Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Melita Carabet: Student, Teacher, Sister (1832-1902)

Along the far back wall of the Anglo-American Cemetery are hung a series of white marble slabs. On these slabs are listed the names of individuals, members of the Beirut community, who were originally buried in the Mission Cemetery. In 1960, as part of the urban planning of Fouad Chehab’s presidency, a new highway was erected that ran through the Mission Compound and disrupted the Mission Cemetery. The Anglo-American Cemetery Association accepted to receive the graves of those from the Mission Cemetery, some fully re-interred, but others commemorated in a charnel house with their names listed on 12 marble slabs.

Melita Carabet’s name is one of the many found on the marble slabs. Although easy to pass by, and in many ways forgotten, Melita Carabet played an important role in the history not only of the Anglo-American community, but of the Armenian, German and Arab communities of Beirut.

Melita Carabet was born 19 April 1832, not in Beirut, but on the island of Malta. Her father, Dionysius, was originally an Armenian archbishop in Jerusalem. Being one of the first members of the small Protestant church, he took the name “Carabet”, which means forerunner. Solidifying this break, Dionysius married an Armenian woman named Maria, who also joined the Protestant church. Together with the Wortabet and Abcarius families, the Carabets formed the backbone of the early Protestant community. Dionysius assisted the American missionaries in translating texts into Armeno-Turkish (the Armenian language written in Ottoman Turkish script), in church fellowship and in navigating the social and political environment of Beirut. The outbreak of the Greek War of Independence and the subsequent invasion by  Ibrahim Pasha, son of Muhammad Ali the governor of Egypt, unsettled the region. As a result, the Carabet family traveled with the missionaries from Beirut to Malta to wait out the storm. Therefore it was in Malta, not Beirut, where Melita was born: the island for which she was named.

The missionaries soon realized that the rule of Ibrahim Pasha was far from threatening to them and their new religious community: in fact, their work was not only tolerated but thrived. In 1835, Matilda Whiting opened a school for girls in her home in Jerusalem, thereby paralleling the work of Sarah Smith in Beirut. Matilda’s first two students were Salome Carabet, Melita’s older sister, and Hanne Wortabet. A few years later, Melita joined her sister at the Whiting Family School, along with Sada and Rufka Gregory. The history of the Whiting Family School is difficult to follow. It operated in Jerusalem until 1838 and reopened in Abeih on Mt. Lebanon in 1840. Nonetheless, it is evident that this experience provided Melita with a strong educational background, fluency in English and Arabic, as well as the strong bonds with the both American missionaries and her student-sisters.

Melita soon harnessed the opportunities provided by this training and became an influential teacher. At some point between 1848 and 1855, Melita moved to Aleppo and taught at the American missions schools at this temporary station. Melita later moved to Hasbayya in what is now south Lebanon, to teach at the newly established Protestant schools at this location. Here she worked alongside her “student-sister” Hanne Wortabet, and lived with biological sister Salome, who was by this time married to Hanne's brother John Wortabet, the first Arab-Armenian ordained Protestant minister and later the first Arab-Armenian full professor of the Syrian Protestant College (now the American University of Beirut).

The civil wars of 1860 were harrowing experiences, but from the chaos emerged new opportunities. The Prussian Deaconesses of Kaiserswerth was one of the many organizations who worked in Beirut, initially to provide relief for the war victims, but eventually established an important institute for education. At the age of 28, Melita was hired as a teacher for the deaconesses’ school for orphans. As historian Julia Hauser illuminates, Melita’s role in the school during these early years was crucial, for she organized lessons in Bible, catechism, geography, arithmetic, grammar, writing and calligraphy, in addition to tutoring the Deaconess in Arabic. In so doing, Melita served as an important intermediary between the Arabic-speaking students and the Prussian administrators. After sixteen years of service, Melita retired from teaching at the Deaconess school and found employment at the British Post Office in Beirut.

