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WILLIAM F. LYNCH'S EXPEDITION
TO THE DEAD SEA, 1847-48
Perhaps one of the most important explorations of the Holy Land was that undertaken in 1847-48 by the United States Navy under the command of Lieutenant William F. Lynch. Scientifically, the region was completely unknown until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Maps of the River Jordan, the Dead Sea, and the Sea of Galilee were merely sketches lacking precision and detail, and the flora, fauna, and other geographical components of the area had not been studied.2 Although many travelers had visited the region before Lynch's expedition, no one had accurately mapped the area in its entirety. The earliest map, the Jacotin map of the Holy Land, was
drawn in 1799 by a French army officer during Napoleon's invasion of Palestine, but it correctly charted only a short segment of the Jordan Valley south of the Sea of Galilee and the coast on the western part of the lake.3
The first attempt to explore the River Jordan and the Dead Sea was made by Christopher Costigan, a young Irishman, in 1835. Accompanied by a Maltese sailor he had surveyed only parts of the Jordan and the Dead Sea when, stricken with a fever, he died without leaving a written account of his investigations.4 Eight months after his death the American explorer John Lloyd
The author wishes to thank Robert Mitchell and Eric Van Swol of the Department of Geography, University of Maryland, for their assistance in the preparation of this article.
1 The original handwritten report of the expedition is in Miscellaneous Records, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, Record Group 45, National Archives Building
2 See Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, The Rediscovery of the Holy Land in the Nineteenth Century (Jerusalem, 1970); and I. W. J. Hopkins, “Nineteenth Century Maps of Palestine: Dual Purpose of Historical Evidence,” Imago Mundi: A Review of Early Cartography 22 (1968) : 30-36.
3 For the Jacotin map see D. H. (Amiran) Kalner, “Jacotin's Map of Palestine,” Pal tine Exploration Quarterly 76 (1944): 157-163; Y. Karmon, "An Analysis of Jacotin's Map of Palestine,” Israel Exploration Journal 10 (1960): 157-174, 244-254; Atlas of Israel, s.v. “Jacotin's map"; and Ben-Arieh, The Changing Landscape of the Central Jordan Valley (Jerusalem, 1968), p. 33.
4 Robert J. E. Boggis, Down the Jordan in a Canoe (London, 1939), pp. 22-25; Ernest W. G. Masterman, “Three Early Explorers in the Dead Sea Valley: Costigan-Molyneux-Lynch,” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statements 44 (1911): 12-27; John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea and the Holy Land, 10th ed. (New York, 1839), 2:197-216.
Stephens visited the Dead Sea and learned of the ill-fated expedition. Stephens made a special trip to Beirut to interview Costigan's companion and later incorporated his story and reconstructed a map of the exploration in Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea and the Holy Land. Other expeditions followed led by such explorers as G. H. Moore, W. G. Beke, G. H. Schubert, J. de Bertou, J. Russeger, T. M. C. Symonds, and Edward Robinson and Eli Smith, who attempted to calculate the depths of the Jordan and the Dead Sea and to study the land features of the area. 6
Although they did not explore the Jordan and Dead Sea, Smith and Robinson made observations in the region that were later useful to Lynch. In 1847 T. H. Molyneux, a British naval officer, rowed down the Jordan from the Galilee to the Dead Sea in order to examine the river's course and to measure the depth of the Dead Sea. He correctly ascertained the depth of the Sea of Galilee to be no more than forty-eight meters. Unfortunately, he did not finish his survey and died six months after the expedition. He did leave, however, a short
5 Stephens, Incidents of Travel, p. 212. See also the new edition, Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea and the Holy Land, ed. Victor W. von Hagen (Norman, Okla., 1970), p. 388.
6 Isaac Schattner, Mapat Erets-Yisrael ... (Jerusalem, 1951); Karl Ritter, The Comparative Geography of Palestine and the Sinaitic Peninsula, trans. and ed. William L. Gage (Edinburgh, 1866), 2: 72-84, 124-128, 3: 130-173; Edward Robinson and Eli Smith, Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount
Sinai, and Arabia Petraea during the Year 1838 (New York, 1841), 1: 513, 2:222; Robinson, Physical Geography of the Holy Land: A Supplement to the Late Author's Biblical Researches in Palestine (London, 1865), p. 210; Frederick J. Bliss, The Development of Palestine Exploration (New York, 1906), pp. 183-223. Lynch praised the reports of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea by Robinson and Smith in his Narrative of the United States’ Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea (Philadelphia, 1849).
account of his journey, including a sketch map of the Sea of Galilee.?
