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Relief Work Trouble: the Affair of the US Caesar Ship

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Letter from Albert Staub (Red Cross) to Bayard Dodge, Dec. 16, 1916, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

Plagued by misery, famine, poverty, death and sickness, the population of Greater Syria had to rely for basic goods on the good will of the Ottoman authorities-- who were themselves in dire need for basics. Jamal Pasha would occasionally release some army stocks containing clothes, food, medical and other necessary supplies, which would be either distributed and/or sold in the general market to whomever could afford them. In late 1916, faced with an impoverished and starved population, the Governor of Mount Lebanon decided to take matters into his own hands. He reached out directly to the Americans asking them for help in providing necessary supplies for the people of Lebanon and Greater Syria. The Red Cross Committee which was staffed and overseen by many American Officials, including many from SPC, responded immediately: a census of all poor and needy persons was conducted, and negotiations were put into place to see what could be done in terms of rallying the help and support of the American peoples.


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Announcement from the New York Times, December 17, 1916

Efforts to equip a US ship with aid to the population of Greater Syria had been underway for a while; a concerted effort was made to speed up its dispatch to the region. It is worth noting that many of these efforts were led by Americans individuals associated with SPC and the Red Cross Committee (e.g. Cleveland Dodge,  a wealthy American, who had provided a generous donation to furbish the US Navy ship with basic supplies and aid), as well as the Presbyterian fund, and generous ordinary American donors. The ship was equipped with goods worth $250,000.



Announcement from the New York Times, November 26, 1916

The Ottoman authorities had been until then, fully aware of the plans to send the aid ship to the region, and did not seem to mind, with in fact, some indication that Jamal Pasha would not be opposed to sending the ship to the region, and that he would himself oversee the distribution of the supplies. However, when the ship reached the Mediterranean, and sought to dock in Beirut, as wished by the Americans, things seemed to have shifted: Jamal Pasha ordered the ship to sail to Palestine where he insisted he would oversee the distribution of its goods. There are several speculations as to what could have happened, but the ship kept sailing from shore to shore, until it became clear that the Ottoman authorities and the Americans were reaching an impasse regarding this issue.

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Envelope of the Letter from the American Red Cross to Bayard Dodge, 1916, Archives and Special Collection, Jafet Library, AUB

Not given the permission to officially dock at its port of destination, Beirut, the ship would be stranded, until it eventually docked in Alexandria or Greece (it is not certain) where the Americans decided to sell the goods, to fund the activities of the Red Cross Committee's activities in Greece.