Despite her “spinster” lifestyle, Melita maintained strong ties to her family. Melita would have probably remained close to her sister Salome, especially as her husband John also worked with the Deaconesses in their Johanniter Hospital, and as the Wortabet family grew to include eleven children. Melita most likely provided comfort to her sister, Julia Phoebe, who returned to Beirut from Egypt upon the sudden death of her husband Henry Salt, Jr. (the son of Egyptologist Henry Salt) as well as providing Julia with tips during her work as an assistant teacher at the American missionaries’ Beirut Female Seminary. Moreover, in 1867, Melita spent her long earned summer vacation nursing her sick brother, Philip, during a serious illness, which he survived to live another forty-two years.

Melita Carabet died on 13 March 1902 . She was originally buried in plot 208 of the Mission Cemetery near the graves of her parents. When her grave was moved in 1960 from the Mission Cemetery, not only were her remains placed alongside that of her parents and brother Philip (slab 3), but they were also place nearby that of her sister Julia (slab 10) and the memorial for her sister Salome and the Wortabet family (Plot II F 10) at he Anglo-American Cemetery.

The aim of this website is not only to feature well-known individuals whose graves are found in the AAC, but to also highlight individuals whose legacies have been overlooked. This is particularly important for the individuals whose graves were not transferred in full in 1960, as only limited information is provided on the memorial stone slabs. The AACA respects and honors the legacies of those, like Melita, who played important roles in shaping the history and culture of Beirut. If you are interested in supporting the AACA in the restoration of the Anglo-American Cemetery, particularly the marble slabs that were damaged or destroyed during the Lebanese Civil War, please contact AACA Secretary David Roche by email david.roche (at) hotmail.com (replace at with @)

Secondary Literature on Melita Carabet  


Hauser, Julia. German Religious Women in Late Ottoman Beirut (Leiden: Brill, 2015), pages 109-112.
Jessup, Henry Harris. Women of the Arabs (New York: Dodd & Mead Publishers, 1873), pages 57-72.
Lindner, Christine B. "Negotiating the Field: American Protestant Missionaries in Ottoman Syria, 1823 to 1860." Ph.D. Thesis. (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, 2009).
Stoddard, Robert, Jr. Sarah's Daughters: The Proud Legacy of the Lebanese American University from 1835 to 1935 (forthcoming).

Christine B. Lindner
13 July 2015

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Melita Carabet: Student, Teacher, Sister (1832-1902) by Christine B. Lindner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Restoration of Anglo-American Cemetery Walls

On 21 June 2015, the last stone was put in place. After three years of preparation, the first phase of the Anglo-American Cemetery's Centennial Restoration was complete.

During a strong winter storm in 2012, two of the large trees that give the cemetery its character, fell and seriously damaged the north wall onto the street and the south wall onto the adjacent cemetery. With limited funding at the time, the AACA sought temporary solutions to secure the crumbling walls.

A restoration plan was created by Jad Salamé, AACA member and independent landscaping and architecture consultant to the American University of Beirut. The bid to actualize the project was granted to contractor Joseph Bader and supervised by cemetery manager Yahia Bsat.

Initial work commenced in late May 2015 when the damaged sections of the walls were excavated and new cement bases places were poured. 



For the north wall, a reinforced concrete standing wall was first erected, which was then faced with new stones that match the historic style of the original wall. 

For the south wall, the original sandstone blocks were employed to mend the broken wall, while additional supports were constructed onto the adjacent walls. 


Through the combined use of original and new stone, the Anglo-American Cemetery was able to maintain the cemetery’s historical legacy while securing the safety of this sacred space and its visitors, thereby serving as a suitable model for other historic spaces.

