A TOUR IN "SYRIA"

 

On the preceding page I have jotted down a hasty schedule of a tour in Syria in which I participated. The names of the places in their regular routine of travel having escaped by memory I have trespassed on the log book of Commodore Jesse D. Elliott, and from the data as obtained will endeavor to make amends for past negligence and connect together the events of a journey full of interest to me. So long a time however has elapsed since the jaunt was made that I must necessarily draw largely on memory and thus omit many little incidents which in themselves would form a narrative. On the 1st of August 1837, Commodore Elliott, Midshipman Bryce, Dr. [Assistant Surgeon Daniel C.] McLeod & myself, with Genl [Lewis] Cass, Lady, three daughters, sons, Mr. Ledyard D. [?] Prentiss USA together with a quartermaster from the ship named Jack Smith and one or two servants left the old frigate Constitution in Jaffa Roads to rendezvous at the house of the American Consul in Jaffa, prior to a trip into the interior of Syria. After completing our preparations we mounted our mules & horses and wound slowly out of the town into the road leading to Jerusalem. On passing near the barrier my mule took me too near a thorn bush and tore the lower part of my trowsers [sic]. A native near at hand mended the rent with red thread, which looked awkwardly enough, but as I was in a barbarous country among a people who looked more at our strange costume than at patches in our pants I jogged on on my donkey and soon came up with the party in advances. The morning was clear, bright and beautiful and we were all in the best spirits at the prospect of the pleasant journey ahead. To avoid the intense heat of the dun [?] we had started at a very early hour. For the first mile or two the road was fringed on either side with the most luxuriant pomegranate trees, laden down with fruit. I had often seen them growing in Georgia, but not like these. These were three times larger and they hung from the branches with their seeds partly cracked open by the hot sun, displaying the rich fruit clusters within. Riding on a little farther we came to an open waste extending for miles around. Our path here was intersected in all directions by large rents on the surface caused by the action of the sun. These chasms or more properly speaking cracks were very numerous and required great watchfulness for had our animals stepped into one of them a tumble would most certainly have been the consequence. Some of them were very deep and could only have been produced by a very hot sun and a peculiar soil. About one pm or perhaps earlier we arrived at Ramlah [sic: Ramallah]. The ancient Armathea [sic: Arimathea]. Here it was that Joseph lived who bought the body of our Savior. We tarried here during the heat of the day feasting upon water melons and the most delightful grapes and at dinner time were entertained by the Sheik of the place with a barbecued sheep stuffed with rice & mutton, chickens &c cooked with curry &c. We left about four ock & passed just outside of the town near an ancient reservoir. Our cavalcade made quite a formidable show and as we were all armed with a cutlass and pair of pistols each to keep off robbers we should doubtless in the event of having been attacked proven ourselves quite as formidable as we looked. Commodore E. told me as we rode along that I owed my good fortune on being selected for the trip entirely to the penchant of Miss Matilda Cass. I therefore determined to be very civil to her on the way and in fact to take her under my special care and protection. So off we rode together in advance of the party. I talked all the sentiment I was marked of until we came to a steep rocky ravine down which into the road below it became necessary for me to lead her horse. I dismounted accordingly and after a vast deal of care and trouble succeeded in getting to the bottom, lugging my mule by the bridle all the way. I looked at my boots before mounting again. They had been a new pair that morning and were all I had provided myself with for the trip except a pair of pumps. The sharp jagged rocks had cut them to pieces. My feet were sore and swollen and I had the prospect of a whole month travel in Syria without the possibility of getting another pair unless I turned Turk and wore slippers. The mischief however was accomplished. We rode on side by side for miles further, no living thing near us and night coming rapidly on. We had yet a long distance before us ere we could reach our camping ground in an olive grove, so I slackened our pace for the party to come up with us. My sentiment was all gone for my tattered boots engrossed me more than Miss Matilda's fascinations. I fear that I proved a dull bear. It was shoe leather against civility and the former prevailed for I wished her heartily at the devil. We reached the encampment by nine oclock. It was a small olive grove about ten or twelve miles from Jerusalem, lying just off the main road to the right. The horses & mules were tethered, the baggage secured and after a hasty meal and a long, long draught of water for I was nearly choked with thirst we wrapped ourselves in whatever articles of covering we had along with us and stretched ourselves on the bare earth for the night. Twas a hard bed at the outset, but ere I got on board ship again I had become accustomed to it. About midnight I awoke and looking round me saw the heel of a mule in close contact with my head. Changed by [sic] position and again sought sleep.

