In Episode 294 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore a Jonesport, Maine, monument to the 1866 voyage of the Nellie Chapin. The ship, and its 156 Christian pilgrims was led by Rev. George Adams, with the plan to sail to Jaffa and build housing for Jewish people in an effort to restore Israel to the Jews so Jesus can return and bring on the End of Days. Even Mark Twain weighs in on the sorry state of the expedition. We ask the important question: What’s the rush?
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[OCEAN WAVS AND SEAGULLS]
RAY: We are wayyyy up here on the coast of Maine today.
JEFF: We are. We’re in the small town of Jonesport, Maine, standing by a short bridge that connects to Beals Island. We’re less than 40 miles from the Canadian border.
RAY: There’s not much to Jonesport. A few houses, a church, a couple of grocery stores, and the Coast Guard station. This is the kind of town where everybody must know everybody.
JEFF: No doubt. A place where you have to look out for your neighbors given the sea and tough winters.
RAY: There’s plenty of boats in the harbor too. This is the kind of town where almost everyone has some kind of boat.
JEFF: For sure. And a boat is why we’re here, Ray. There’s a memorial up here on Bridge Street to a ship called the Nellie Chapin. A ship that sailed out of Jonesport back in 1866, with the hope… of ending the world.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, and welcome to the New England Legends podcast. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We’re glad you’re riding along with us as we explore odd history, ghosts, monsters, UFOs, true crime, roadside oddities, and the just plain weird. Please click the subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss a thing.
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RAY: Okay, so you’re saying back in 1866, a ship sailed from here in Jonesport, Maine, with the objective of ending the world?
JEFF: That’s right.
RAY: You mean the whole world? All of planet earth?
RAY: One ship?!
RAY: Not some giant armada?
RAY: I can’t wait to see what they were planning.
JEFF: First, we’ll take a short walk up to the bridge.
JEFF: You can see there’s a marker up ahead on our right in the grass just off the side of the road.
RAY: That headstone-looking thing?
JEFF: That’s it.
RAY: It looks like an average headstone you’d see in just about any cemetery. There’s an old, three-masted ship etched on the top-third of the stone. And the engraving underneath reads: Nellie Chapin Day, August 11, 1866 to 1991. In honor of 157 New Englanders who sailed from Jonesport to Jaffa 125 years ago to help restore the land of Israel.
JEFF: That’s the ship. By the way, Jaffa would be modern-day Tel-Aviv, Israel.
RAY: I don’t see anything about trying to end the world on this monument. And who erects a monument—back in 1991 no less—to people trying to end the world?
JEFF: Yeah, the headline is a bit buried here. Which is why we’ve come to Jonesport.
RAY: Here’s a little more background on Jonesport. The town was granted a charter back in 1789 back when this was still considered Massachusetts. Sardine fishing helped fuel the local economy. In 1820, Maine became its own state, but not much else changed in Jonesport. Then much later it would be lobster, clams, and other shellfish that earned many livings around town. There were ship-building yards here. It was never a huge town, but it was a thriving port for many years.
JEFF: Got it. And it once almost became ground zero for the beginning of the end of the world. To figure out how that happened, let’s head back to 1866…
[SEA GULLS AND OCEAN WAVES]
RAY: It’s early August of 1866 here in Jonesport, Maine. A crew is preparing a three-masted barque called the Nellie Chapin for a transatlantic voyage.
JEFF: The Nellie Chapin is hauling some interesting cargo. As you can see some men are loading in all kinds of lumber and agricultural equipment.
RAY: Yeah, but it’s not just lumber. It looks like pieces of small houses. I can see some walls, some sections of roofs, and things like that.
JEFF: That’s the idea. Reverend George Adams from the Church of the Messiah is leading a group of more than 150 Christian pilgrims to build some pre-fabricated housing. For the last three years, Rev. Adams has been preaching his way up the coast of Maine. He’s been selling an idea to Meeting House audiences around the state. He’s charismatic, he’s engaging. And he seems certain enough that scores of people are willing to uproot their lives and follow him. The plan is to get this housing over to Jewish people in the city of Jaffa which sits in the Ottoman Empire just about 5,000 miles away from Jonesport.
