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

  • Posted on: 31 May 2023
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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, September 26, 1859



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

action: sent

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

location: Jerusalem, Israel and Palestine

receiver: Frances Seward
Birth: 1805-09-24  Death: 1865-06-21

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: cnk 

revision: jxw 2021-09-10


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 dearest Frances, He who achieves a pilgrimage to the Holy
City thereby wins and is for ever entitled to wear the honorable name
of Hadji. I have attained that distinction not without fatigue and
labor. The wind became adverse and beat Mar Brookah back
on her course. We had no way left but to take the small
boat. Four sturdy Arabs
rowed the little craft through
and on the Breakers three miles to a point two miles from
Jaffe, and then carried us ashore in their arms. The coast is
chalk covered with sand. We walked along the beach the
weary way to town, the town rises abruptly out of the sea to
the height of several hundred feet, and is walled as well
on the sea side as inland. Our first duty was to climb the
wall, and wait on it for the Custom House Office and Health
Office, with a crowd of half civilized men and boys exulting
in the supposed misfortune of our quarantine. The Greek and
Latin monasteries were directly before us and the Monks, were
looking lazily down upon us from the upper stories. In about
half an hour, the Collect House & the Collector and Health officers

came on board to us on the wall, looked at our passes, took
us by the hand and showed us with great politeness into the
city. Mr
Birth: 1811-05-27 Death: 1876-04-08
& Mrs Sanders
Birth: 1815 Death: 1883-05-30
of Rhode Island missionaries act for
the consul
Birth: 1812-11-03 Death: 1893-04-18
of the United States in his absence. They received us with
great Kindness, and being of my own political school they would
not suffer us to depart from the house while in the City.
Page 2

You may imagine how comfortable and refreshing the entertainment
of an American family was after an six days cruise on the deck
of an Arab boat. I rose early the next morning, and opened my
window, which seemed to stand almost perpendicularly over
the waves. At a little di stones throw from the shore was
the rock on which Andromeda was chained by the Nereids
under the watch of a sea monster until P relieved by the
sword of Perseus, according to the classical mythology of the
Ancients. Right beneath me was the spot where Jonah embarked
when he found the mission of the prophet too heavy for him.
It was the same wharf at which Noah built the Ark
the same on which Solomon


received the gifts of the Persians
of Tyre & Sidon, the same on which the Queen of Sheba de-
barked on her visit to the wisest of Kings, and the same
from which Paul embarked as a Prisoner carrying his appeal
to Rome. Pompey & Bonaparte had Titus and Bonaparte
Birth: 1769-08-15 Death: 1821-05-05

had come there as conquerors, and now there lay attended
in the little port half a dozen Arab boats, ^the^ most conspic-
uous of them all was Mar Brookah which had in the
course of the night had been rowed into up to the dock,
bringing my courier and baggage.
Jaffa is a town of 17000 people, chiefly Turks & Arabs. It has
^presents^ a fine aspect to the sea, but interior it ha is like every other place
in the East, mean and dirty. I pa It cost me only half a
piastre to see the House of Simon the Tanner in which Peter
Page 3

dwelt when there, and one of his vats is still shown in the
bargain. I visited the Custom House and was received with
great courtesy, looked into the market and found it filled
with tropical fruits, into the stores, here called bazaars,
and found them spare and shabby in the extreme. A Turkish
School interested me much. It was in a low room looking
on the street, without windows. The doors opening to the street
were barricaded with sticks which held the boys in while
they did not exclude the light. Some thirty boys sat on
the ground in rows, facing a Turk seated cross legged
on a mat laid on the ground. He had a book open
before him; a whip in one hand, and a long pipe
in the other. He repeated aloud the lesson, reciting it with and accompanying the recital with a continual
leaning forward and backward, and the whole school swaying
and bowed simultaneously with him. The noise of the
school mingled in the narrow street with, cries of Pome-
granites and grapes, and the objurgations of the passing
multitude. There are no vehicles in any Turkish town
Horses asses & camels carry every body & ^and^ every thing. The
streets are so narrow ^narrow^ that a loaded camel fills
and blocks the way, on all sides equally in town and country
you see habits, manners, and things unknown in the Western civili-
zation and identical with those described in the Scriptures
as belonging to the People of Palestine and the East. The threshing
floor, on the ground in the open field, the room is long
Page 4

processions carrying water upon their heads in ^large^ vessels
with contracted at the mouth, "two women" sitting in the
house open to the street “grinding wheat” by turning two small
grind stones in opposite directions.
The United States War Frigate, Captain Learing
is lying off the port at Jaffa. The Captain
with eight or
ten officers
and thirty or more marines and men had left
that town ^only^ an hour before my arrival on their way to visit this
city, and had swept Jaffa of all the horses and asses fit
for travel, It was a sorry choice of mounting that was left
to us. Nevertheless on Wednesday evening, at three o,clock
our arrangements were made. You have already been told that
there is not one carriage or carriage road in Turkey. Hence the
necessity of resorting to the caravan. See our party mounted
at the door of the American Consulate. First a converted
acting as guide or dragoman – 2d myself, 3d Dr Steinhauser
Birth: 1814-05-29 Death: 1866-07-29

