Jonesport – Notable among the visitors we met at the galleon RawFaith open house on August 21st were Dr. Reed Holmes and his wife Jean of Peace Valley Farm, Peppeell, MA and the Maine Friendship House, Jaffa. Like many New Englanders, the Holmes spend six pleasant months in the Northeast and six months away, but instead of heading for Florida, they go to Israel. In addition to the obvious appeal of a story about the tall ship being built by the McKay family who had never sailed a boat let alone built one before, Reed and Jean Holmes have been following the progress of RawFaith with considerable interest because of another special connection. Coincidentally, the RawFaith and a ship called the Nellie Chapin were both built on the Pleasant River in Addison and Reed Holmes is the author of The ForeRunners, the story of the Nellie Chapin, which put out of Jonesport on August 11, 1866, carrying 157 passengers bound for Palestine. Reed and Jean Holmes played a part in placing the unassuming marker in Jonesport which reads “Nellie Chapin Day August 11, 1866 – 1991. In Honor of 157 New Englanders who sailed from Jonesport to Jaffa 125 years ago to help restore the land of Israel. Viewpax Mondiale and Jonesport-Beals Committee. World Peace Through Friendship”
Carney Gavin, Curator of the Harvard Semitic Museum, begins his introduction to The ForeRunners with the words, “In some ways this is the strangest story I know.” It is both strange and fascinating, as it always is when someone does something extraordinary. George Jones Adams, “an offshoot of an obscure root...of that Adams family so prominent in the development of the United States,” was a man with extraordinary gifts for oratory and persuasion. He was trained as a tailor, worked as an actor, Methodist preacher and Mormon Apostle before beginning his own organization, the Church of the Messiah.
It was in G. J. Adams and his dream of preparing Palestine for the return of the Jews and the second coming of the Messiah as foreseen by the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, that members of the ship’s company invested. Many of the prominent family names of the area were represented on the passenger list including Alley, Ames, Batson, Burns, Clark, Corson, Drisko, Dyer, Emerson, Flagg, Floyd, Gray, Higgins, Kelley, Leighton, Lynch, Mace, McKenzie, Moulton, Norton, Richardson, Rogers, Smith, Stevens, Tabbutt, Tibbetts, Walker, Ward, Wass, Watts, Wentworth, Williams and Witham. The Master was Warren Wass. James W. Hinkley was the First Mate and Michael O’Lothlin the Steward. The seamen are listed as Henry L. Belmont, Thomas Chesterton, Reuben Hall, William Whitney, Sewell Hopkins, Tomas Knnuteson and James Woolfall. I don’t see any Beals, but there’s probably more than one in there somewhere connected by marriage.
Apparently, for over a century these notable families have been loath to broadcast the fact that members of their illustrious clans participated in such an adventure as that embarked upon by those aboard the Nellie Chapin. Indeed, the entire escapade was dismissed by Mark Twain as “a complete fiasco” and most subsequent accounts assumed the same tone. However, years of research by Holmes would seem to indicate that there is instead reason to be proud of the efforts of these pioneers. Although it is true that their dream of growing a colony in Jaffe never materialized as they envisioned it, it’s quite possible to conclude that their contribution to modern Israel was substantial, for, from the ashes of their defeat arose a phoenix, Mr. Rolla Floyd of Jerusalem, Palestine, late of Surry, Maine, who appears to be the father of the tourism industry in the Middle East.
I was intrigued by the story and made the effort to find the commemorative stone placed by the side of the road in 1991 just outside the gate of the Coast Guard Station in Jonesport, on the approach to the Beals Island bridge. A number of years ago, while on a business trip, before the idea of building an accessible sailing ship called the RawFaith had even occurred to him, George McKay saw the counterpart of this stone in Jaffa. It reads “In honor of 157 American Christian Lovers of Zion who arrived by sail on the “Nellie Chapin” on September 22, 1866, bringing wooden houses from Jonesport, Maine, to establish the American Colony in Yafo.” McKay took a picture of the stone to show his family back in Winthrop, Maine. When they’re in Israel, Reed and Jean Holmes live in one of those restored wooden houses in Jaffa made of lumber cut in Whitneyville and loaded on board the Nellie Chapin in Addison.
We’re all connected one way or another.