The AACA would like to thank those provided the financial support for this project. Initial funding was generously provided by Dr. Peter F. Dorman, whose family has long ties to Beirut and the Anglo-American Cemetery. Dr. Dorman’s relatives include Dr. Daniel Bliss (plot II G 4), first president of AUB (then called the Syrian Protestant College), his wife Abby Wood Bliss (plot II G 5), who was a childhood friend of Emily Dickenson and their son William Tyler Bliss (plot II G 3). The cemetery is also the resting place for Daniel and Abby’s daughter Mary Bliss Dale (plot II G 10), who, with Jane Elizabeth Van Zandt, founded the AUB School of Nursing, her husband Gerald FitzGerald Dale (plot II G 10), a Presbyterian missionary and teacher at Zahle, as well as two of their children, Carrie Lyon (plot II G 9) and Geraldine (plot II G 10).

A graciously donation by Honorary Consul, Mr. William Zard Abou Joude allowed the AACA to complete the restoration project.

The next phase of AAC's Centennial Restoration includes the restoration of the front gate, the renovation of the grounds, the purchase of a larger water cistern and the installment of an electrical system. If you are interested in supporting one of these projects, the AACA would be happy to arrange for a donation. For more information please contact AAC secretary, David Roche through email david.roche (at) hotmail.com (replace at with @)

Christine B. Lindner
11 July 2015

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Christine Lindner's interview by Levantine Heritage about the AAC

Dr. Christine Lindner, historical consultant and former secretary of the AACA, was recently interviewed about the Anglo-American Cemetery and other heritage projects in Beirut, by Craig Encer from Levantine Heritage. The interview can be found on this page.

"Levantine" is the term used to describe the descendents of European and American residents of the Ottoman Empire. The Anglo-American Cemetery plays an important role in the history and legacy of the Levantine community of in the Levant region.

The Levantine Heritage group brings together descendants of Levantines as well as researchers of the Levantine community and their unique culture. Its website provides valuable information on the connection of people, through recollections, registers, and other valuable primary and secondary sources.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Eli Smith: Missionary, Scholar and Translator of the Bible (1801-1857)

Eli Smith Memorial Stone (II F 7)
At Plot II F 7 of the Anglo-American Cemetery, visitors will find a beautiful, new memorial stone. This stone does not mark the grave a new burial, but rather that for one of the pioneering American Protestant missionaries: Eli Smith.

Born on 13 September 1801 to a pious family in rural Northford, Connecticut, Eli Smith harnessed the opportunities emerging in Antebellum New England. At the age of sixteen, Eli entered Yale College in nearby New Haven, Connecticut and graduated with a B.A. in 1821. It was in New Haven that Eli made a public profession of faith to be recognized as an official member of the Congregational Church. After two years of teaching in Georgia, Eli returned to New England to pursue ministerial training at the Andover Theological Seminary, where he graduated in 1826. On 10 May of that same year, Eli Smith was ordained as a missionary for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Due to his proclivity in languages, Eli's designated station was Malta, where he would work with the Protestant press established on that small island in the middle of the Mediterranean to produce evangelical literature in a variety of languages.

Eli Smith left the United States on 23 May 1826. Following a short stay in Malta, Eli continued on to Beirut, in order to add Arabic to his expanding repertoire of languages. In 1827, he landed in Beirut, which was then a small city within the Syrian province of the Ottoman Empire. Eli commenced the study of Arabic, with his primary teacher being Tannous Haddad, a man who eventually become an important teacher and leader within the National Evangelical Church of Beirut

