Warder Cresson, one of the most colorful figures of 19th-century Jerusalem, was the first American consul in Jerusalem – at least, he acted as though he was. Three months ago, in the framework of a project undertaken by the Elad Association to map the Mount of Olives Cemetery, the grave of Cresson – who was born a Quaker in Philadelphia, and died a Jew in Jerusalem by the name of Michael Boaz Israel – was discovered.
Cresson arrived in Jerusalem in 1844 to take up the post of consul. But even before he had set foot in the country, the State Department rescinded his appointment after it got wind of problematic aspects of his character, and was informed that the Ottoman government had refused to recognize his appointment. That did not keep Cresson from acting as consul, though, including granting the Jewish community in the city special privileges that the American government had obtained from the Ottomans.
Four years later, Cresson converted to Judaism. His ex-wife took him to court in the United States and demanded that he be committed to an insane asylum, because he wanted to give all his money to the Jews to help rebuild the Temple. The trial, which Cresson won, was widely reported and is considered a precedent in American jurisprudence.
Cresson subsequently returned to Palestine, married a Jewish woman and became a pillar of the Sephardic Jewish community. He died in 1860 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. The American consul at the time wrote that Cresson-Israel’s funeral was as grand as that of a prominent rabbi; nevertheless, the exact location of the grave was lost.
In recent years, the Elad Association has been working on a computerized map of the Mount of Olives Cemetery and its tombstone inscriptions. Three months ago, a man who said he was a descendant of Cresson’s brother came to the association’s information center.
A search for the names “Cresson” and “Israel” turned up nothing, but the search under the name “Boaz” revealed the location of the graves of both Cresson and his wife. The tombstone inscription reads: “The man who fears God, who came to shelter him under the wings of the Shechinah.” The story appears in a short article by Daniel Shani in a book to be published this week, “Dreams and Diplomacy in the Holy Land.”
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