August 24, 2015 by rochesterhistoricalnh
Adams Jaffa Colony
By Florence H. Smith
On a rainy Sunday night in late October, 1861, a man accompanied by a woman and a young boy showed up on the doorstep of John Tibbetts at Blaisdells ’ Corner asking for shelter. He identified himself as G.J. Adams, a preacher from Springfield, Massachusetts, who with his wife and son were going to Rockland, Maine. Although he had promised to pay for his accommodations, in the morning, he confessed that he had no money; but on his return from Rockland, he would like to stop and hold a series of meetings in the schoolhouse on Blaisdells’ Corner.
Several months later, he came back and held many meetings in the old schoolhouse and in the East Rochester Baptist Church. An eloquent speaker, he won the confidence of followers and for the next five years he spent time in East Rochester, as well as in several towns in Maine, organizing a church. He called his church “Church of the Messiah” and told his parishioners that Christ was about to come again and set up a heavenly kingdom at Jerusalem. Members of his church listened to his doctrine and were eager to follow him to the Holy Land. He established a newspaper called. The Sword of Truth and the Harbinger of Peace, and he used it to defend himself against the character attacks on him by the Springfield Republican, Rockland Gazette, and several other publications. In spite of the newspapers’ disclaimers, his supporters believed him to be a prophet from God, and in 1862 they circulated a petition in East Rochester and South Lebanon collecting 66 signatures of leading citizens supporting his church. The papers denounced “the people who are attacking Brother Adams and are trying to suppress the glorious truth he is preaching.”
In 1865, Adams began arrangements for the journey to Jaffa and said he would go first to “spy out the land”. Funds were raised, and he went away for a while and then returned with maps, charts, and diagrams showing the land and living arrangements. He gave a glowing description of the climate and the people; and he said they would be happy that they would be required to do little or no work. Soon, he assured them, the Lord would come to Jerusalem and they would be waiting and be the first to receive recognition.
His followers sold their land, houses, cattle, horses, and all the rest of their possessions and prepared to go with the great man. On July 31, 1866, Zimiri Corson, his wife and their four children; Orland Tibbetts, his wife and their two children; Mrs. Eliza Corson and her daughter; Levi Mace, his wife, and their four children; George W. Clark, his wife and children, as well as some others, packed only what they could fit in a trunk and left East Rochester. They went to Somersworth and took a train for Portland where they boarded a steamer, City of Richmond, and traveled to Jonesport, Maine. There they were joined by others who were to make up the colony. They waited while the ship, the Nellie Chaplin, took on lumber for building and provisions to last until they could harvest a crop in their new home. On August 10th, the one hundred fifty six people who had gathered there set out on a trip cross the Atlantic.
The trip took forty two days with exceptionally good weather. At sea, Adams changed and demanded that they give all of their money to him for safekeeping. From it he deducted passage money of $65.00 for adults and half that amount for children. Rev, Adams was so different at sea that before long some of the people began to suspect that they had been deceived,
After landing in Palestine, the colonists lived in tents while buildings were being constructed. Although they had paid their leader a great deal of money to buy them individual house lots, they soon found that they could not purchase any land and were only allowed to build on a common lot of four acres. First built was a schoolhouse in which they could hold meetings and receive instruction from a native in the language. Before long they had buried nine of their small band including George Clark from East Rochester and two of his children. Only sixteen houses were erected for the entire party. They had given Adams most of their money and had a hard time getting necessities. Those who could get the fare returned home, but many had no funds available or were too proud to admit that they had been cheated out of their life savings. They knew by now that both Adams and his wife were heavy drinkers. Within a year, all of the money was gone, their crops had failed; and they were discouraged and near starvation.
During the summer of 1867, an excursion ship, the Quaker City, visited Jaffa. Some of the colonists talked to the officer and about forty of them were allowed room on the deck of the ship to travel to Alexandria about 400 miles away. Mark Twain was among the passengers on the ship and he managed to talk with some of the wretched souls huddled on deck and heard their story. While the ship was in Alexandria, another passenger, Moses S. Beech of the New York Sun, who was moved by the plight of these poor people, gave them $1500 to pay the fare home. They took the steamer Isles to Liverpool and then the steamship Chicago to New York. They arrived home on November 15, 1867.
Those that had refused to leave with the others because they still trusted Adams eventually became disillusioned and their strong faith in their leader was gone. Twenty two of their party had died in the less than two years they had been in Jaffa. Adams became despondent and drank even more and finally abandoned the little colony. Shortly after, with the help of the United States Consulate, they all, except two, returned home. The two who remained behind were the widow of George Clark who had married a Turkish man and Rolla Floyd who stayed on as a guide and was very popular with American tourists.
Additional information taken from The History of the Town of Rochester, New Hampshire by Franklin McDuffee, Volume ll, pp562-3:
Adams name was George J. Adams.
He had been a Methodist minister, an actor, and a Mormon preacher before this venture.
Before coming to the East Rochester area, he had a few followers in Springfield, Massachusetts.
He gained more followers in the Addison, Maine, area before returning to East Rochester.
A Mr. McKenzie joined him in publishing his newspaper and McKenzie “furnished considerable money for his other schemes”.
On returning to East Rochester, Adams held frequent meetings at the East Rochester Church. Crowds came. 40 joined his church. They called themselves Ephraimites – other churches they called Babylon.
He said he had been appointed by God to establish the true “Church of the Messiah” He said two angels had ordained him to the priesthood of Melchizedek.
He claimed he had the power to heal the sick by the laying on of hands.
He told his followers that in Palestine the Lord would come and make them rulers – some over 10 cities and some over 5.
“The first building put up was a rum shop and its best customer was the Elder [Adams]. One of his cronies said that he spent over $500 in liquor in a few months and he was subject to delirium tremens. He had control of the funds, nearly all of which he appropriated to his own use.”
53 people made it home to the US.
There are a number of articles about Adams and the Jaffa Colony that can be found online.