Narrative Of The United States Expedition To The River Jordan And The Dead Sea/23

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Narrative Of The United States Expedition To The River Jordan And The Dead Sea  (1849)  by William Francis Lynch



TUESDAY, JUNE 6. A pleasant, calm morning, with a dense fog to seaward. Set the cook to work at 4 A.M. The sun rose at 4:40. When all hands were called, I was amused with the simplicity of an Arab’s toilet. He had been sleeping beneath a tree in the court. When awakened, he sprang immediately to his feet, tightened the leathern belt around his aba, and throwing back the flaps of his koofeeyah, he was attired for the day. Except the elder Sherîf , we never saw the Arabs wash anything but their feet, and they regarded our use of the tooth-brush as an absurdity.

At 7 A.M., the land-party, under command of Lieut. Dale, started for St. Jean d’Acre. In the evening, I embarked with the remainder in the Arab brig. These vessels have no names, each one being designated only by that of the rein or captain. According to the custom of the country, a vessel becomes the property of the chartering party for the time being. We therefore hoisted our colours, christened the brig after a valued friend of one of us. The name, beautiful in itself, was the more acceptable, that, although rarely met with now, it is frequent in songs of the olden time, and a great favourite with sailors. The wind drawing too much ahead, we were, near sunset, compelled to anchor again within the outer verge of the harbour. While thus detained, we received another proof of the kindness of our consul, in a present of provisions and fruit.


The finest view of Jaffa is from the harbour. The houses are mostly one story, with flat roofs, and being built on an acclivity, the flat roofs of those on one street form terraces to the houses on the one above it; hence, at sunset, when the inhabitants were assembled on the house-tops to enjoy the breeze, they presented an animated and pleasing appearance. After night-fall, the scene was beautiful; the town rising terrace above terrace, with hundreds of living and moving lights; in front, stretched the sea, with a line of foam where it broke against the reef, and a.young, but bright, unclouded moon above it.

Sailed again at 8 P.M; the wind very light. When I awoke, at 2 A.M., the brig was gently moving, unrestrained by human guidance. The sheets were hauled aft; the helm lashed alee, and the reis and his crew were fast asleep. The moon had gone down, and the stars shone lustrous through the humid atmosphere.

Behind us, but a few miles distant, was Jaffa, dark and still as a city of the dead. To the left, was the broad expanse of sea, arched over by an unclouded sky. On the right, was a waving line of coast, defined by the uncrested waves, as they lazily tumbled and broke against it with a monotonous, but refreshing sound. Beyond, was a line of barren sand-hills, terminated by cliffs in the remote distance. To the careless eye and unreflecting mind, an unattractive and a dreary scene! But, in truth, how teeming with association, and with food for thought!


Over those barren sand-hills, were the sites of Gilgal and Antipatris; and to the north, that seeming line of cliffs was Caesarea, built (or rebuilt) by Herod, and named after his imperial master. Thence, St. Paul departed on his way to Rome. Some centuries later, this very shore presented another and a less quiet scene, — when the battle raged upon its sands, and Christian and Infidel hosts rent the air with shouts of defiance. To the west, across the sea, lay our home, the resting-place of all our earthly ties; and to the east, beyond the line of hills which skirts the horizon, were the consecrated scenes in the life of Him, in whom should be centred all our future hopes.

Early in the morning, the sea-breeze sprang up, and making a speedy passage, we anchored off St. Jean d’Acre, about an hour after the gates were closed, and had, consequently, to remain all night on board.

The route of the land party was along the sea shore, with an occasional detour to the right. The beach was covered with a profusion of shells, of a yellow colour near the sea, but blanched white a short distance up, which, with a harsh, discordant sound, crushed and crumbled beneath the horses’ feet.