 

The following morning we were up at daylight and when the sun rose we were straggling our way out of the wood in search of the beaten track for the Holy City. The country is hilly and full of rocks with here and there patches of grape vines & olive trees. We feasted on the former whenever we found them without leave or license. When within a mile or two of Jerusalem we were met by a cadaverous looking man with a white hat and neckcloth whom I supposed at once from his appearance to be a missionary. Being in the advance he rode up to me and enquired for Com E and Genl Cass. His name most appropriately was Whiting. We messed at his house during our sojourn in Jerusalem, though the younger portion of the party were quartered with a Mr. Lannow of South Carolina, another brother of the mission. Jerusalem is perched upon a hill rising out of the valley of Jehosaphat, is encircled with a delapidated [sic] wall and upon the whole looks just like any other of the larger Syrian towns we visited. One loses much of the romance connected with the place with the reality of a near approach to it. You see pedling [sic] Jews ‑ beggars ‑ and Turks as in every other place and the sanctity of ones feelings is marred very much by the fatigues necessarily incurred in getting there. Beside this nearly all the events of holy writ have been centred [sic] by the priests into a narrow space inclosed within the walls of the church of St. Helena. I found it impossible to tax my credulity to the extent of the humbug they are apt to impose on you, but aside from all this t here is really much to interest and impress the Christian stranger. The mind naturally recurs to the impressions of childhood and the Bible as it is I found to be even now the best guide book for all that was to be seen in the place. We remained a week in Jerusalem and leaving the ladies behind took our departure one afternoon for Jericho and the Jordan. On our way visited Mt Olivet and Bethany. Glimpses of the Dead sea [sic] can be seen from the top of this Mount. Our road or rather path led us over a wild rocky desolate range of hills & valley. At one time we wound along the edge of [a] wide gloomy ravine down the abyss of which we saw Eagles Hawks & other birds circling below us. At night we encamped on the bank of a clear little rivulet, the margin of which was thickly overgrown with a very straight prickly sort of thorn bush shooting up some ten or twelve feet high. I cut several of these for walking canes but never brought them away as they were very troublesome to carry. Near by us were encamped a small party of Arabs with their camels. These animals during the night kept up a peculiar sort of noise which I had often noticed in them before towards evening. It somewhat resembles the death rattle in a mans [sic] throat, and is plaintive in the extreme as I remember it now. Twas a wild scene probably to both the Arabs and ourselves, they grouped around their fires in the picturesque costumes of the desert with their dark features gleaming in the glare, and we the white strangers from a far distant land travelling (to them without an object) under the protection of the pasha's guards. I think our people are apt to domineer in a foreign land over them with whom they are brought in contact. The natural manliness of our countrymen seems to look down with contempt upon everything which has not for its type the bold bluff hardihood of the Englishman or American and as the consequence is that in all our wanderings in the East and elsewhere we invariably made others give place to us and perform little menial acts which would never have been exacted from the poorest peasant in America. Another thing we never thought of respecting persons or property, but if we passed a man's vineyard and wanted grapes, we took them. If he remonstrated we either tossed him a coin and took them still or else thumped him for his pains. This latter recourse was resorted to again and again by our sailors. Pitching our tent by the side of the brook we turned in and slept until break of day next morning when we again resumed our march. Twas a dark solemn daybreak. The fire had burned down and lay smouldering in a heap of ashes. The Arabs were moving about getting ready like ourselves and their camels were uttering that low plaintive bleat that I have spoken of already. We came in sight of the Dead Sea just as the sun tipped above the horizon. There it lay before us looking as fresh and blue as the ocean. For miles around its shore, save in one narrow strip, extended a dry, dirty barren waste of crushed salt mud which gave to our horses hooves & sunk them at each step over the fetlock. This surface seemed to be raised or baked up from its natural level by the heat of the sun, and covered a space as far as the eye could reach. A belt of green grass or shrubs on our right was all the vegetation we could discern. As we neared the shore of the sea we discovered immense bodies of living things moving about which in the distance we thought to be Arabs, but a nearer view shewd them to be large flocks of birds with white necks & breasts and black wings, in size considerably larger than our cranes and with the same long