RAY: Well, that’s a kind thing to do, I guess. It’s a lot of trouble, though. Building the housing, hiring a ship, sailing it across the ocean. Do they have family over there or something?
JEFF: No… nothing like that. Like many other Christian scholars, Rev. Adams has read the Bible. Specifically the book of Romans, Chapter 11, verse 25 and 26. So ahead and give it a read, Rev. Ray.
RAY: Okay, it reads: Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.” Okayyyyy.
JEFF: Many people interpret that passage to mean that Jesus can’t return until Israel is returned to Jewish people. The city of Jaffa, is the Biblical land of Israel which currently sits in the hands of Ottoman Empire. Rev. Adams is convinced that if his pilgrims can sail aboard the Nellie Chapin to Jaffa, and build housing for a Jewish settlement, then Israel can return to the Jewish people, Jesus can return to the Earth, and bring on all the fun things that happen in the book of Revelation.
RAY: Like the plagues, the seas boiling, droughts, eternal darkness, and the final battle between good and evil?
JEFF: Yup. That’s the stuff.
RAY: And Rev. Adams would just like to hurry that whole thing along so he’s building houses for Jewish people in Jaffa?
JEFF: Exactly. And Rev. Adams’s followers are convinced as well. Many of them have given up everything to make this project work. They’ve invested their money, quit their jobs, and committed to moving overseas and rebuilding Israel to bring on the second coming of Jesus and the end of days.
JEFF: It’s August 11th, when Rev. Adams, his 156 followers, and the crew of the Nellie Chapin sail with the tide toward Jaffa.
[OCEAN FOR A FEW SECOND]
RAY: The ocean voyage is long and arduous. For 42 days the Nellie Chapin sails eastward.
RAY: On September 22nd, the ship finally pulls into the port of Jaffa. Everyone on board is grateful to be back on solid ground. And Rev. Adams, is eager to get to work fulfilling his mission.
JEFF: I’m not sure what Rev. Adams expected to find when they landed in Jaffa. But he made no arrangements ahead of time. He hadn’t purchased the land to build this new settlement that will give Israel back to the Jewish people. And basically his group has no place to stay either. So…
JEFF: They build a tent village outside the walls of Jaffa.
RAY: This doesn’t exactly seem like prime real estate. It’s right next to a cemetery. And it’s not within the walls of Jaffa. (BEAT) Rev. Adams’s people are dejected. But true to form, Rev. Adams tells his flock that this is merely a test of their faith and mettle.
JEFF: That faith gets further tested as more weeks go by and they realize that nearby cemetery is out here because the people of Jaffa buried some cholera victims in these grounds to keep them away from the population. Cholera is contagious even after death. Within the first few months, nine children die from infections and disease.
RAY: It’s awful. It’s heartbreaking. But Rev. Adams insists this is all part of their test of faith. It’s clear the devil is attempting to intervene in their noble mission to bring on the second coming of Christ.
JEFF: Finally, Rev. Adams purchases land, and his followers get to work…
JEFF: Building New England-style houses in Jaffa. Others in the group begin farming the land. They’ll need food to survive.
[DIG DIG DIG]
RAY: But these hearty New England farmers are learning a harsh reality. Farming on this land is nothing like farming back home in New England. The soil is different. Crops are failing. Rev. Adams’s group is running out of food and money.
JEFF: They start writing letters to New England newspapers asking folks back home to please send money to support their noble Christian cause.
RAY: More weeks go by. All they can do now is wait and pray. With food running as low as their morale, Rev. Adams starts drinking. Members of his congregation start arguing amongst themselves. As weeks melt into months, those with any sort of money left to their name plan their escape from the miserable existence they now find themselves in.
