Exactly one hundred and fifty years ago this week, 157 men, women and children set sail from Jonesboro Maine on the Nellie Chaplin, a sailing vessel with three masts on a trans-oceanic voyage. Their destination was Jaffa (Tel Aviv had not yet been established). They were members of a sect known as Christian Lovers of Zion. Their mission was to develop the land of Israel along with its resources in preparation for the return of the Jewish people. For only then, would the time be right for the Second Coming.
The Christian settlers brought with them all sorts of agricultural equipment as well as materials for houses and anything that might be useful or necessary in securing a livelihood. They arrived in Jaffa after a journey of six weeks.
From the moment the group of 157 set foot on the soil of the Holy land, their experience was fraught with disaster. Local Ottoman government officials would not approve their occupancy, despite the fact that their leader was led to believe that the land purchase was legal and binding. Accordingly, the settlers had no choice but to pitch tents on the beach. Disease and death were by no means strangers to the group. Within the first month, three adults and nine children had succumbed to dysentery. Their first harvest was much smaller than they had anticipated and hoped for. Within two years, the majority of the group, including George Adams, their leader was forced to admit defeat and return to the United States.
Among the handful that stayed, were Rolla Floyd and his wife Docia (Theodocia). Although they had lost an infant child soon after arriving, Rolla was not about to admit defeat. With the collapse of the fledgling community in Jaffa, Rolla relocated to Jerusalem and bought a home a few blocks from what is now city center. Armed with a flair for entrepreneurship and born with tenacity that knew no bounds, Rolla saw himself as a natural when it came to providing services for those visiting and making pilgrimage to the land of Israel. Rolla soon became known as the “American” who makes it his business to conduct travelers over the Holy Land. With a retinue of Arab laborers, Rolla secured a number of row boats to ferry passengers along with their luggage from their trans-oceanic sailing vessel to shore. Once ashore, Rolla arranged lodging, travel and sightseeing.
Rolland had foresight. He brought a spring wagon (basically a covered wagon with planks for seats) along with him from Maine. When the Jaffa-Jerusalem Highway was completed within three years of his arrival, Rolla, already conversant in Hebrew, established the country’s first transportation system.
Rolla died in 1911, one day short of his 79th birthday. If you wish to see where he is buried, you can visit his grave at the Alliance Church International Cemetery in the German Colony on Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem. If you wish to see where he lived upon arriving in the Holy Land, then pay a visit to 11 Aurbach Street in Jaffa, where one or two of the houses of the Christian Lovers of Zion have been reconstructed. Last but not least, there is a plaque in both Hebrew and English in honor of the 157 brave Christians at Charles Lore Park in Jaffa. Something to keep in mind for your next trip to Israel.