legs and necks. They were posted in bodies equidistant from each other like regiments of infantry, with regular scouting parties in the advance which took flight as we approached them and joined the main body. Lewis Cass succeeded in killing one of them and taking its wings back with him to Jerusalem for a fan. As soon as we arrived at the beach we consulted among ourselves upon the propriety of bathing in the water and in a very few moments had jumped off our horses, stripped and dashed into the Dead Sea. The beach shelved so gradually that we were obliged to wade a long way out before getting out of our depth and then we found to our astonishment that we could neither sink nor swim. The water of the sea is so dense that in striking out as in ordinary cases, the arms and legs are buoyd [sic] up on a level with the body and forced up so that each stroke is made in the air instead of the water. I was amused at Commodore Elliott. He was trying to dive & his great fat body rolled over and over like a cork, unable to sink. Such is the property of the water in this sea that a human frame may repose upon its surface in perfect security from sinking. One lies upon it as he would on a feather bed. It has no smell that I could discover but a vile horrible taste. After having bathed as long as was agreeable I picked up a pocket full of smooth round stones from the beach, dressed and mounted. As soon as I had done so I found my whole body coated with a soft clammy magnesia sort of substance which stopped all the pores of my skin and made me feel exactly as though I had been daubed all over with paste. The sensation was disgusting, but there was no alternative but patience until we could ride to the Jordan and wash ourselves thoroughly in its purer waters. We saw growing in abundance as we rode on to the river the fruit called the dia[meter] of an apple. In size and appearance it resembles the horse chestnut of our country, having the same rich glossy brown shell. They smell delightfully when first gathered. I can liken it to nothing so much as the aroma of hot gingerbread. When broken open they are filled with a fine snuff colored dust. The bush on which they grow is a small shrub. Our route to the Jordan led us first over the dry crusted waste already spoken of. We had a body guard of wild Arabs and they amused themselves throwing the jereed [sic] and jumping their horses over the chasms which intersected our way. Ere long we came to higher land and rode along the steep banks of the river which were wild and in some places wooded. Five miles brought us to our halting place. Twas a timbered spot, cool and shady with the Jordan dashing by on it way to the Dead Sea. A hundred yards below us were the rapids over which the water boiled and fretted. My whole body was in torture from the effects of my mornings bath. I tore off my clothes and in an instant was refreshed. I believe I was the first officer in. The rest soon followed and some of them accompanied me across the river to the other side. We had to swim for it bravely for the current ran like a mill stream, but we reached it in safety and I commenced working away at a tall strait [sic] young sapling trying to break it off for a cane. I had no knife along with me, but succeeded nevertheless, wrenching it off and swimming across the river with it. Took up our line of march and went to Jericho where we arrived about noon. There are no houses of any kind. The inhabitants live in mud huts built up only a few feet above the level of the ground. The sheik has a shed for his residence made of poles thatched on top with palm leaves. We quartered on him until afternoon. He was a venerable old man with a long flowing beard as white as snow. We travelled with our own provisions, and after dinner moved off in a body on our way back to Jerusalem. We arrived safely next morning and quartered as before upon Mr. Lannow and Mr. Whiting. The Casses were all well, but Matilda concluded that she was too frail to undertake the journey to Damascus and her mother [ ] the frigate at Jaffa which they did. [ ] part of the way in from the [ ] was the body of [ ] one on either side of the [ ] the Holy City after our return from the [ ] the previous year with a large party of officers from the squadron and on that occasion was quartered in a convent. There are many things to be seen & much to write about [ ] a city so full of interest as Jerusalem, but I know neither the [ ]the notes wherewith to jot down here all that [ ] observation. Suffice it that I was very much interested with all I saw, that I visited the ruins of Solomons temple, the [ ] of [ ], the vale of Jehosaphat & Bethlehem [ ] and all these things and pass it over to any [ ] and only mention that Bethlehem is about five miles from the Holy City, that the road to it was a rough & [ ] going there we met a regiment of the Pasha's [ ] against the [ ] for his army. [ ] we camped overnight at a place called Jacobs Well, about a mile or a mile and a half from the town. All our days [sic] journey were pretty much alike. We were in the saddle always by sunrise and rode until eleven or twelve when we halted for breakfast and pitched our tents until four