1858 Senate Report Regarding the "Outrage at Jaffa" - The Rape and Murder of the Dickson Family Colony

May 1, 1858

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1858 Senate Report Regarding the "Outrage at Jaffa" - The Rape and Murder of the Dickson Family Colony
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30 pages | SMC 1012

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      The idea which had brought them to Palestine was simple - Jewish statehood was a prerequisite for Christ's second coming, and so it was incumbent upon them, as Christians, to help the Jews establish a state in Palestine. That was, alas, the only simple part of the mid-19th century movement which brought evangelical Christians to the Holy Land - for the reality of life in Palestine, for Jew and Gentile alike, was brutal. This truth was brought home all the way to Washington when, in 1858, the American agricultural colony in Jaffa - founded on the mistaken premise that local Jews might want be taught to cultivate the land, and so make a start toward sovereignty - was savagely attacked by local Arabs. The murder, rape and general horror of the affair quickly came to be known as the "Outrage at Jaffa", and for once, elicited a strong American response. The State Department, incensed, dispatched two American Jews - Edwin de Leon, the Consul at Alexandria; and Uriah Levy, commander of the battleship USS Macedonian - to vigorously protect the American Christian communities in the Levant. This they did, by De Leon threatening the Ottoman authorities with war if they did not punish the perpetrators, and by Levy sailing his warship off the coast of Syria, making the point that war was indeed possible, if not imminent.


      The colonist Walter Dickson had hired the Gross-steinbeck brothers, who in turn married Dickson's two daughters - but the Jews whom they had come to instruct, stayed away. What local attention they attracted, unfortunately, came from the resident Arabs, whom they generally managed to keep away with small arms supplied by the U.S. Navy.  When, however, five Arabs came to the Dickson farm on the night of January 11, 1858, ostensibly seeking a lost cow, and stayed to murder the men and rape the women, the Jaffa Colony was, essentially, finished.

      This Senate document concerns the State Department's response to the "Outrage at Jaffa." It begins with the dispatch of the American Consul at Jerusalem, J. Warren Gorham, reporting the attack, continues with a narrative of the American response, and ends with the Secretary of State's commendation of De Leon's actions.


      Students of literature will note that among the victims, and survivors, of the atrocities at Jaffa, were two Steinbeck brothers - and so it is that the novelist John Steinbeck's great-grandfather was beaten there, his great-grandmother raped, his great-grandfather's brother murdered and his great-grandmother's sister raped. These same cognoscenti may also remember that the great American writer Herman Melville visited the Dickson Colony in 1857 and, some twenty years later, wrote about it, and the murder there, in his epic poem, Clarel.

      BUCHANAN, JAMES. United States Senate. 35th Congress, 1st Session. Ex. Doc. No. 54. Message of the President of the United States, in Answer to a Resolution of the Senate, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1858, 30 pages, octavo, (216 x 141 mm). Disbound, later cover sheet.
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      35TH CONGRESS,
      1st Session.


      Ex. Doc.
      No. 54.

      OF THE


      A resolution of the Senate, concerning the outrages lately committed against the family of Mr. Dickson, an American citizen residing at Jaffa, in Palestine.


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      ...  Sir : It is my painful duty to inform you that, on the night of the 11th of January, 1858, an attack was made upon the house of Walter Dickson, an American citizen residing at Jaffa.  The house was forcibly entered ; he himself struck down by a blow upon the head; his wife and daughter violated, and Frederick Steinbeck, a Prussian, but who has American letters of protection, murdered.  The house was pillaged of most of its contents.


      ... Owing to the slight intercourse which the people here have had with Americans, they know little of their power and influence.  To make them feel our power, and the influence of our consuls, it is very evident that every effort must be made in the present case, so to act as that such a case shall never occur again.

      United States Consul, Jerusalem.

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      ... They caught my daughter, Mrs. Steinbeck, by the arm ; she caught hold of me; they struck her with the breech of their guns, and forced her to let go her hold.  She then caught hold of the bedstead, and they pulled it over ; in the bed were my daughter and Mrs. Steinbeck's two children.  They took her away from the bed and dragged her out of doors.  One man staid [sic] in the house and four went out; they came back in about half an hour.  While Mrs. Steinbeck was out of the house, the remaining man dragged Mrs. Dickson into the adjoining room ;  ...

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