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American Priestess: The Extraordinary Story of Anna Spafford and the American Colony in Jerusalem [Kindle Edition]

Jane Fletcher Geniesse
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.95
Kindle Price: $13.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

For generations, The American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem has been a well-known retreat for journalists, diplomats, pilgrims and spies. However, few know the story of Anna Spafford, the enigmatic evangelist who was instrumental in its founding

Branded heretics by Jerusalem’s established Christian missionaries when they arrived in 1881, the Spaffords and their followers nevertheless won over Muslims and Jews with their philanthropy. But when her husband Horatio died, Anna assumed leadership, shocking even her adherents by abolishing marriage and establishing an uneasy dictatorship based on emotional blackmail and religious extremism.

With a controversial heroine at its core, American Priestess provides a fascinating exploration of the seductive power of evangelicalism as well as an intriguing history of an enduring landmark.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Anna Øglende Spafford's life was a classic 19th-century epic, related perceptively by Geniesse. Born in Norway in 1842, she came to the United States as a child, buried her father on the Minnesota prairie, then married evangelical lawyer Horatio Spafford in Chicago. Somewhat unhinged by the Great Chicago Fire, bankruptcy and a shipwreck that drowned four of their daughters, the couple founded a Protestant sect called the Saints; hounded by creditors, they absconded to Jerusalem in 1881 with a handful of followers to await the Second Coming. With Horatio's death, Anna tightened her grip on her American Colony cult, abolished marriage and reshuffled couples into chaste affinities. Then she turned her sect into a business empire, including a profitable hotel, farms, bakeries and Jerusalem's first telephone company, all staffed by Swedish converts. Whew! There are neither villains nor saints in this story, notes Geniesse (Passionate Nomad), setting her sprightly account against the era's Christian Zionism and millennial hysterias. Geniesse paints her charismatic heroine as part ur-feminist survivor, part totalitarian despot. (June 17)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Geniesse documents the extraordinary life of Anna Spafford, nineteenth-century American expatriate and cofounder, along with her husband, Horatio Spafford, of an evangelical sect dubbed The Overcomers. Shortly after the Great Chicago Fire, a series of personal tragedies and financial difficulties motivated the couple, together with a small band of followers, to leave the U.S. and settle in Jerusalem. While awaiting the Second Coming, the Spaffords founded a utopian religious colony that eventually evolved into a successful business enterprise, with the famed American Colony Hotel as the surviving crown jewel of their financial empire. After Horatio’s death, Anna assumed leadership of the American Colony, establishing a series of controversial dictates including the abolition of marriage. Set against the backdrop of an evolving Middle East, this book provides a vivid portrait of both a woman and a region on the cusp of transformation. --Margaret Flanagan

Product Details

  • File Size: 2213 KB
  • Print Length: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1 edition (June 17, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0015DWLHQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #570,731 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars American Priestess August 6, 2008
Adding to Furman Baldwin's commentary on "American Priestess" by Jane Fletcher Geniesse, I too am a 3rd generation descendant of the first wave of members who joined Anna Spaford's American Colony in Jerusalem. Our fathers, Furman and Norman,were sons of Reverend Edward F. Baldwin who with four of his children became early members. Also my mother was 9 years old when her parent and siblings from Nas, Sweden joined the "Overcomers" in 1891.

Like cousin Furman,I learned more about our family background from the book than from our parents and all who knew them, combined.

The story at times shocking, is meticulously researched as to characters and covers decades of fascinating social, economic and historic background from the mid 1800's to modern times. The author's deft use of language is a refreshing force to expand one's vocabulary.

Without sharing much credit for many positive accomplishments of the American Colony, founder/leader Anna kept tight reins on the colonists by revealing to them her divine guidance undergirded by faith, ego and nepotism. The saga is a revealation of the depth and breadth of human potential for good and evil.

If after reading the book, I'd be pleased to hear from any other descendants of the colonists with new informatioin to add. Norman T. Baldwin (
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing What One Learns About By Reading September 5, 2008
Here is an extraordinary story about an international group of people who immigrated to Jerusalem to await the Second Coming led by Anna and Horatio Spafford beginning in 1881. The American Colony as they were known settled in a compound situated in the Old City in the Arab Quarter between the Damascus Gate and Herod's Gate. Jane Geniesse writes with fairness about the leader, charismatic Anna Spafford, who was appalling in many ways but also the positive force in developing welcome and lasting social services for any of the local people in need. (Of course much can be accomplished with mostly unpaid workers who are dependent on their leader for food, shelter and salvation.)
This was like reading three books: Immigration to America, tough times in Chicago and Protestant Evangelism (and dipping into the till); The growth of The American Colony with its vague religious ideas; and The Middle East spanning the two world wars. Her research on the Spaffords, their descendents,the civil, military and religious personalities who lived through the political turmoil of the region resulted in a broad portrait of that era.
The American Colony Hotel on the grounds of the compound continues to be a favored setting for celebrities,spies, diplomats,journalists, tourists and politicians. Until her death in June, 2008, Valentine Vesper, the granddaughter-in-law of the Spaffords and proprietor, lived there. Be sure to go on-line to tour this beautiful hotel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
For anyone with mid-western ancestors, this phenomenal religious and protestant work ethic mentality makes me ever more curious about my great grandparents and their beliefs and life style. It's simply fascinating. From the Chicago fire, to the strong belief in retuning all Jews to Palestine and converting them to Christianity ---an incredible piece of our past. And so very exciting to discover.