ock. From four until sunset we continued our way. The gentlemen all slept in one tent. After sleeping, at Jacobs Well we started early next morning and passed through Nablus. The road on the either side was frayed with rank, luxuriant vegetation and on our left I saw several little running streams. The cholera was raging in the village and as we approached it we passed close by the burial ground. Many newly made graves were visible and several groups of men and women shewd us where others were being made for the dead and the dying in the houses on the other side of the road. We passed along on our way without going into Nablus. Our road led just between the town and graveyard, one on either hand and we hastened silently on to avoid the malaria around. In the afternoon we came to the old city of Samaria [ed: the modern Sabastiya] and pitched our tents near the well. The women were flocking to it with earthen vessels on their heads for water as in ancient times. Some of them were pretty and I noticed that all the unmarried ones wore about their persons the dower which was to accompany them as wives. This dower was composed of small gold coins strung together and wound around the waist. We visited the church of St. John and the hanging gardens and after a nights sojourn struck our tents and moved on through the vale of Esdralon [sic: Esdraelon] around the foot of Mount Tabor to Nazareth. Here we were shewn the ruins of the house of Mary and Joseph, on the site of which now stands a church or cathedral. We had also pointed out to us a building in which Joseph is said to have had his workshop. Thence we went to Cana in Galilee where we had pointed out the house in which our savior converted water into wine. Thence we rode on to Tiberias and incamped on the shore of its lake. This was the hottest days [sic] ride we had had since leaving the ship. The sun poured down its rays upon us unbroken by a cloud of any kind. Not a breath of air stirred and there was not a tree or a bush near at hand to break the fierce glare that oppressed us. The blood gushed from my nose in streams and I thought would never stop again, but as soon as our tents were pitched I felt relieved directly. Tiberias stands close upon the shore of the sea [sic] of Galilee. It is a walled town but had been shaken only a few months before by an earthquake and partly destroyed. Large gaps rent the masonry on all sides. They looked tottering enough, both houses and walls. We dined on fish taken from the lake & in the evening I strolled off a little distance, bathed, had a delightful swim and with my own hands washed out two pair of pantaloons. I saw but one boat or vessel of any kind on the lake and that was a small sail boat. Next morning passed through the town, coasted along the west bank of the sea of Galilee, through the old city of Capernaum thence to Jacobs bridge on the Jordan. Near this place we came up with a large encampment of wandering Arabs, having with them from two to three thousand camels. They had pitched upon this spot for the pasturage afforded and probably moved off elsewhere as soon as the shrubs and herbage was consumed. They were a wild fierce, manly looking race, short in stature but with a bold broad bearing that I liked very much. They scorned to converse with us, but looked silently on as we passed thro [sic] them without comment or gesture. They evidently thought we had no business there. The women were more curious and gazed upon us with undisguised curiosity. They use a black dye around the eyelids which gives them a wild fierce expression. I never saw persons look so fixedly before. The men wear a garment of coarse undyed camels hair with a hood fitting over the head fastened by a cord which also communicates with the waist. We journeyed on over a rough hilly wadi, encamped at night as usual and the next morning reached Damascus. For three miles all round the entire city the country is laid off in the most beautiful gardens and orchards. Myriads of fruit of every kind and description hung in clusters above and around us grapes ‑ apricots ‑ plums ‑ figs ‑ everything in fact to please the eye and tempt the palate was at hand in profusion. And so common is fruit and especially the grape that I remember once in our journey seeing one whole party consisting of some 30 persons encamp in a vineyard and after devouring as many grapes as we could eat and carrying away more, besides turning our horses adrift among the vines, satisfy the owner of the vineyard by giving him sixty cents. He was perfectly content and doubtless thought he had done a good days work for we had the Pashas officer with us and need not have paid him anything. And if we had been alone & he could have forced the small demand from us it would have been the same, for his grapes would have rotted in the sun and never been gathered. The vines are planted at the foot of a small sapling and produce most abundantly. In many instances they have spread over branches of the large butternut trees which in the interior of Syria are very abundant. The fruit of this tree like the grape is never gathered regularly but falls and rots or is eaten by the vermin around. We were conducted in Damascus