In 1898, American Colony Photo Department, (later the Matson Photo Service, named after G. Eric Matson), took these pictures of Bedouins in Egypt, the Sinai, Palestine and Jerusalem. The American Colony (AC) 1881-1934 and its photographers were on a mission. Members of this independent, Christian sect emigrated to Jerusalem from the United States and Sweden, led by the Overcomers“, the first wave of immigrants who left Chicago, Illinois in 1881.
All wanted to be in Jerusalem for the Second Coming of Christ.
The colony of about one hundred people at first lived communally. Devoting themselves to the people of Jerusalem–regardless of religion or nationality they cared for the sick and set up schools and soup kitchens, among other endeavors. They hoped to ensure their redemption through their charitable work.
After the turn of the century, the Colonists became involved in the tourist trade. They produced souvenirs and opened a store and a hostel for travelers. (The hostel, later called the “American Colony Hotel,” is still in existence.) Another lucrative enterprise was their operation of a photo service.
The American Colony Photo Department began in 1898, under the eye of its founder Elijah Meyers, a Jewish convert to Christianity who emigrated from India.
It would not last.
Inner tensions within the American Colony led to the final demise of this utopian Christian community in the 1950s. Since then the second home of the American Colony, outside the city’s walls, has functioned as a hotel named American Colony Hotel.
The rich history of the American Colony dates back to the late nineteenth century, following a series of tragic events that led Horatio and Anna Spafford, a devoutly Christian family, to leave their home town of Chicago in 1881 in order to find peace in the holy city of Jerusalem and to offer aid to families in distress.
Drawing strength through their faith and comfort from the words of the hymn “It is Well with my Soul,” written by Horatio Spafford following the loss of his four young daughters in a shipwreck, the Spaffords, together with sixteen other members of their church, calling themselves “The Overcomers”, journeyed to Jerusalem and settled together in a small house in the Old City.
They were never missionaries, but aimed at living, as the early Christians did, a simple life with everything in common. With their charitable door open at all times to their Arab and Jewish neighbours as well as Bedouin from around the city and from across the Jordan River, they soon established good relations with the local population and became well known for their acts of benevolence and assistance to the community. People referred to them simply as ‘the Americans.’ Seventy Swedes living in the United States joined ‘the Americans’ in 1894, followed by another fifty five from Nas in Sweden two years later, and the now much larger group required bigger premises. The home they bought was initially built as a palace for a pasha and his four wives. That palace would soon become The American Colony Hotel.
The seeds of the American Colony Hotel were sown in 1902, when Baron Ustinov (grandfather of actor Sir Peter Ustinov), finding the Turkish inns of the time unacceptable, needed suitable accommodation in Jerusalem to house his visitors from Europe and America. Before long, the American Colony became a lodging for Western travelers and pilgrims whose expectations were not met by the establishments then existing in Jerusalem.
Via Library of Congress