Sep 28, 2017 - Sale 2455

Sale 2455 - Lot 131

Price Realized: $ 3,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 1,000 - $ 1,500
(IMMIGRATION.) Arbeely, Mary. Diary of a young Syrian-American woman in Beirut. 239 manuscript diary pages, plus additional sheets. 12mo, original limp red cloth, moderate wear; some entries extended with notes tipped or laid in. Vp, 17 November 1908 to 30 September 1909

Additional Details

Mary Arbeely (1886-1971) was born in Los Angeles into what is generally regarded as the first family of Syrian immigrants in America. Her father, grandparents, and uncles, all Orthodox Christians and ethnic Arabs, had arrived in New York in 1878, fleeing oppression by the Turkish authorities. Her father Abraham Arbeely became a successful physician and founder of the first Arabic newspaper in America. In 1907, the family went on a trip to Beirut (still part of the Ottoman Empire) which would last two years. This fascinating diary was written by Mary during the final months of that trip. She did her best to enjoy the Arabic culture of her ancestors, but was clearly homesick for the comforts of home.
Mary wrote in a repurposed 1906 German daily diary, often correcting the days of the week and the year when she thought of it; she began in November 1908 at the rear of the volume, and started over at the front in January 1909. She had numerous (and aggressive) suitors, but remained true to her hometown sweetheart Clifton Byrd "CB" Shoemaker, who she would later marry. A typical entry reads: "Mr. Khouri then took the opportunity to ask me if my 'heart was free.' I told him no, that I left it back in America. . . . If I wanted to marry for money only, here's my chance & I know I could have everything I want. But then I would rather marry for love and get a very poor man than this way. Give me CB every time" (16 January 1909).
The family was quite frightened by the Adana massacres taking place elsewhere in the Empire, in which up to 30,000 Armenian Christians were killed: "Everybody is still frightened that Beyrout may be the next to be visited by a massacre, for Adana, Tarsus, Mersine have been scenes of awful butchering. The troops under young Turkey have started from Salonica for Constantinople" (16 April 1909). The next week, "the American consul advises everybody to remain at home today. . . . We have just learned that a Muslim was killed by a Christian in the mts. and that Mr. N. Khuri has gone in the auto to bring the body down by request of an uncle to the dead man. We all are afraid of our lives for this may cause a massacre between Christian & Muslims. . . . Everyone is scared to death today, expect something will happen tonight" (25-26 April).
A contagious disease outbreak allowed her to express her patriotism: "Plague has broken out in this city, discovered on a woman who had come from India. . . . There have been 5 deaths. There is a quarantine in all ports against Beyrout. Will be fearful if we are to be in the midst of plague. Mr Arranean is leaving for the U.S.A. (wish I was in his boots). Wrote some songs for him. He is a dandy chap & a thoro American" (6 January 1909). She savored any trace of American culture: "The U.S. Steam launch was to take us to the Montana, but unfortunately we were too late so took a row boat. My first inclination upon stepping on that bit of America was to yell for all I was worth. Oh, but it was good to be there. . . . We reached the shore, having had a taste of Uncle Sam that we knew must last us until we get home" (28 May 1909). The family sailed back to America on 9 August 1909. On her arrival home, she wrote "I often feel as if I have been dead for two years & just come back to life" (12 September). Additional notes on this diary are available upon request.