On August 11, 1866 the ship Nellie Chapin set sail from Jonesport, Maine to Jaffa (which is now Tel-Aviv, Israel). Reverend George J. Adams, a charismatic man with a slightly shady past and drunken tendencies, led a group of Christian colonists on a mission to live and work in the Holy Land to help restore Israel for the Jewish people, which they hoped would expedite the Second Coming of Christ.
They packed prefabricated homes, farming tools, clothes, and other belongings onto the ship and headed to Jaffa. It was smooth sailing, until they reached their final destination. The group’s claim to the land had been rejected by the Sultan of Turkey, so the pilgrims were forced to live in ramshackle, makeshift shelters on the beach near a cemetery housing the victims of a recent cholera epidemic. Because of the shallow harbor, they had to anchor two miles offshore and load their belongings into rafts when going ashore. Finally, by November they had started farms and built some of the prefabricated houses outside Jaffa’s walls. Several of those houses are still standing. One is currently known as the Maine Friendship House.
But farming was hard in the dry climate. Both crops and people perished. Despite a few successes in other industries, many of the original 157 pilgrims were anxious to return home. In April of 1867, 20 pilgrims gained passage to Egypt on the United States Navy steamer Canandaigua. In May, another 32 left for Syria. In July, the colony lost another nine. In early October, the ship Quaker City took 44 pilgrims bound for the United States. Adams himself left in 1868.
It was on the ship Quaker City that the writer Mark Twain happened to be traveling while penning Innocents Abroad. In Chapter 57, he describes the pilgrims as “shamefully humbugged” and “chiefly destitute.”
A stone commemorating the pilgrims’ ultimately unsuccessful mission to bring forth the Messiah sits on the Jonestown side of the bridge to Beals Island. A sister stone can be found at Charles Clore Park in Tel Aviv.
Know Before You Go
The stone is just off the side of the road near the U.S. Coast Guard station. There is an easy pull off to take a look.
- Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, American Publishing Company, 1869, Chapter LVII Downloaded from Project Gutenberg at https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3176