to a house which belonged to the pasha. The walls were frescoed and a large marble fountain played in the courtyard. Numerous mourning doves had flocked to a cote there and made the place their home. We called upon Mr. Hearn the British Consul and were hospitably entertained by him. Here we met a singular character calling himself Sayd Ali. According to his own account he was the son of the former pacha [sic], but judging from my own observation I believed him to be an Englishman, though it was really difficult to conclude what he was. In complexion and language he was certainly a Briton, but then he spoke French like a Parisian and could as well pass for a Frenchman. Then he spoke Turkish, Arabic, Italian & other languages, had been in England, France, Spain, Russia & even to Mobile in America. Altogether he was the most extraordinary little man I ever saw. He loved grog. Had a wife whom he excluded after the Turkish fashion, yet he would laugh and joke merrily with us, enter into all our pranks as readily & freely as if he had been all his life with us. Damascus as all the world knows is a splendid city, but its magnificence does not consist of the outward appearances of its buildings. They are all plain. It is when one gets inside of them that the richness & luxury of the place is seen. There all is marble & fountains gush up on all sides & rich silks &c shew themselves in profusion. A few days after our visit we dined with Scheriff [ed: Sharif or Sheriff] pasha, the Commandant of the City. He gave us a most sumptuous dinner after the French fashion, with some dozen or more courses of various kinds of dishes. We had white french [sic] porcelain, silver forks and the most beautiful English cutlery which had evidently not been much used before. We had also Claudio Shubet [?], an Italian renegade, the surgeon of the pasha, presided at the table. The Pacha himself did not appear until the meal was half ended when he came in with his son, a fine looking little boy, and took his seat at he right hand side of the Doctor. He was a middle sized man with a [ ] cast of countenance and had lost an eye, which did not add much to the prepossession of his appearance. All our conversation with him was carried on by means of the interpreter. After dinner we adjourned to a magnificent salon where reclining on rich silk ottomans we had pipes and coffee served us. A few days after this our party again assembled at the Pachas to witness the religious ceremony of the Dervishes. General Cass had expressed a wish to see the dancing Dervish, but the interpreter must have made a mistake. After greeting us in the palace and serving out sherbet the Pacha conducted us into his garden and then ordered the ceremony to proceed. Six or seven men now came forward stripped to the waist. They were headed by an elderly Turk who blessed each in turn separately, to the effect as we were told that they were about to shew how much they could endure for Mahomet and that whatever they suffered was for his sake. This accomplished, the leader then commenced operations. A sharp Turkish simiter [sic] was brought up and first one and then another of the dervishes lifted from the ground on the sharp side of the blade. It was then worked from side to side on their naked bellies, the sufferer clinging with a hand on either end of the blade to prevent being cut in two. Notwithstanding all of their efforts they were terribly gashed, though the blood was staunched immediately by something rubbed over it. Skewers with round balls of iron on one end were then thrust by the chief dervish through the breasts, cheeks, thick lips and nostrils of the others. Twas a horrible and sickening sight. I could hear distinctly the dull, slow wheezing sound as the iron was forced thro [sic] the flesh until its front appeared on the other side and again the same sound as it was withdrawn. The skewers were about the size of a pipe stem and from a foot to eighteen inches in length. Those thrust through the upper and lower lips and through the nostril being headed with a round ball of iron weighing from one to two and a half pounds, toppled over by their weight distorting the countenances fearfully. I noticed that as these spikes were withdrawn the wound was immediately smeared over with spittle which at once staunched the blood. Next a furnace filled with glowing charcoal was brought in, and pieces of iron resembling a horse shoe with a handle affixed to one side of the shoes, thrust into the fire & heated to a white heat. These were then taken out and handed to the dervishes. They were brought. to us by this pasha's order and held within a foot of our faces to convince us that there was no deception. This done they licked this seething iron with their tongues, holding it between there [sic] teeth and glaring upon us with eyes bloodshot & furious. I could hear the very flesh fry in their mouths and turned away sick as death in the hope that the pacha would put an end to the cruel exhibition, but it was not stopped and I looked on. The iron becoming cooled they clutched huge pieces of the blazing charcoal in their excitement and crunched it, filling their mouths with fire. I could scarcely