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Civil War in Syria—Accounts by American Missionaries.


July/August 1860

From The Missouri Democrat, Wednesday, August 1, 1860.




[From the American Presbyterian, of last week.]

The following letters from Rev. W. A. Benton and his wife, Mrs. L. G. Benton, missionaries of the American Board at Mt. Lebanon, in the very heart of the present disturbances, have just been received b Mr. George W. Mears, the Corresponding Secretary of Western Church S. S. Missionary Society, and promptly placed in our hands for publication. They will be found equal in interest to anything as yet published on the painful subject. Mrs. Benton holds the pen of a ready writer:

BHAMDUN, Mt. Lebanon, June 6, 1860.

DEAR BROTHERS IN CHRIST: The existing hostilities between Druses and Christians of Mount Lebanon, commenced on Tuesday of last week at Beit Miri and several other points, almost simultaneously in the Metn district, at the north of our station. It was fearfully sublime, and inexpressibly painful, before morning to behold so many villages, hamlets, and isolated houses in flames and to hear the reports of their guns, and the wild voices of the assailants re-echoing around us at the midnight hour. In the course of forty-eight hours, about one hundred different places were reduced to ashes, and the sad work of war and conflagration is still raging upon the mountain.

MONDAY, June 11.—After I had written the above, having been called to go down to Beirut, I suggested to Mrs. Benton to write an account of the war to accompany this letter. Her communication is enclosed. It is a painful circumstance to state that a great misunderstanding has arisen between the Pasha of Beirut and all the consuls there, on the question of his duty and office at once to interfere and terminate this mutual animosity and carnage of the contending parties. This he declines to do, and the consuls have of course reported the fact to their respective governments.

It is said that Hasbeiyeh and Rasbeiyeh are taken, plundered and burned, with a loss of 600 killed to the Christians. I hope this report is not true. The Christians at Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo and Jerusalem, are in much fear and danger.

The dwellings of Christians in the Druse villages are still burning. Last night Aindara, two hours to the east, was set on fire. The Christians are gathering at Zaleh, and at the north of us, in considerable force, twenty or thirty thousand or more. The Druses are gathering at and from the south and Houran. And what the state and issues of the existing hostilities will be, it is impossible to tell. Our comfort and confidence is in the blessed will of Providence.

Our position here is critical and providential. Our Consul at Beirut has warned us, as in duty bound, that he can no longer protect us on the mountain, and has suggested that we had better come down. A strong order has issued from the Pasha to the Governor that we should be guarded and not molested, or annoyed in the least by the contending parties. We do not apprehend any personal danger, and our presence at such a time is felt to be a great protection and comfort to all the people of Bhamdun, especially to all those who love the gospel at this station. It is said, indeed, that our presence has saved the village. And it is not our duty at present to leave, as we think.

Lebanon is without a government, nominally. It is divided into two districts by the Damascus road. The northern division has a Christian, and the southern division a Druse Governor and Council of twelve judges. But these two divisions, apart from these authorities, are in actual hostilities. And the Pasha does not come with his army to separate them. It is our place to know that the Lord reigns.

Excuse these hasty sketches of the prevailing anarchy around. Pray for your missionaries, and for Mount Lebanon; and believe me,

Ever yours in Christian love,

MOUNT LEBANON, Bhamdun, June 8th, 1860.

DEAR CHRISTIAN FRIENDS:—We take up our pen to give you some faint description of the awful visitation which has come upon this poor, guilty land. The old animosities, feuds and hates between the Druses and Christians have now broken out in a most fearful war, sending horror, bloodshed and devastation over this beautiful, this goodly Lebanon.

On Tuesday, May 28th, the hostilities commenced; a battle was fought on the White Back Mountain, about four hours from here, between a party of Zahlebans and Druses. There was a severe loss on both sides; the high priest of the Druses was killed. That same awful night, the fires of the combatants were lighted at Be[i]t [M]iri, and all the little villages around that place, and in the Metn district at the north; we counted ten, and soon after twelve villages burning at once, and sending up the most fearful flames to Heaven. No eye slept that night; we expected every moment that we might be attacked. The dreadful night wore away, the morning dawned and our mountain heights were enveloped in a dense cloud of black pine smoke.

We sat down in the study for morning devotions, and the cry of “the Druses are upon us” rang in our ears. Mr. Benton rushed out, and was met by hundreds of women and children running to our house for safety. He asked where th[e]y were; some said one thing and some another, and he walked up through the village to meet the dreaded foe, and if possible mediate between them. He looked all round and saw no one, or any appearance of danger. The accidental discharge of a gun, and the screams of the women had caused the false alarm. Mr. Benton now felt is was his duty to take the direction of affairs. He divided the men of the village into companies, and stationed them at different points to watch, telling them if they saw any approach to give him notice, and he would meet the foe first of all.