my English travelling companion, 4th my courier
or servant
5th An Arab
with our baggage and provisions – the latter on
a mule – all the rest on small horses trained to walk up
and down natural stone stair cases in the mountains of Judea.
But never before or elsewhere were seen beasts so old, so poor
so worn, so diseased. The distance to Ramlah, the first
stage in our journey was three is twelve miles, ^for which^ three hours are allot-
ted, the distance from Ramlah to Jerusalem twenty seven
miles for which nine hours are allowed. The horses would
not move out of ^through^ the town except as they were beaten, were
led by their owner who attended us through the gates for
that purpose. Dismissing us there after an impudent demand
for backshish in consideration of that extending favor
Page 5

he left us, and we began the most tedious and wearisome
march I have ever made. But it was not even of un-
relieved moving. For a mile or two around Jaffa the
land a high bridge and very fertile is cultivated by
means of irrigation, water being raised from wells
by animal power, and thus rendered fertile it is laid
out in gardens. The first gardens in Syria. Doubtless
they are similar to those celebrated in the scrip-
ture history. It is the season of ripened fruits and
the exhibition of tropical plants and fruits is exceed-
ingly rich. Peaches, Oranges, lemons, limes, pomegranates
Jujubes, melons ^figs, and dates,^ quinces. Instead of stone or wooden
walls, the gardens are protected by hedges of a cac-
tus or prickly pear, which grows into trunks a
foot or more in thickness and to the height of ten
feet. After the six days confinement at sea with only
sandy desert the desert or sandy beach to
look upon it was indeed a great relief to look
upon this rich and luxuriant vegetation. Nevertheless
you must not for a moment think that an Asiatic garden
is a place of pleasant resort or rest. There are no groves
no clusters of trees, or clumps of flowering shrubs, not
a blade of grass, no mossy beds or borders – no shade
continuous shade. Dry dirty earth beneath your feet
and a burning sun above your head except you find
Page 6

shelter a scanty protection under a fruit tree just with-
out a place to sit or rest. After passing these gardens
we came upon an open plain quite as level as
a prairie without fences, garden walls, wells or
other marks of primitive ownership. It is now day and almo
hours from the exhaustion of the summer sun but the
traces vestiges of h an abundant harvest are all around
you. You know at once that no where else is or can
there be a richer plain. You will seem to recognize
it as familiar to your own footsteps in early youth
when I tell you that it is the vale of Sharon,
celebrated so magnificently in the Song of Solomon.
It is perhaps a dozen miles wide, and extends from
the Desert that divides Asia from Africa below Gaza
or Gath all along the sea coast to and beyond
Beyruit, and the Northerly border of Palestine. It appears
itself something of even that exalted person for whatever
is rich and luxuriant in vegetation, pleasant to the
appetite of the body, or of the spirit of man seems
to give them spontaneity. It is a land of river milk
and honey, of figs and oil. But the land is
no longer in possession of a great, enthusiastic poetic people.
At intervals of four or five miles are villages of
dark gloomy, dirty stone houses, in which the peasant
lives in the same chamber with his camel, ass, ox
Page 7

on the dusty parched earth, without the decent
associations and appendages appliances of civilized life.
These cultivated the plain of Sharon. Their dress is mean
their habits dut filthy and you would avoid
them through fear of infection. The Arabic language is
menial, the Arabian temper proud, indolent self
satisfied and contemptuous prevails. They seek no change
because they deem themselves superior in Civilization
refinement virtue and religion to all the world
when representatives come among them.
My sorry equipage made me content with only
a distant view of Lydda, ^rather^ the ruins of Lydda the
place where St Peter was staying when sent for
to work his great miracle at Joppa.
It was near eight o,clock, and black dark
when we approach arrived at Ramlah – the
end of that days journey. The Franciscans, and the
Greeks, have Monasteries there, thus consecrating the
ground where according to their researchers of the
Eastern and Western Churches Nicodemus lived that
"man of the Pharisees and Ruler of the People" to
whom Christ announced the great doctrine of the Regeneration
lived. The Mussulmen accept the same account, with
an improvement. They ^they^ teach their children that the honored
disciple who came to the Savior by night was hurtled
Page 8

to the earths satellite and that he is ^so^ the very man
of the Ancient Pharisees is now th in reality the
man in the moon. So also the devout men
of the ancient Churches fi have fixed upon Ramlah
as the home of Joseph of Aramathea who gave
up his ^own new tomb^ tomb cut out of the rock fo to be the sepulchur
of Christ. There is no tavern for Christian or Western
travelers. But the Franciscan Convent opened to us as
it does to all its hospitable doors. Just as we
were taking our provisions out of the sacks – we found
that the Brothers recognizing me by letters they had
received from Jaffa – were spreading for us an ample
supper. We ate it thankfully and slept after
it soundly –