Early in the day, they passed the ruins of Apollonia, and, a short distance beyond, the village El Haram, with a mosque and minaret. The cliff was 300 to 400 feet high, sand and crumbling sandstone, and the walls ran into the sea: there was also a bastion with loop-holes, like the one at Kerak. There were several feluccas here, lading with stone from the ruins, to be taken to Jaffa. After leaving Apollonia, the beach was a heavy sand, until, early in the afternoon, they came to a stream, El Faled, which cuts through a rock; when, turning inland, they entered upon a rolling country, and crossing a hill, spurring off from the range, they followed a broad valley or plain, and camped for the night near the village of Mukhalid. The village Es Skarki, with ruins, was on a hill to the right. There was here a sycamore fig-tree, under which reclined three Armenians, officers of the customs, respectively, of Jaffa, Gaza, and Jerusalem. They were attired in shabby European costume. But the resemblance extended to a less commendable feature; they drank freely of arrack, a vile, spirituous compound. At sunset, a Muslim was seen at his prayers and prostrations on the extreme end of the castle wall. His figure, cutting against the clear sky, had a singular effect, and reminded one of “prayer on the house-top.”

At sunset, the flocks of sheep and goats were driven in. It was a clear, glorious night, but with a heavy dew; and it was necessary to keep vigilant watch, for the fellahin between Jaffa and Acre are noted for their thievish propensities. The shepherd’s pipe was heard from the village; there were many watch-dogs barking, and sheep bleating, and hundreds of goats sneezing throughout the night; and there were many, many fleas.


Early on the 7th they started, and passing a number of women, some cutting wood, and others carrying it in large bundles upon their heads, they recrossed the sandhills, with scattering, scrubby bushes on them, and came again upon the sea-shore. The coast here was sand, with outlying flat sandstone. At 10 A.M., they crossed the Nahr Akhdar, and came to the ruins of Caesarea.

These ruins present walls and bastions with a deep ditch around them. They are all of cut sandstone, which a number of feluccas were taking to Jaffa for the new khan. In like manner and for a like purpose, stones have doubtless been taken to Beïrût, Tripoli, and other places. The citadel presents a striking scene of great masses of masonry overturned, and displaying rows of dark granite columns beneath, the foundation of which was laid in what is termed cob-house fashion. All the ruins were of massive sandstone. There were Saracenic arches and three very lofty pieces of masonry — standing abutments, perhaps, of a church, or a castle. The whole area within the walls is full of pits, where hewn stones have been dug from the earth accumulated over them in the lapse of ages. There was an Arab shepherd with several hundred goats within the enclosure. “The seacoasts shall be dwellings, cottages for shepherds and folds for flocks.”

The walls were in good preservation. Along the bank are the remains of a line of ancient buildings, and near the termination, a temple fallen into the sea, its dark granite columns lying side by side in the water. How beautiful once! how mournful now! Parallel to the sea are Roman arches of an aqueduct, nearly buried in the fine white sand. This aqueduct evidently conveyed water from the Zerka (Blue River), although where the party came upon it, it ran more inland among the sand-hills. The whole of this region is almost an entire desert.

THE RIVER ZERKA_(Jordan River)

The river Zerka is a fine stream, with the remains of a stone bridge at its mouth, on the very shore of the sea. There is a mill a little distance up, and an ancient dam or bridge across of solid masonry. There were a number of camels, horses, and donkeys standing around with their loads of grain. This mill grinds for the neighbouring villages, and is represented to have been a mill-seat of ancient Caesarea. Throughout the day, there was a lofty spire visible in the distance, which they took for a minaret or a light-house.

At 2 P.M., they reached Tantura, a populous and thriving town, with a harbour formed by three or four islands. There were several feluccas taking in grain, from huge piles of it on the beach; and among the fellahin there was a merchant from Beïrût.


Leaving Tantûra, they passed some wells excavated in the rocks, so near the sea that the latter, when moderately agitated, breaks into them. Shortly after, they came to the ruins of Dora, situated on a promontory; where were the remains of an ancient building, very much resembling a light-house — the one they had seen all the morning. The base of the rock was excavated for a fosse (ditch; moat) to the castle, and there was a row of granite pedestals of columns. How magnificent the colonnade upon this promontory must have been! After some trouble in finding sweet water, they pitched the tent in a grove of date-palm trees. There were a number of wells in the field, and many women passing to and fro with jars upon their heads.