For anyone who was taken by "the devil and the white city", this is a must read!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A letter to the Author July 26, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Hi Jane:
> I have just finished reading American Priestess. I am
> most impressed by the tremendous amount of research
> that must have gone into it.
> As the child of two former Colony members I had, of
> course, heard of some of the conditions under which
> they lived. I only had bits and pieces and never knew
> in detail the full story. Your book filled in all the
> blanks and even set the scene with the background of
> the epic changes that were occurring in the Middle
> East during those times.
> Your perspective of the whole Colony situation was
> very much like that of my parents. You may be
> interested in what I had heard about Bertha's visit to
> Buffalo in 1922. As you indicated my parents had no
> love for her after the treatment they had received
> from her and her mother. They were very surprised that
> she would visit with them. However, they received her
> civilly. When Bertha first arrived she hid her true
> feelings about these people who had become
> disenchanted with the Colony and had left. My mother
> told me she walked into the Baldwin parlor where, as a
> baby of a few months I was lying in a crib and
> exclaimed, "Oh Fareedy, he is a prince."
> As for her comments following the visit stating that
> she was contemptuous of their "efforts to support
> themselves as photographers" and "they had made no
> impression on Buffalo" they were belied by the fact
> that the Baldwin Studio was one of Buffalo's leading
> photographic studios.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars American Priestess: July 26, 2008
I was enthralled by this book: by the fascinating story, by the author's skill in carrying out her undertaking of combining a vast sweep of history from the industrial revolution in the Middle Western United States to the roots of the intractable hostilities in the world's Middle East, with deftly included studies of mmigration and migration, the fervor of l9th century religiosity, and layers upon layers all woven tightly together by a human narrative vividly told and nearly unique. A Shipwreck! A heroine at once awesome, fearsome, and overwhelmingly interesting. Who knew the American Colony Hotel in Jersusalem, a way station of select world travelers for a century, had such an amazing beginning? "Who knew?" is something a reader will mutter every few pages. The compression of so much history and so much research is so deft that it gives every impression of ease, becoming a compelling read. That most difficult acheivement is matched by the triumph of telling the human narrative with equally accomplished skill. This book takes you places you may never have imagined you wanted to go, and you will be so grateful for the journey.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book, Great service!!! Thanks
Published 1 month ago by Larry Guy
5.0 out of 5 stars Returning American Colony Heritage to Descendants
I recommend this book to all interested in the American Colony, as well as Dudman and Kark's THE AMERICAN COLONY: SCENES FROM A JERUSALEM SAGA (1998). Read more
Published 2 months ago by Hickson Family
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, Insightful, and Well Documented
I had never read anything more than the story of how the hymn, It Is Well, was inspired by the death of the daughters of Horatio Stafford's daughters. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Cheryl Brodersen
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Interesting reading about not very loveable people. /shows how one can get off track in religion.
Published 8 months ago by Elizabeth W. Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars A History of Modern Jerusalem
This is an excellent a very well written book. It is history at its best, and shows both the serious flaws and misunderstandings of the human condition and oftentimes confused... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Richard L. Harrell
4.0 out of 5 stars Great
Fascinating story! The author does a good job of presenting us the lives of some pretty interesting people at an interesting time in history. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Mary Cooney
5.0 out of 5 stars Americans in Jerusalem waiting for the Second Coming; The Amazing...
Jane Geniesse has transformed years of prodigious research into a captivating tale. "Heroine" is an odd term for Anna Spafford, the American Priestess, because, in addition to her... Read more
Published on September 3, 2009 by Eve Pell
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read
Jane Geniesse has painted an intriguing portrait of a fascinatingly complex woman. Whether a tyrant or saint, Anna Spafford's Christian Zionism and her devotees won the admiration... Read more
Published on September 2, 2008 by John Kiser
5.0 out of 5 stars Americans in Jerusalem
This a very unusual story with serious implications. Full of surprises, it is the work of an experienced historian who can really write. Read more
Published on August 5, 2008 by T. Devine
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, a real page turner.
Jane Geniesse tells a fast-moving, rigorously reseaarched tale of a Chicago society woman who loses her children in a cross-Atlantic shipwreck, later accompanies her deadbeat... Read more
Published on August 1, 2008 by Milt Freudenheim
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More About the Author

Jane Fletcher Geniesse, a former reporter with the New York Times, is the author of two biographies and a novel. "Passionate Nomad," the life of Dame Freya Stark, the celebrated traveler who explored the valleys of the ancient Assassins, was published by Random House in 1999 and was a finalist for the Pen/Albrand Award.

In 2008, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday published "American Priestess," the extraordinary tale of a Chicago beauty, Anna Spafford, who led a group to Jerusalem in 1881 to await the arrival of the Messiah. Not only is Anna's story one of religious coercion but also a vivid description of the titanic events that created the modern Middle East in which she and her followers were intimately involved.

Mrs. Geniesse's first achievement was a novel published by Doubleday in 1976, "The Riches of Life." Influenced by the new feminist movement, her heroine, Sarah Bowler, is a well-to-do young New Yorker impatient with her life. She becomes involved in the stolen antiquities trade and in the process learns the value of family and friends as well as of having a career.

All three books have had a second life in paperback. Mrs. Geniesse has also contributed articles to many publications and is frequently invited to speak on her books and on the Middle East.

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