Josiah Harlan

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Josiah Harlan in traditional Afghan clothing

Josiah Harlan, Prince of Ghor (born June 12, 1799 in Newlin Township / Pennsylvania , † 1871 in San Francisco / California ) was an American traveler and adventurer. He became Prince of Ghor in Afghanistan .

Harlan was best known for his travels through Afghanistan and the Punjab . There he dealt with local politics and military affairs and was given the hereditary title of Prince of Ghor for his military successes . Rudyard Kipling's book The Man Who Wanted To Be King is probably based on his biography.


Josiah was born in Newlin Township in Cheter County , Pennsylvania. His parents, Joshua and Sarah Harlan, were Quakers . Josiah grew up with nine siblings in a strict and pious home. His father was a Philadelphia agent and some of his sons followed him into the profession. Josiah lost his mother at the age of thirteen and began to delve into books. A school evaluation at the age of fifteen describes him: " having fun reading medical books and the story of Plutarch and the books of the prophets" . He read Latin and Greek and was fluent in French. He also developed interests in botany that would last his entire life. In addition, he studied Greek and Roman history and was fascinated by the stories about Alexander the Great .

Early trips

Harlan went on his first trips in 1820. His father got him work as a "supercargo" (load supervisor) on a merchant ship to the east, which was destined for Calcutta and Canton / China . After returning home from his first trip and preparing for the next trip, he fell in love. An engagement was arranged and the wedding planned on his return from the next trip. This was to have a massive impact on the rest of his life: in Calcutta, he received the news that his fiancée had not only canceled the engagement, but that she was already married to another man.

Shaken, Harlan decided never to return to the United States and threw himself into adventure and danger. In July 1824 he was employed by the British East India Company without training as a surgeon . The company was on its way to the first war of conquest in Burma and was in dire need of surgeons. Relying on his self-study and some practice at sea, Harlan had himself examined by the Medical Board and was employed as a surgeon at Calcutta general hospital . From January 1825 he served in the army in Burma. In 1826 the Yandaboo Treaty between the East India Company and the Burmese King of Ava ended the disputes. Harlan was stationed in Karnal , north of Delhi , where he soon got bored of his duties. In the summer of 1826 he left the army. As a civilian, he received a permit from Governor William Pitt Amherst .

To Afghanistan

After a stay in Shimla , Harlan came to Ludhiana , a British border post on the Satluj River , which formed the border between Punjab and British India at the time. He decided to enter the service of Ranjit Singh , the Maharaja of Punjab. While waiting for an answer to his request to enter Punjab, he met the exiled Afghan leader Shodja Shah Durrani and entered his service. With financial support from the exiled monarch, he traveled the Indus and moved to Afghanistan, first to Peshawar and then to Kabul . Here he met the man he was about to depose, Dost Mahommed Khan .

In Peshawar Harlan had met Nawab Jubber Khan , a brother of Dost Mahommed Khan. Jabber Khan played an important role as a possible adversary of Dost Mahommed and thus a possible ally of Schodscha Shah. While he was with Jubber Khan, Harlan analyzed the situation and found that Dost Mahommed's position was too strong and that help from outside Afghanistan was needed. He decided to look for help in Punjab.

In the service of Ranjit Singh

In 1829 Harlan came to Lahore , the capital of Punjab. He went to the French General Jean-François Allard , who introduced him to the Maharaja. He was offered a military position, which he declined because he was looking for something more lucrative. Eventually he found something: after some time at court, he was offered the position of governor of Gujarat , which he accepted. Before that, however, the Maharaja decided to put Harlan to the test.

In December 1829 he was installed as governor of Nurpur and Jasrota, which Harlan himself described as " two districts that had recently submitted to the king of Lahore and are in the foothills of the Himalayas" . These districts were considered quite wealthy when Harlan arrived. Little is known of Harlan's actions here, but he must have done his job well. In any case, in May 1832 he was sent to Gujarat. Soon after his installation he was visited by Henry Lawrence , who described him as a man with some skills, great courage, verve and a very spontaneous ability to make decisions, well suited for partisan activity .

It was unusual to appoint a European governor, even if Harlan was not an isolated case. His colleague Paolo Di Avitabile became governor of Wazirabad , Jean-Baptiste Ventura became governor of Dera Ghazi Khan in 1831 . Harlan's successor to his post was also an Englishman named Holmes.

See also

  • In 2004 it became known that Scott H. Reiniger , known from the horror film Zombie ( Dawn of the Dead ), is the oldest great-great-great-grandson of Josiah Harlan and thus heir to the title Prince of Ghor .

Web links


  • Ben Macintyre: Josiah the Great. The true story of the man who would be king . Harper Perennial, London 2005, ISBN 0-00-715107-1 .
  • Ben Macintyre: The Man Who Was King. An American in Afghanistan . Rogner & Bernhard at two thousand and one, Frankfurt / M. 2005, ISBN 3-8077-1005-1 (translation of the previous title)