On the 8th the road led along the sand beach, passing by occasional coves and over ridges of rock. When near Castellum Perigrinorum (Pilgrim’s Castle), Charles Homer, seaman, was wounded by the accidental discharge of a gun. The load of twelve buck-shot entered the under part of the arm near the wrist, and came out on the upper side below the elbow, lacerating the arm dreadfully, and, as it afterwards proved, shattering one of the bones. The severed artery discharged dark arterial blood in frightful jets, and the wounded man suffered excruciating agony. With great difficulty, Mr. Bedlow checked the bleeding, and the poor fellow was slowly conveyed to the ruined castle. Fortunately there were some feluccas in the harbour, and under charge of Mr. Bedlow he was immediately embarked in one of them for Acre. The wind was fair and fresh, and in six hours they reached their destination. Homer was immediately taken to the consul’s house, and a surgeon in the Turkish army, who had been educated in Ibrahim Pasha’s medical school in Egypt, dressed the wound. I dreaded, however, the heat of the climate, and felt it my duty to procure for the unfortunate man the most comfortable quarters and the very best surgical attendance.

I therefore sent him, the same evening, to Beïrût, under charge of Passed Midshipman Aulick, Mr. Bedlow, and three men. The carriage trucks, and all our effects sent back from Tiberias, were also embarked in the brig. On their arrival, Homer was without delay placed under the care of the Sisters of Charity, and a French surgeon of eminence attended him daily. The only time that I have ever been addressed by an Arab female, was this day, when one inquired about the condition of the wounded sailor. Humanity, a lovely tenant, dwell where it may, has its peculiar and appropriate home in the female breast.


The castle of the Pilgrims is a mountain of masonry, furnishing an inexhaustible quarry for exportation. A village of about thirty families is perched upon the summit, and its inhabitants have spent their lives in excavations. A road, made by the excavators, runs over and around the hill. A beautiful arched window, or doorway was crammed with bundles of wheat. One apartment, with groined arches and carved-work, presented a most imposing appearance. It is in perfect preservation, dimly lighted from the doorway, and the windows facing the sea; it was used as a cow-yard.

The guide said that the castle was built “for the king’s daughter.” North of the castle, was a magnificent fragment of a wall, upwards of one hundred feet high, built of large stones, crossing a stream which is probably the Wady Ajil, but called, by the guide, Nahr Dustray (Justeriyeh?). They then opened, from a sand-ridge, the beautiful vale of Esdraelon, running down by Mount Carmel, towards the outlet of the Kishon. Sometime after, they passed Mount Carmel, with its convent, the temporary resting place of so many travelers; and, riding through the walled village of Haifa, where there were many lazy Arabs lounging about the doors, they came out at the camping-ground of the 31st of March. There were the graveyard, the ruined tomb, the carob tree, and the shelving beach, with its line of foam. Winding along the beach, and again crossing the Kishon and the Belus, the last our second camping place, they halted on the glacis of the outer parapet of the eastern wall, a little north of the main gate of the fortress of Acre. In front was the plain, with an aqueduct, Abd ’Allah Pasha’s garden, and cultivated fields beyond, to the verge of the mountains; behind, and on each side, was the sea.


On the morning of the 9th, we had a visit from Sherîf and ’Akil , who came in state, and we accepted an invitation to breakfast with them. Going into the town, we saw a man in the fosse of the ramparts, digging for bullets expended in various sieges of the place. He had found a number of them, two feet below the surface.

On repairing to the Sherîf’s, a little after noon, we were ushered, through a paved court, into a large room, with a lofty, arched ceiling; Persian mats were upon the floor; a handsome divan at one end, and at the other a European bedstead, with chintz curtains, and costly weapons were hanging against the walls. Nubian slaves were in immediate attendance, with sherbet, pipes, and coffee; shortly after which, followed the repast. It consisted of a great many dishes, of Arab cookery, and was served up in an immense circular brazen tray. Among other things, there was a lamb, roasted whole, which ’Akil tore apart and distributed with his hands. We had learned not to consider knives and forks as indispensable; and, being hungry, made, tooth and nail, a hearty meal. In ten minutes, the exercises were over; and, with a lavation and a pipe, the entertainment concluded.