We raised the American flag over our house, and told all, that in case of an attack upon the village, the women were to come to our house and the men to stand their ground. We then sent word to Sheikh Yusif, the Druse governor of this village, and told him of our position, and asked his pleasure. He approved of all, and advised the people of Bhamdun and Bhuttum to bring their valuables to our house, and took his most solemn oath that he could and would protect Bhamdun; said that Mr. Benton was his own brother, called him Sheikh Benton Abel el Melik—the name of his house. It is wonderful how the Lord has given us the hearts and confidence of these wild Druses.

Several times during that never to be forgotten day, the poor panic stricken people were about to flee and start for Beirut, and but for us they would have been slaughtered on the road, as the war was raging all the way, and the neighboring Druse women would have come and plundered and burned our village.

Towards night a Kowass from the American Consul at Beirut arrived to inquire after us; they thought Bhamdun was burned and knew not what had become of us. Also Sheikh Nebhan, the brother of Sheikh Yusif, arrived, and he is here still. We do not feel that we are by any means out of danger, but there are many indications that Bhamdun will outride this fearful storm. We suppose that more than a hundred villages have been burned, and, to the horror of all the foreign residents in Syria, it is plain the Turkish authorities are favoring the Druse side, and themselves helping on the butchery of the Christians.

Near Sidon, there has been a massacre of the Christians, and but for the appearance of the English war steamer, which threatened to destroy the city, we fear the Muslems would have arisen and slaughtered the whole Christian population.

Nearly all day yesterday we heard the guns of the contending parties. A severe battle was fought at the Metn, at the north of us, and we hear that the Druse loss is great in killed and wounded. Such is our position that we hear the Druse side of the question. Bhamdun stands neutral, and under the Druse protection, being one of their principal stations; the commander of their force is here. Rasmaia, a large Christian village near here, which had taken up arms against the Druse, one hundred and sixty of her young men being gone to the war, was forced to surrender; day before yesterday they gave up their arms and their crop of silk, the cocoons being in their houses, upon condition that they should be protected. After the whole contract was complete, the Druse fired upon the people and completely plundered the whole village. While this awful scene was going on, Mr. Portalas, a French gentleman who has a factory near that place, rode into the midst and told all the villagers to follow him, and he took them all into his factory. Some of the women had nothing on save their under-clothes. He is still feeding them at his own house. All the gentlemen of the factories in this part of Lebanon have acted a noble part in protecting the women and children in their factories.

Oh, how dreadful to think of the thousands of houses now laid in ashes, and their poor owners wandering in the hot sun with no homes, and we fear nothing to eat, save the green wheat and mulberrys which now cover this mountain. A party of Druses, whom the Christians had burned out, were passing through Bhamdun, and put up here for the night; they slept upon the ground, and the kind people here carried them some food. One poor little sick boy cried, “carry me to our house, mother;” the poor mother with tears, replied, “our home is in ashes, my son.”

A number of infants left by the poor fleeing mothers, have been picked up, we learn, and are taken care of by the Druse Sheikhs. One Bhamdun woman, living in one of the villages which were destroyed, had three little children; her husband was in the battle, and she caught up two and ran, leaving her babe in the cradle; a Druse was seen to take the cradle out of the house and then set it on fire; we knew not what has become of the poor babe. The Druses, we hear, are preparing to attack Shasbieah; they will make terrible havoc there, if they conquer.

The Christians at Damascus fear the Moslems will rise upon them and kill them without mercy; indeed, no place seems safe but Beirut, and that, on account of the ships-of-war in the harbor, is safe.

We have long been fearing and dreading these awful days. If there had been a grain of energy in the government, all this might have been easily prevented. We do hope and pray that the Christian world will call the Turkish government to an account for this, and no longer prop up and patch up such a rotten administration.

There has been a terrible scene at Dier el Kamir, but all is quiet there now. I do not know the particulars enough to describe it; you will doubtless see reports from that place.

Things look threatening again between the Russians and the Sultan. Is it not near the time when the Pope and the false prophet will go down?

Zahleh is full of people; all the villagers in this part of the mountain have fled there. It is said that they have from seven to eight thousand armed men. The Druses, we hope, will not venture to attack that place. We have been hoping every day to see the Turkish troops come up into the mountain and put a stop to these terrible conflicts, but the Pasha appears to take side with the Druses, and sees the work go on.

The Lord will, out of all this, bring his own glory, and we trust the Christians will repent, and the Druses also will yet learn righteousness.

Our friends in Zahleh are increasing; we had hoped to visit that place again, but now all such labors are stopped till the war ceases.

The Romish Bishops and priests have had much influence in getting up this war, by exciting the Christians against the Druses. The Bishop’s mansion at Be[it] Miri is burned, and all the convents in this vicinity. Oh, may they never again be rebuilt to subserve the kingdom of Satan! We are looking for letters from our friends in Philadelphia. We ask your continued interest and prayers for us and the poor, dark people of this upper district of the goodly mountain.

Your affectionate sister in Christ,