believe my own eyes. There they stood those fanatic madmen reeling and staggering under the effects of opium & fire. I should have mentioned that after being gashed in the first instance on the edge of the cimiter [sic], the next operation in order was that of having long large spikes ‑ sharp at one end with a heavy ball and chain on the other thrust into their naked flesh on the belly. The chief holding the end of the chain in his hand and the sufferer catching the spike between his clasped hands as it pierced him, just in season to prevent being impaled as run through. at each thrust it entered from a half to a quarter of an inch. After having crunched the charcoal General Cass requested that the exhibitors might cease, but the pasha smiled and ordered it to proceed. The soldiers of his guard had by this time become excited and were clustering eagerly around. An Arabian horse was now brought in and the dervishes prostrating themselves side by side on the ground with their faces next the earth prepared to be ridden over by the chief. Several of the soldiers threw themselves beside them. Riding off to a little distance the horses head was turned, the spur given him and he dashed directly toward the prostrate men, advanced within a few feet of them and swerved aside refusing to trample them. Another and another effort was made with the like result. A second horse was now brought from the stables and mounted. His rider advanced briskly on him until near the men and then applied the spur ‑ It was too late for him to swerve and with one mad dash he attempted to leap them and in so doing brought up with his hind hoof on the head of a little boy, one of the dervishes, not fourteen years of age. His companions immediately arose & closed round him to prevent one seeing what injury had been done. They seemed unwilling for us to know whether he had been hurt or not and we could not find out upon inquiry. As soon as they had removed the boy they resumed their places on the ground and a third horse was brought in. He was a large, logy [sic] ‑ powerful animal and when mounted trotted over the bodies without any reluctance. This feat closed the ceremony. Something else was about to be done but we begged that it might cease. There were present at this remarkable exhibition of Turkish fanaticism Genl Cass ‑ Com Elliott ‑ Ledyard, Prentiss, Lewis Cass ‑ Dr. McLeod ‑ Bryce ‑ myself ‑ Seyd Ali, who acted as interpreter, and a tall swarthy lithely built ottoman, A Eunuch attached to the sultans [sic] seraglio at Constantinople, whose office was that of a sort of paymaster to his women. We asked the pacha if he had ever known such an exhibition as we had just seen terminate fatally and he replied yes but in one instance only. He expressed a wish to place two of his sons in the American service as midshipmen and asked the Com whether he would take charge of them. Old E replied that he would but that next year he would return to the coast with the Pennsylvania and send Midn Bryce and myself up to him for his sons. He asked what our rank was, but could not be made to understand it and became furiously angry with the interpreter, charging him with a wish to deceive him. Had he not been under the protection of the British Consul, his head would not have been worth a farthing ‑‑ Whilst the rite described on the preceding pages was going on in the courtyard, an unruly mob had collected at the palace gates indignant that such a ceremony, held as sacred by themselves should be witnessed by Christian eyes. The guard was sent out to disperse them and when we passed out on our way to our quarters no sign of tumult was perceptible. Crossing our path between two men who were leading him home we saw one of the Dervishes who had taken part in the recent ceremony. He was shouting violently in intense excitement and was foaming at the mouth a raving maniac. What a sad reflection to us to remember that this had been done to gratify an idle curiosity. We remained some days longer in Damascus and then moved on towards Baalbac [sic: Baalbek]. I must skip over any thing like a description of this splendid Eastern city for want of space in my journal. Our trip to Baalbac differed but little from our former days journeying. We arrived about noon, passed through the modern village and pitched our tents close by the ruins of the temple in the neighborhood of some larger spreading butternut trees. The ruins of Baalbac are on the grandest scale. Many of the columns still remain standing and there are blocks of solid granite forming the sides of the temple that are 60 feet long by nine feet in thickness. I visited the quarry from whence these blocks were taken and saw there a similar block squared on the top and sides and only partly quarried below from the solid rock of which it still forms a part. The chips of the stone are strewn around as though the workmen had just ceased their labours. I believe it is a matter of surmise up to this period how such immense blocks of stone were ever moved to the temple which is about two miles off, and a still greater matter of wonder how they were ever raised up to where they are now placed. Wandering one evening just at sunset on the top