Like many young male missionaries of the ABCFM at the time, Eli’s early years were also spent in exploring the mission field. In 1829, Eli joined Rufus Anderson, the famous ABCFM secretary and policy maker, on a tour of Greece. In 1830 and 1831, Eli traveled with H.G.O Dwight through Asia Minor, Armenian and Persia, producing an important and influential account of their travels. In 1838, he traveled with Edward Robinson to Palestine, from which an important work of Biblical geography was produced. Smith also traveled regularly to Europe, particularly Leipzig, for his work with the mission press, which resulted in the creation of a new Arab Font, often referred to as the “American Font”.
“Eli and Mehitable B. Smith,” Courtesy, Andover Newton Theological Seminary, Newton Center, MA. All rights reserved.
Eli’s travels also brought him back to the United States, for both professional and personal reasons. During his first furlough to the United States, Eli married Sarah Lanman Huntington, from Norwich, Connecticut on 21 July 1833. In Sarah, Eli found not only a wife, but a missionary companion, who drew upon her work with the Mohegan tribe of Native Americans, and became an influential figure in the development of female education in the region. Unfortunately, Sarah died on 30 September 1836 and was buried in the cemetery of All Saints Church of Buca, near Smyrna (Izmir) in Anatolia. Five years later, on 9 March 1841, Eli married Maria Ward Chapin, from Rochester, New York. After only one year of service, Maria died from dysentery contracted during the birth of a son, Charles Henry. The grave for Maria is found next to Eli’s at the AAC, at plot II F 6. On 23 October 1846, Eli married his third wife, Mehitable (Hetty) Simpkins Butler. Hetty not only became a loving step-mother to Charlie, but mother to five of her own children: Mary Elizabeth, Eli Whitney, Sarah Butler, Edward Robinson and Benjamin Eli. Sadly, Eli Whitney, died as an infant and is memorialized in the Charnel House at the AAC. While the public memory of Eli focuses on his academic and evangelical accomplishments, the private letters held by Yale Divinity School and Harvard’s Houghton Library, reveal his deep love for his family as well as deep profound grief at the deaths of Sarah, Maria and Eli Whitney. Eli also developed close personal tied with his colleagues, both missionary and Syrian, most noticeably with Rahīl Aṭā, who first studied as a boarding student under Sarah Smith, and Rahīl’s husband, Buṭrus al-Bustanī.

But it is work as a missionary to Ottoman Syria, particularly in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, that Eli Smith is most commonly remembered. Eli’s strong command of Arabic allowed him to become an important preacher, teacher, translator and scholar within both the Protestant community as well as the cultural revival (the Nahḍah) that was unfolding within Arab society. In 1834, Eli facilitated the transfer of the ABCFM’s Arabic press from Malta to Beirut. This press, known as al-Matbaʿa al-Amīrikāniyyah or the American Mission Press, published both religious and secular works. Some of these works were pieces written originally by Eli or translated by him (a list of which is given below). Eli was active in the Syrian Society of Arts and Sciences, an influential cultural and educational society, whose other members included Eli’s close friends and colleagues William Thomson, Corneilius Van Dyck (plot II F 11), Buṭrus al-Bustanī, Nāṣīf al-Yāzjiī, John Wortabet (plot II F 10) and Mīkhayīl Mishāqa

Sifr al-Takwīn 1:1-6 [Genesis 1:1-6],” [1848-1853], manuscript digital facsimile, Arabic Bible, AC-36:1, N.E.S.T. Special Collections, Near East School of Theology, Beirut, Lebanon.

Eli’s most famous accomplishment however was his role in producing a new translation of the Bible into Arabic. Commencing in 1848, the process followed that Buṭrus al-Bustanī would first translate the work from the original languages, Nāṣīf al-Yāzjiī would revise the grammar, while Eli would review the drafts. Eli supervised the first proofs printed at the American Mission Press, which were circulated to colleagues and returned with corrections that he would implement. By 1857, the Pentateuch and all of the New Testament had been translated by this arduous process, but had not received its final revision. Unfortunately, Eli did not live to see this work completed, which was continued by his colleagues Cornelius Van Dyck and Yūsuf Al-Asīr and became one of the most popular versions of the Arabic Bible.

