Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, September 26, 1859

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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, September 26, 1859



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, September 26, 1859

action: sent

sender: William Seward
Birth: 1801-05-16  Death: 1872-10-10


receiver: Frances Seward
Birth: 1844-12-09  Death: 1866-10-29

location: Unknown

transcription: les 

revision: amc 2020-12-20


Page 1


Editorial Note

William Henry Seward’s series of travel letters in 1859 are organized and listed by the date of each entry.
Jerusalem September 26th 1859
My dear Fanny, I have mentioned already one monastery
or more in the Holy Land. The early ^European^ Christians conceived
that there was great merit in visiting by way of pilgrimage.
the scenes of the suffering of the Savior but they found
the whole country in the hands of ferocious and savage
enemies to the religion of the Cross, Travel could not
be safely performed here nor could entertainment be
found. European strangers and religious men founded
monasteries every where, often strongly fortified, as places
of safety for the pilgrims and of hospitality and these
yet remain. They are Catholic, Greek, Protestant, Greek
Armenian and Abyssinian and inasmuch as the
dangers of travel still remain in large districts, and
there are few taverns for the accommodation of Europeans
They are the resort of the traveler of the present
day, You are received and lodged generally supplying
your own provisions. They furnish you security and
a place eat & to sleep. If you have any peculiar
claim to respect or consideration they furnish you
every thing else, gratuitously in all cases, but all
right minded persons on leaving there present a gift
to the establishment equal to the cost of the accomoda-
tions. Their exceedingly useful institutions are loca-
ted with pious reverence on these sites of the most
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events in the lives of the Savior and his apostles, and
having been so early located they are interesting monu-
ments to verify the truth of that wonderful religion
But Palestine in its social condition presents other
and more reliable monuments of the same character –
You see a party of Syrians or the Arabs at rest in
their camp, or on the march and you hear exactly
before the rest in the progress of the a party of
persons in the same country two thousand years ago
Patients, women, children, maidens, amid various
camels asses goats. Loathsome lepers meet you
as you enter or depart from the gates of the city begging
heed but there is no divine person here to heal them
The blind, the lame, the epileptic are always in
your way soliciting relief and medical aid or medicine
that will afford relief is expected by the sick at
the hands of any person of condition who passes by
You see a party at the dinner or sup two intimate
friends meet or depart, They cover each other
with Kisses, You see them a party at dinner or
at supper, there is one dish which always is liquid
Each eats by dipping a sop into the common
dish. So you see how natural and probable are
the histories of the betrayal of the Lord by Judas .
But I must on with my journal.
We left the good monks of Ramallah at 5 oclock in
Page 3

morning on Thursday and through inconceivably cobbled
and narrow pathways emerged from that Syrian village
upon the plain of Sharon. An hour or two sufficed
to bring us into the mountains of Judea which separate
that plain from the Valley of Jordan and the Dead
Sea. The ascent is steep, the mountains are a mass-
ive system, irregular and almost moribund by villas
In fact, all of Palestine including the site of
Jerusalem and the scenes of scripture history consists
of these mountains exclie except the beautiful plain
of Sharon which lies between them and the Medite-
rranean Sea. Ten two weary hours we toiled in walking
our way up these mountains to find the Holy City, Reaching
the summit of one, we descended it only to ascend
another still higher, and the roads often sharp
steep stone stairways, which only a trained
animal can ascend or descend safely. Nor have
you ever seen any such mountain scenes. Gardens
fields, trees plants and shrubs diminish Chalky
rocks, beheaped on heaps no home no habitation
of man or beast no Garden except here and there
a tuft of thorns dead dwarf bushes or grasses wilting
for want of water or shade no sign of life, except
here and there a shepherd
armed with his reed
and his dog and his flock of sheep and goats
which extract some prizes from the roots of this
Page 4

