testament that profoundly influenced him to turn to the Holy Land after he had suffered so many tragedies.

Horatio Spafford to Charles Piazza Smith, May 27, 1887. Page 2. Manuscript letter. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (14)

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Our Rest and Signs of the Times

With a legal mind always searching for accuracy, Horatio subscribed to this popular journal, which contained in each issue “able articles on the Scientific and religious features of the Great Pyramid of Egypt…”

“The Great Pyramid of Egypt—The Mightiest Wonder on Earth” from Our Rest and Signs of the Times. No. 11 (November 1882). Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (16)

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Prophetic Map of Jerusalem, ca. 1895

Searching the Bible, especially the Old Testament, for prophetic insight, members of the American Colony drew the boundaries of a future Messianic Jerusalem based on verses from the prophets Jeremiah and Zechariah:

‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when this city [Jerusalem] will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. The whole valley where the dead bodies and ashes are thrown… will be holy to the Lord…’

Jeremiah 31:38-40

American Colony. [Jerusalem]. Manuscript map. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (17)

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Horatio's Bible and the Prayer of the Gadites

In May 1882, the Spaffords met a group of impoverished Yemenite Jews recently arrived in Jerusalem. The Yemenites had come from their homes in southern Arabia because they believed that the time was right after thousands of years to return to the land that had been Israel. Impressed by their sincerity and claim to be descendants of Gad, a founder of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Spaffords housed and fed them until they could establish themselves in Jerusalem. In appreciation the Gadites bestowed a blessing on the Spaffords, which was recorded in Horatio's Bible.

Bible. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (13)

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An Appeal to Theodore Roosevelt and Appleton's Magazine

In March 1906, the American Colony petitioned President Roosevelt to address the malfeasance of the American consul of Jerusalem, Selah Merrill, who had also “slandered [the Colony] in the vilest manner.” Over the years, the Colony had already lodged several formal complaints, in vain, about the actions of Merrill and another consul, Edwin Wallace. The publication of an article in the popular Appleton's Magazine, which praised the Colony for its good works and Christian spirit and condemned the actions of the consuls, was the catalyst that finally led to the Colony's total vindication.

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  • American Colony to Theodore Roosevelt, March 6, 1906. Carbon typescript. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (19)

  • Alexander Hume Ford. “Our American Colony at Jerusalem” in Appleton's Magazine, Vol 8., no. 6 (December 1906). Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (18)

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