JEFF: The numbers of the colony dwindle as groups find passage on ships bound for anywhere but here. After more than a year, the group is down to less than half of its original size. Some have died, others have left. A group of 40 members of Rev. Adams’s group have scraped enough together to board the next ship bound for wherever it’s going. The thought being that they stand a better chance of getting home from somewhere else.
RAY: The 40 set sail on a ship carrying a pretty famous passenger. None other than writer Mark Twain. Here’s what Twain says about the group.
MARK TWAIN: At Jaffa we had taken on board some forty members of a very celebrated community. They were male and female; babies, young boys and young girls; young married people, and some who had passed a shade beyond the prime of life. I refer to the “Adams Jaffa Colony.” …We left in Jaffa Mr. Adams, his wife, and fifteen unfortunates who not only had no money but did not know where to turn or whither to go. …Our forty were miserable enough in the first place, and they lay about the decks seasick all the voyage, which about completed their misery, I take it. However, one or two young men remained upright, and by constant persecution we wormed out of them some little information. …
The colony was a complete fiasco… The prophet Adams–once an actor, then several other things, afterward a Mormon and a missionary, always an adventurer–remains at Jaffa with his handful of sorrowful subjects. The forty we brought away with us were chiefly destitute, though not all of them. They wished to get to Egypt. What might become of them then they did not know and probably did not care–anything to get away from hated Jaffa. They had little to hope for. Because after many appeals to the sympathies of New England, made by strangers of Boston, through the newspapers, and after the establishment of an office there for the reception of moneyed contributions for the Jaffa colonists, One Dollar was subscribed… It was evident that practical New England was not sorry to be rid of such visionaries and was not in the least inclined to hire anybody to bring them back to her.
Thus circumstanced, they landed at Alexandria from our ship. One of our passengers, Mr. Moses Beach, of the New York Sun, inquired of the consul-general what it would cost to send these people to their home in Maine by the way of Liverpool, and he said fifteen hundred dollars in gold would do it. Mr. Beach gave his check for the money and so the troubles of the Jaffa colonists were at an end.
RAY: After purchasing some land, building a few houses, and a failed farm, Rev. Adams’s colony dissolves to nothing. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Not to ruin the ending, but Rev. Adams and his followers did not restore the land of Israel to the Jews, and did not bring on the second coming or the end of the world. Which brings us back to this stone monument here in Jonesport.
RAY: Yeah, this monument seems to paint a rosy and different picture than what actually happened.
JEFF: It’s worth reading the stone again.
RAY: The part that says Nellie Chapin Day – August 11, 1991 – the day the stone was placed to quote “honor 157 New Englanders who sailed from Jonesport to Jaffa 125 years ago to help restore the land of Israel.”
JEFF: Yeah, that part.
RAY: It sort of makes it sound noble. When in reality the trip was a complete disaster based on the delusions of a preacher who convinced a bunch of people to give up everything all in the name of what would ultimately result in the end of the world.
JEFF: Yeah, a big-time disaster that even made it into one of Mark Twain’s books. If you go to Tel-Aviv today, three of those houses still stand. And they stick out too. The house, whose address is now the corner of Third and Auerbach Street 10, still has wooden clapboard siding that doesn’t look like the stucco or cement architecture of most of the other housing in the region. Today they call it the Maine Friendship House.
RAY: I’m glad something they built endures. But still, we’ve explored end of the world stories before. In every one of those cults, the world ultimately doesn’t end. It goes on. Literally 100% of people who said “this is the end” have been proven wrong.
JEFF: But still, faith untested isn’t faith at all. I sort of get making this grand gesture to further something you believe in. And providing housing for people without a home is a good and noble thing. But for the faithful, the challenge is finding the delicate balance between blind faith in something… and stupidity.
RAY: We hope you have enough faith in us to join us for After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and sometimes veer off course.
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We’d like to thank Michael Legge for lending his voice acting talents this week. Thank you to our sponsor Nuwati Herbals, thank you to our patreon patrons. And our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.