dwindled and stinted vegetation. There once in
a long way we found a ravine where water is detained
during the dry season, and here are small fields, and
gardens but the general and almost exclusive as-
pect of the scene is one of desert, of and desola-
tion, Every most travelers, who fall upon it come at
once to the sage conclusion that it is a land blighted
with an eternal curse from the Creator ^since it was the abode of the Jews^ .
For my
own part I thought no such thing, I could imagine
that there is scenery, and deceptive verdure
in these shrubs and grasses during the rains of
winter, which might make it attractive to a herder
a pastoral people as its ancient inhabitants were
and I know how far ^much^ less any ^such^ society needed
for ^its^ support than a modern communal society
wants. Nevertheless nothing could more fully
establish the genius and character of the Jewish people
than the fact that they were able to invest this such
a land as this with the magnificence that it was
to our imagination. It is more than a desolate land
it is a monumental, as a land of memory. Its ancient
possessors and their race here departed. An enemy
triumphant, scornful, barbarous and cruel as well as
savage possess it, Like the North American Indian he
will not cultivate and adorn it himself, nor will he
suffer others to dwell on it. But unlike the North
Page 5

American Indians he is strong enough to maintain his barba-
rism. I found a ruined village on a high eminence, having
the name of Latrun. The legends of the Christians say that it
took its name for the fact that it was the home of the
they who malefactor
who suffering death with the the
Savior was pardoned by him on the cross. Further on I descended
into the valley of Jeremiah which is held to have been the
birth place of the Prophet who most touchingly struck
the chords of the hearts of his earnest and devotional country
men. Descending the next mount I found caves and seemingly
tombs in a hamlet which contains perhaps half a dozen
families, but the ruins of many ruins habitations. This is the
village of Ramathaim, the birth place of Samuel and
the place where he received the sublime call to the
service of God, and I almost fancied that I stood over the
Cavern of the Witch of Endor where she called up the
dead at the entreaty of Saul, I walked through the
brook, now dry all dried up where David took the
five pebbles which use him to supply the sling
with which he conquered the Giant of the Philistines
. I
did not refuse to believe when they told me that I was
now in the valley where Abraham dwelt with his family
and flocks, and now on the summit of the mountain where
the Sun stopped in his course at the command of Joshua
to prolong the battle which was to result in the victory of the
People of Israel.
Page 6

It was a hot and weary journey through a sad and mournful
land, relieved by an occasional rest under the shade of a
rock or of a solitary olive tree, and Jerusalem seemed
to be a myth ever promised but unattainable when we
reached at last there at four oclock the summit of
a hill higher than all that we had passed, and
right before me on the rocky plain at a distance of
a mile stood the Holy City, It was not the ancient
Jerusalem, not a vast metropolis, not even a medieval city
like Rome , but a modern built town of small
circuit enclosed with a graceful military wall
and surmounted with a citadel, towers steeples, and
minarets, beautiful to look upon but disappointing
all the conceits I had found in regards to its as-
pect. Filled with veneration for it by its wonderful history
and expecting to find its ^sacred^ monuments every where speaking
their now great explanation, I could not commit to enter
it or rudely I dismounted and sat down
upon a rock surrounded by tombs and contemplated
the scenes I was about to enter, under the favor of the
declining sun– we dismissed our equipage, and walked
slowly on, passing by half the city to find a gate
in the wall. At C The road like only all I had
travelled was only a camels path over lime stones
and fixed rocks up and down but at length we
Page 7

found the hole in the wall, the gate open, Turkish sen-
tinals on guard, and a narrow low, vulgar single street
through the middle of which along the gutter we made
our way quietly against horses, also camels, Turks
Arabs Jews and Christians all almost differing from each
other in custom and address but all equally outre
and bizarre, while the various cries, disputes, and contents
of a crowded population added to the confusion of
the scene, This was “Christian Street”, but a street that
no Christian of any civilized state would own, A fair
town without the jewelers I ever saw, a baser
town than within I hope never to see, a Turkish
apprised of our wishes led us to the Hotel of the
American Counsel, a low door admitted us from a
street ten feet wide within an outer wall, a winding
stair case led us to an open court in the second
story, and then I was in a crowd with Captain
Birth: 1792-04-22 Death: 1862-03-22
and eight or ten officers and thirty marines
and seamen of the American navy ship of War “Mace-
donian” which I had left riding at anchor at Jaffa