of the ruins I chased a fox from his hiding place and pelted him with stones. We were both some sixty feet from the ground and it was a dangerous chase, but a short one, for he escaped and hid himself in one of the many crevices on the brink and I could not follow him. Whilst on our way to Baalbac Commodore E read in Lamartines [sic] description an account of a magnificently carved eagle in bas relief, which in his usual way of reading he glanced rapidly over, taking heed of nothing but the fact that the carving was an eagle and that it was to be found among the ruins at Baalbac. The idea at once took possession of him that it would be an easy matter for him to beg the eagle and take it down with him on board the Constitution. Accordingly immediately on our arrival he dispatched a messenger to the pacha with a request that he might be allowed to possess himself of this precious work of antiquity to present to his countrymen in America. The Turks who are always obliging and who seldom refused us anything knowing that we were travelling under Mahomet Ali's firman, granted a courteous acquiescence to his demand and the Commodore forthwith sent a man out to hire a beast upon the back of which he intended to convoy his treasure to the sea coast. The camel was readily obtained and we all marched off with the Commodore to look at the eagle. After scrambling over ruins & rubbish through alleys of prostrate columns & old broken passages we came to it. There it stood aloft over our heads in beautiful bas relief with outstretched wings waiting for the Commodore to get it down. The stone on which it was sculptured formed the key stone of an arch and could not have weighed less than four tons, perhaps five of them. It had been displaced from its position by the passing of an earthquake and had slipped through the arch some two feet or more and only kept from falling by the closing of the masonry around it. To have removed this block without toppling the whole of the stonework about our ears would have been impossible. So deeming discretion the better part of valor we contented ourselves with breaking off some raised sculptured pieces from the frieze & returning to our tents. There was quartered at Baalbac at the time we visited it a regiment of cuirassiers clad and armed after the manner of the french [sic] troops during Napoleons time. The men forming it were all chosen & were all six feet high, mounted on the best horses of the Bedouin Arabs. They numbered about four hundred, and to gratify our curiosity were paraded one morning at sunrise and exercised through sundry and various evolutions. They were also in burnished steel, rode well and in the bright rays of the morning sun formed quite a martial and gratifying spectacle to us who had never before witnessed anything of the kind. Leaving Baalbac we wound our way through the valley & after a sojourn of 3 days among the ruins, and commenced the ascent of the mountains which was to bring us in sight of the sea & take us back to the old Constitution. as we toiled up the temperature became cooler & cooler until at length we found ourselves freezing among the snow‑peaks. The ground was covered in patches with a hard, crusted, coarse grained snow and the sudden change from the burning plains below together with the thin clothing which we had on made the cold most intense. My nose gushed out bleeding with a thin watery sort of blood which I found it impossible to stop. I jumped off my mule and walked in the hope of getting warm. The exercise revived me & stopped the bleeding. From the very summit of the mountains of Lebanon I picked up a pocketful of petrified clams, of the size of those commonly sold in our markets in America, the smaller kind. Some of them were lying among the snow, but the whole mountain top was filled with them. They must have remained there since the Deluge. Descending six miles we came to the Cedars of Lebanon. There are seven of the large trees remaining, and on the largest one I noticed the names of Lamartine and his daughter Julia carved on the side. The rest of the grove is composed of smaller trees, though all of them in our country would be thought large. Encamped here during the night. Gathered some bulbs from the largest cedars and about nine in the morning took up our line of march for Eden. Arrived there about noon and proceeded to a convent. The inhabitants of this village seemed in better condition than those of any other we had yet passed through, all the young women of the place were engaged in the fields gathering the cones of the silk worm or else drying and arranging the hanks which had been wound off. We remained an hour or so and then mounted. The Cass [sic] remained until next morning, when they resumed their way to the sea. Commodore Elliott and I, with a guide pushed on and reached Tripoli just before sunset. There lay the old frigate in the roads looking like home itself. We made the signal for a boat. It was soon answered and in a few moments we were on board again.

 

Transcribed from Volume IV of the Midshipman Edward C. Anderson Papers in the Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The events described occurred during August 1837.