While Molyneux was still struggling with the waves of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, Lieutenant Lynch began preparations for his voyage. He had asked the United States government to authorize a naval expedition to the Dead Sea and the Jordan in May 1847. In November, with a party that included Lieutenant John B. Dale, Midshipman Richmond Aulick, Francis E. Lynch, the commander's son, and ten seamen, he sailed from Brooklyn, New York, aboard the Supply, which was taking provisions to
.7 T. H. Molyneux, “Expedition to the Jordan and the Dead Sea,” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 12 (1848): pt. 2; Ritter, Comparative Geography, ed. Gage, 2:287-294. The sketch map was used immediately by others, as for example, by William Allen in The Dead Sea: A New Route to India ... (London, 1855), and by Carel W. M. Van de Velde, who visited and mapped the country for the first time in 1851-52, in his Memoir to Accompany the Map of the Holy Land (Gotha, 1858).
the American squadron in the Mediterranean.
After a journey of three months they landed at Constantinople where the American minister introduced Lynch to the sultan of Turkey. As a result of the audience, Lynch was given a firman that permitted exploration in the sultan's territory and also ordered the governors of Saida and Jerusalem to assist the American expedition in any way. From Constantinople the party traveled along the coast to Beirut and to Acre where Lynch disembarked with his party. The ship was to proceed with its customary duties in the Mediterranean and later return for the expedition at Beirut.
From Acre Lynch and his party started on the overland journey to Tiberias and
the Sea of Galilee with two specially made metal boats-the copper Fanny Mason and the iron Fanny Skinner-on two low trucks. The caravan must have been an imposing sight-two boats with American flags on trucks drawn by camels, officers and seamen mounted on horseback, loaded camels, attendants, and Arabian chieftains with their retinues. After five days the expedition reached the Sea of Galilee, and with flags flying the boats were launched upon the blue waters of the lake. The Arabs sang and clapped their hands in rhythm crying for backsheesh. Because April was the most suitable time for rowing the Jordan, Lynch decided to postpone his survey of the Sea of Galilee and immediately descended the river. Part of the expedition traveled by boat, while the remainder went on foot as land guards. Each man was assigned certain duties such as mapping the topography of the river and its shores, observing the water volume in the river and its tributaries, and recording the natural features of the valley. Due to the frequent rapids, especially in the section from the Sea of Galilee to the junction of the Yarmuk River, the journey was a succession of dangers and excitement. 8
After an eight-day sail down the Jordan the expedition reached the Dead Sea and began the most important part of the mission. The itinerary included a voyage around the coast starting on the western shore, a survey of the Lisan Peninsula, and finally a journey up the eastern shore. Lynch planned to take frequent soundings by crossing from shore to shore and also scheduled visits to places of interest in the area.
Immediately after entering the Dead Sea a storm developed, and the expedition was forced to hug the coast. On the second day they encamped on the western shore opposite Wadi Sudeir, a little below Ain Giddy, and selected a site for headquarters, which they named Camp Washington. From there they explored the famous Sebbeth-Masada remains, the last place of Jewish resistance to the Romans. While on the Lisan Peninsula, Lynch named the northern promontory Point Costigan and the southwestern promontory Point Molyneux after the two explorers. Earlier in Tiberias, when Lynch had heard of their sad fates, he had promised, “If God spares us, we will commemorate their gallantry and their devotion to the cause of science." 9
Before leaving the area, the expedition journeyed fifteen miles east to Kerak, a climb of three thousand feet. On May 10, after surveying for twenty-two days, they completed their exploration in the Dead Sea. As a memorial to their visit, Lynch ordered a float bearing an American Aag constructed in the lake.
From the Dead Sea the expedition moved to Jerusalem, passing the famous Judean monastery of Mar Saba, then to the Mediterranean near Jaffa several days later, and finally returned to Tiberias in June. Lynch planned to explore the Sea of Galilee but canceled the trip when a boat specially designed to replace the other boats, which had been damaged in the Dead Sea exploration, did not arrive on schedule. Instead, after visiting Lake Hulah and the sources of the Jordan, the expedition pushed on to the Valley of the Litany, Mount Hermon, Damascus, and Baalbek. Accomplishing this in two weeks proved to be exhausting,. especially after the extensive work in the Dead Sea. When sickness overcame the expedition at Baalbek, Lynch quickly moved to Beirut where he had arranged to meet the Supply, but many were sick with fever by the time they reached the city. Among those stricken was Lieutenant Dale, who died a few days later from the same nervous fever that had taken the lives of Costigan and Molyneux. Lynch waited for the Supply for one month, when finally, growing impatient and fearful of disease in the town, he hired another ship and sailed for Malta. In the meantime the Supply, not finding Lynch in Beirut, returned to Malta and rejoined the expedition. On September 12 Lynch and his party sailed for the United States.
Upon his return Lynch published two books about his travels: The Narrative of the United States' Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea and the Official Report of the United States’ Expedition to Explore the Dead Sea and the River Jordan. The former was written hurriedly because
8 For incidents relating to the expedition, see Lynch, Narrative, passim. Costigan and Molyneux made the mistake of rowing the river in the hot months of July and August when the river was at its lowest water. See Ben-Arieh, Changing Landscape, pp. 7-8, 33-34.
9 William F. Lynch, Official Report of the United States' Expedition to Explore the Dead Sea and the River Jordan (Baltimore, 1852), p. 36; and Lynch, Narrative, p. 161.