and all the space not filled up by Americans was occupied
by Arab and Turkish dragomans, and muleteers and
, Dinner and a walk without aim or object
through many crowds and petty streets brought the
weary day to its close and I slept soundly under
the arched roof of the Hotel of the Consulate.
Page 8

On Friday morning I repaired at an early hour to the Quarters
which enclose the Holy Places but all were closed. I
took a horse my companion another, and we set all
for Bethlehem

. The road lay ^lies^ along the same desert
stony plain and it is rugged and uncomfortable
Sterility marks all its hurdles, and all its prospects.
But it was the path that Jesus Christ had trodden
so often and that his mothers tears had bedewed
Graves old and new your ^soon^ covered and some ^many^ that had
fervently given up their dead burdened my way for
a mile. And there I came soon to the village of

where counted as the home of "that Prophet"
next to the tomb of Rachel – on which I found
high above all other inscriptions and written in a
bold strong hand " General Cooper
Birth: 1802-04-20 Death: 1879-07-26
". My old ^and odious^ acquaintance
of that name at Albany had thus registered his name
there for the information of future travelers, off to the
left I saw the Desert which situfied the life and
of Saint John the Precursor and far
off beyond on the and below us lay the plain
on which the Shepherds
lay while watching their
flocks when the star arose and beckoned those on
their way to the cradle of the son of Mary, while
a voice from on high proclaimed Peace on Earth
and Good will to men, Bethlehem covers an amphi-
Page 9

theatre in which rocks rise above the each other in
towers, the buildings show very fair to th on the
approach, and the town above roads above and below it
are covered with tropical gardens, some towers and steeples
rise above these orchards and on the whole all Bethle-
hem scea fulfils your expectations of the village that was
honored by the ^great^ mystery of the Christian Religion–It is
altogether a "Christian people that is substitute the
town drawn thither by the Latin Greek and Armenian
Churches yet they are ^very^ poor and mean in education
as well as in custom and dwellings. Fifty candidates
offered to hold the reins of our four horses while we
visited the Holy Places for the pitiful gratuity of a few
"grains" of copper. We entered the church and were conducted
to a kind of Alc Arched Alcove lighted by heavy
lamps which are kept always hung there a concentra-
ted light/height down upon a large silver star perhaps
a foot in diameter which marks the place where
the Savior was born. Directly opposite and ten
feet distant another Alcove for of lamps cast
their concentrated rays upon a marble slab
which covers the place of the manger which consti-
tuted the Cradle of the Infant God– and a
similar arrangement opposite to this illuminates the
place where the shepherds and Kings offered the
first worship he received on earth.
Page 10

It would be better Greek Roman and Armenian Churches
are constructed around and over the sacred spots and
of course nothing of nature remains visible there of
course this is to be regretted yet it was pleasant
to feel think that the general arrangement of the
place was such as to lend probability and indeed
to produce convictions that the truth it is accu-
rately identified as the true scene of the
greatest events in human History, The brethren of
the Latin Court entertained us with an excellent
dinner, we strolled over the roof of the Court
and identified the selected regions and and
in the afternoon rode back to Jerusalem.
My next Country led me next to identify the
prominent parts in Jerusalem. I asked for Mount
Sion. It is the hill in which I stand The Hotel
in which I sleep and in which I wrote is Mount Zion
The open Court below me now previous day is the
pool of Hezekiah nothing Mount Sion covered with
Turkish Bazaars and the scene of vulgar trade
is without comelieness or sanctity of appearance
It is all base vulgarity On my right is an eminence
called the Cerada the scene of the inhabitation by
Christ of the Holy Eucharist The Christians early built
a church there, the Members have appropriated it for
a temple to Mahomet.
Page 11

