Mt. Pleasant author spotlights Americans in Egypt's history
During the 20 years Cassandra Vivian of Mt. Pleasant lived in Egypt, she often heard discussions of modern Egyptian history which included people from foreign countries — but never Americans.
“I would be at a cocktail party and they would be talking about the history of Egypt but they never mentioned Americans,” said Vivian, who taught English literature for more than two decades at the American University of Cairo.
Vivian — a writer, photographer, historian and world traveler — said she always had an idea that Americans actually have played a rather prominent role in the African country's history,
Her latest book proves that theory to be a valid one.
“The French, Germans and English looked down their noses at us and said if there were Americans in Egypt they didn't have anything to say. Not only did I find we were there but we had a lot to say,” she said.
The work — titled “Americans in Egypt, 1770–1915” — introduces and relates the experiences and attitudes of 15 American personalities who worked, lived, or traveled in Egypt from the 1770s to the commencement of World War I. There are explorers, consuls, tourists, soldiers, missionaries, artists, scientists, and scholars.
“I chose people who represent different genres throughout that time period. Each one was unique in his own way,” said Vivian, who has authored several other books and has won awards from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Pennsylvania Humanities and the Arts.
Through their lives and often in their own words, Vivian offers a rare American perspective on everyday Egyptian life and provides a new perspective on many historically significant events.
The stories of these individuals and their sojourns not only recount the culture and history of Egypt but also convey the domination of the country by European powers and the support for Egypt by a young American nation.
“Any scholar doing research on Egypt who does not consult American sources does not get the full story,” Vivian said.
The Americans featured in the book include:
• John Antes, the first known American missionary in Egypt;
• John Ledyard, the man who walked the world;
• William Eaton and the first Marines on foreign soil;
• Francis Barthow, the seaman who came to visit and never left;
• George Bethune English, who accompanied the Egyptian army into the Sudan; • The Gliddons, the first American consular family in Egypt;
• Sarah Haight, the first American woman to write about Egypt;
• Bayard Taylor, the Pennsylvania travel writer who went deep into the Sudan; and Charles Hale, a strange American consul;
• Charles Chaillé-Long, the American soldier who solved part of the mystery of the source of the Nile;
• Ulysses S. Grant, the American president on his grand tour of the world; Charles Stone, the American who headed the Egyptian army during the bombardment of Alexandra;
• Anna Thompson, the young missionary woman from Washington, PA, who spent over 60 years in Egypt;
• Walter Granger, who led a team from the American Museum of Natural History in New York into the Western Desert looking for fossils;
• Theodore Davis, the American excavator in the Valley of the Kings.
“John Antes was there before Napoleon and Charles Chaillé-Long discovered the source of the Nile. He has been denied credit for this forever. The English ruled there in the 19th century and they were not going to give the credit to anyone but an Englishman,” Vivian said.
Vivian said she feels that, by reading her book, people will get to see a different America than they know now, what she calls a “softer” America.
“We were a country that was non-aligned which means we were not the boss of anyone,” she said. “I think they will also enjoy reading about the American heroes that most have never heard of.”
Vivian will introduce her book which was just released last month at a special book signing and presentation at the Mt. Pleasant Public Library on from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
From 11 a.m. to noon that day, Vivian will also conduct a presentation on the book and lead a discussion on the subject matter.
Copies of the book will be available for sale for $55 each.
“I have heard Cassandra speak several times and one of the topics was Egypt. So I am anticipating that the book will be as interesting as her presentations,” said Mary Lou Shick, the library's director.
“Cassandra makes history come alive with her enthusiasm. I have read books that she has written about the National road and the Titanic. I have assisted Cassandra in research and in obtaining manuscripts and reference materials over the last couple of years and that has been very interesting, as well.”
Linda Harkcom is a freelance writer.