SATURDAY, JUNE 10. After taking some observations to connect with preceding ones, we started, at 8:15 A.M., for Nazareth, via the Valley of the Winds, the first encampment of our previous march. The aspect of the country was far more parched and dry than when we first saw it; the plain was embrowned by the sun, and the air filled with myriads of insects, the product of the already decaying vegetation. At 11:45, reached the former camping place, and stopped to make renewed observations. To our deep regret, we here discovered the delicate boiling-water apparatus, for determining elevations, to be broken, notwithstanding all our care. The horses were exceedingly restive from the heat and the bites of insects, coming across the wide plain of Acre, and to that I attributed the unfortunate accident.


We here gathered a few flowers, which, the offspring of a more mature season, were gaudy in their colouring, but less redolent of fragrance, than those which bloomed around us on our previous visit. From the heat of the climate, vegetation germinates, matures, decays, and revivifies, with great rapidity. The poetical figure is an approximation to the truth:—

“The Syrian flower
Buds, and blooms,
and withers, in an hour.”

At 1:30 P.M., started again, and, diverging from the route we had before pursued, stopped at Sepphori to examine the ruins of a church with pointed arches, apparently of the time of the crusades. At 4 P.M., came in sight of Nazareth, seated at the head of Wady Hadj (Valley of the Pilgrims), which, through the Wady el Kafyeh (Ravine of the Leap), communicates with the great valley of Esdraelon. Leaving the Greek Church of the Annunciation on our left, we skirted the eastern slope of the mountain, and, descending through the outskirts of the town, camped, where so many travelers had camped before, in an olive-grove, about eighty yards from the Fountain of the Virgin. There were a great many women and children around the fountain; the children, sprightly, with intelligent features; and the women, the most cleanly in their attire, and the most courteous in their manners, of any we had seen in Syria.


SUNDAY, JUNE 11. We visited the Franciscan Convent, and its church, containing the grotto of the Annunciation. We were also taken to the reputed workshop of St. Joseph; to the place where our Saviour dined with his disciples, and to the precipice whither he was led by the Jews.

The feelings are inexpressible which overpower one in passing to and fro amid scenes which, for the greater portion of his mortal existence, were frequented by our Saviour. In Jerusalem, the theatre of his humiliations, his sufferings, and his death, the heart is oppressed with awe and anguish; but in Nazareth, where he spent his infancy, his youth, and his early manhood, we yearn towards him unchilled by awe, and unstricken by horror.

In its secluded position, with a narrow valley before it, and mountains in every other direction, we liked Nazareth better even than Bethlehem, and thought it the prettiest place we had seen in Palestine. The streets were perfectly quiet; there was an air of comfort about the houses, and the people were better dressed, and far more civil, than any we had encountered.

Nazareth contains about 5000 inhabitants, four-fifths Christians, the remainder Muslims. It has twenty-two villages in its district, which is subordinate to the Pashalic of Acre. While here, we paid a visit to a Turkish tax-gatherer, who, from his books, furnished us with much statistical information with regard to the tenure and the cultivation of land, and the land-tax, the poll-tax, and the “kharaje,” or blood-tax, paid by the Christians.

ESDRAELON ( Jezreel Valley )

This tax-gatherer was an Egyptian, with a dark complexion, and short, crisp, black hair; his wife, a native of Aleppo, in the north of Syria, had white skin, and chesnut ringlets; and their servant woman was a Maronite of Mount Lebanon, with high cheek-bones, a freckled face, and reddish-brown hair.

Napoleon stopped at Nazareth after having rescued General Jean Baptiste Kléber in his desperate engagement with the Syrian army, in on the plain of Esdraelon (Jezreel Valley ), about two hours distant.

We found here the heliotrope, the pink, the pheasant’s eye, and the knotty hartswort. The roots and seeds of the latter are medicinal, having similar properties to those of the carrot. The Turks are said to eat the young shoots as a salad.