The early Christians identified the Home of Pontius Pilate
the Governor of Judea. The Barbers palace and the
barracks of the Turkish hordes now cover its ruins.
You ascend the stair case and stand on it over the ruins
of the Hall in which Jesus confronted the Roman
Governor. You pass then to the street and you see the
spot on which he stood where Pilate saying "Ecce
Homo" delivered him up to the fanatical Jews to be
executed as a felon although confessed to be
guiltless. You pass in and seek the place where
he sank under the weight of the cross. And so they
put at the place where he met his mother. The
place where he was flagellated, the place
where he was crowned with thorns, the place
where the Simon the Cyrene was seized and made
to assist him in bearing the cross, the place also
according to the Latin traditions the Savior copied
his face with a linen handkerchief leaving
impressed on it indelibly in blood the lineaments
of the divine countenance. While these traditions
seem to me of uncertain value , I confess that
it is kn quite otherwise in regard to Calvary
and the Sepulchre – Calvary is yet a hill and
it was put outside of the city wall of ancient Jerusalem. The
rock on which the Cross stood remains in its place
Page 12

So also the Sepulchre is situated at the distance of
some rods from Calvary on a lower elevation seems
very probably to have been the real and true place
in which the Son of God slept the sleep of death.
It is covered with marble as also is the place of the
cross. And you must always remember that
these interesting localities are no longer seen in
their natural state but those Christian Churches
of great magnificence are built on Calvary
and the Sepulchre and paved floors and arched
roofs doors efface the and exclude the natural
aspects of the Holy scene, At noon hour the
doors of their churches opened their devotees rushed
in and covered the grounds of Calvary and the
Sepulchre and the tears flowed assuredly
upon the rock of aging and the bed of death
as if the sublime traumatic had only just been
ended. From these sacred spots I proceeded
to look at the site of the Holy Temple on
Mount Moriah. The mosque of Omar now occupies
its place, and for its precincts all Christians
are jealously excluded. The wall which circles
the Mosque is built in part of very ancient
hewn stones, very believed to be the stones of the
Temple. It was a Friday and there was the
Page 13

whole Jewish population of the City ^men women and children^ reading as if
it a Liturgy the Lamentations of Jerusalem
over the calamities of their Nation and frenzy for
its restoration. They accompanied this exercise
with prostrations and groans, and beating
of their heads foreheads against the walls. Kissing the
walls, it was a moving scene. The Moslems
were within performing their oblations prayers
and ourisons orisons, and Christians dogs and
Jews are alike excluded. Some of the
United States mariners though armed were thrust
out rudely. It was enough for me to see
the of the Temple, and to
admire at a distance the “Beautiful Gate’
preserved in the new wall at its proper
place, From an elevation on the wall I looked
down over off upon ^the^ Mount Olivet of Olives
which confronts the site of the Temple ^a noble eminence^ , Its sides
still covered with olive trees Between its At its
base facing a ravine between ^Mount^ Moriah and
the Mount of Olives was the Garden of Gethsemane
easily identified, studded with ten or twelve
very old olive trees sh believed to be ^valuable^ witnesses
to the Divine Agony. And at its bottom the
Brook of Kidron (now dry) divides the valley of
Page 14

of Josaphat The waters of Kidron where they
flow in the rainy seasons still partially re-
produce the pool of Siloam – for off to the
right is Aceldama a vast plain of five acres
which Judas purchased with his hundred pieces
of silver and above it lies a mountain high
as the Mount of Olives while for being ^identified as^ the
spot where Juda contracted his dreadful
p agreement with the scribes and pharisees is
still called the Hill of Evil Counsel.