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American Travelers in Egypt: 1837-1869

John Lloyd StephensAmong the first Americans to visit Egypt was John Ledyard (1751-1789). An adventurous traveler who counted Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette among his friends, Ledyard went to Egypt at the suggestion of Sir William Banks. Arriving in Alexandria, he traveled on to Cairo where, unfortunately, he died before he could leave an extensive account of his visit.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century, however, Egypt, and the adventures of travelers, archaeologists, and, of course, Giovanni Belzoni, held the interest of the American reading public. To cite but two of many journalistic examples:

In the "Foreign Articles" of The American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia) of February 11, 1824, a note reprinted from the Cambridge Chronicle recounts the latest exploits of Belzoni in North Africa. A few years later, a brief note in the April 26, 1827 issue of Poulson's American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia) comments that a subscription is underway for the support of Sarah Belzoni "widow of the celebrated traveller" and "partner in the arduous undertakings of her husband" who is now living in Brussels.

Among the first Americans to leave full accounts of their Egyptian experience were George Bethune English (1787-1828) who traveled in 1820; George Rapelje (b.1771), traveling in 1822; George Jones, the chaplin aboard the USS Delaware which visited Egypt in 1834; and John Lowell, Jr. (1799-1836) traveling in 1834-35.

George Robbins Gliddon (1809-1857), born in Devonshire, was taken to Egypt at an early age by his father, John Gliddon (later U.S. Consul at Alexandria). The younger Gliddon is perhaps best known for his Egyptological works (including Otia Ægyptiaca) and for his extensive speaking tour of the United States in the 1840s illustrated with objects collected by Col. Cohen of Baltimore. For those interested in travelers to Egypt, however, it is Gliddon's reprinting of the Consular Register of Americans who traveled to Egypt during 1832-42 -- many of whom would later write on Egypt -- that is most interesting (See Appendix I).

A Journey to Central Africa; or, Life and Landscapes from Egypt to the Negro Kingdoms of the White Nile This register is appended to one of the more interesting documents related to travel to Egypt. Gliddon's "Appendix" to the American in Egypt (1842) was published in response to James Ewing Cooley's The American in Egypt (1842). Cooley (1802-1882), a New York State Senator, book dealer and minor poet wrote a witty and satiric account of his trip to Egypt. Unfortunately, he sometimes played loosely with the facts and lifted many of its illustrations from other sources. Cooley caricatures David Bushnell (called "Nebby Daoud" by Cooley), an American living in Alexandria and goes on at length with a scurrilous parody of the British in Egypt (under the names of the Wrinkelbottoms, Mr. Sneezebiter, the Rev. Dunderlix and the like). Meeting with John Gliddon, Cooley says "He put on an air of great pomposity, and appeared conceited, insincere, and vain" (p.366). Gliddon, or "Baron Pompolino" as Cooley calls him, though living in Egypt for twenty years, is "as ignorant as an old Egyptian mummy, just pulled out of the tombs" (p.367) of what would be of interest to a traveler such as Cooley. In his "Appendix", Gliddon vigorously defends the honor of his father and others mentioned by Cooley.

It was, however, John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852) who became the first American to write a truly popular account of his travels in Egypt. By the 1850s, Americans were beginning to visit Egypt and West Asia in greater numbers than ever before. For much of this early period, a trip to Egypt and up the Nile aboard a native dhahabîyeh was reserved for only the most adventurous traveler, or howadji, a Turkish word originally meaning "merchant" or "shopkeeper." Howadji soon became a term applied by local inhabitants to all foreign travelers. In 1851, George William Curtis popularized the term in his work, Nile Notes of a Howadji. Said Curtis:

...we played only the part of Howadji, which is the universal name for traveler--the "Forestiero" of Italy (p.19).


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