On 11 January 1857, Eli Smith died in Beirut after suffering from a long battle with cancer. He was originally buried at the Mission Cemetery on the Mission Compound in Downtown Beirut, next to the building that housed the American Mission Press that he established and the small office where he worked on the Bible translation. In 1960, his grave, like many of his colleagues, were removed from the Mission Cemetery to the Anglo-American Cemetery. At some point the memorial stone for Eli Smith was severely damaged. It remained in this state until the Anglo-American Cemetery Association together with the family of Eli Smith’s descendants, the Leavy family of New Haven, Connecticut, and with the support of Rev. Issa Saliba, were able to facilitate its restoration. In December 2014, a new memorial stone for Eli Smith was erected, while that of his second wife, Maria, was restored. Through this the legacy of Eli Smith, “for 30 years missionary of the ABCFM in Syria, scholar and translator of the Holy Bible”, is honored and remembered.

Published works written, edited or translated by Eli Smith

Missionary Sermons and Addresses (Boston: Perkins and Marvin, 1833).
Researches of the Rev. E. Smith and Rev. H.G.O. Dwight in Armenia: including a journey through Asia Minor, and into Georgia and Persia, with a visit to the Nestorian and Chaldean Christians of Oormiah (Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1833). [co-authored with H.G.O. Dwight].
Kitāb dalīl al-ṣawāb fī uṣūl al-ḥisāb (Beirut: American Mission Press, 1837).
Kitāb al-bāb al-Maftūḥ fī aʿmāl al-rūḥ (Beirut: American Mission Pres, 1843).
Biblical Researches in Palestine, and Adjacent Regions (Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1841). [co-authored with Edward Robinson; 3 volumes].
Kitāb al-mabāḥit fī itiqadāt baʿaḍ al-kanāʾis (Beirut: American Mission Press, 1854).
Tarnīmāt li l-ʿibāda (Beirut: American Mission Press, 1852). [co-authored with Buṭrus al-Bustanī and Nāṣīf al-Yāzijī].  
Majmūʿ Fawāʾid (Beirut: American Mission Press, 1851-1856).
Al-Kitāb al-Muqaddas (Beirut: American Mission Press, 1865). [co-translated with Buṭrus al-Bustanī, Nāṣīf al-Yāzjiī, Cornelius Van Dyck and Yūsuf Al-Asīr].

Secondary literature on Eli Smith

Dexter, Franklin Bowditch. Biographical Notice of Graduates of Yale (New Haven: n.s., 1913), 80-83.
Khoury, Yousef Quzma. (ed.). (1990). Al-Jamʿiyyah al-Suriyyah lil-ʿUlum wa-al-Funun, 1847-1852 (Beirut: Dar al-Hamra, 1990).
Leavy, Margaret R. Eli Smith and the Arabic Bible. New Haven, CT: Yale Divinity School Library, 1993.
Leavy, Margaret R. “Looking for the Armenians: Eli Smith’s Missionary Adventure, 1830-1831.” Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences 50 (1992): 189-127.
Leavy, Margaret R. “The Making of a Missionary: Eli Smith at Yale, 1817-1821.” Journal of the New Haven Colony Historical Society 41:2 (1995), 20-37.
 “Obituary Notice of Rev. Eli Smith, D.D.” Missionary Herald 53:7 (1857), 224-229.
Saliba, Issa A. “The Bible in Arabic: The 19th-Century Protestant Translation.” The Muslim World 65 (1975), 254-263.
Stoddard Jr., Robert D. “The Rev. Eli Smith, 1801-1857: Evangelical Orientalist in the Levant.” NEST Theological Review 30:2 (2009), 202-222.
Stowe, David M. “Smith, Levi,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 626. [online]. http://www.bu.edu/missiology/missionary-biography/r-s/smith-eli-1801-1857/
Tibawi, Abdul Latif. American Interests in Syria: 1800-1901: A Study of Educational, Literary and Religious Works (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966).
Zeuge, Uta. “Die Mission des American Board in Syrien im 19. Jahrhundert: Implikationen eines transkulturellen Dialogs”. ThD. Thesis. (Wien: Universität Wien, 2014).

Also see the entry on Eli Smith on Find-a-Grave.

Christine B. Lindner
11 May 2015
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Eli Smith: Missionary, Scholar and Translator of the Bible (1801-1857) by Christine B. Lindner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.