“Kings in our own right,” muttered Dravot.” - Josiah Harlan, a Man who would be King

12 June 1799, the adventurer Josiah Harlan who became the Prince of Ghor in Afghanistan and probably the model for Rudyard Kipling’s “Man Who Would Be King” was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

“Well and good,” said Carnehan of the eyebrows, wiping the froth from his mustache. “Let me talk now, Dan. We have been all over India, mostly on foot. We have been boiler-fitters, engine-drivers, petty contractors, and all that, and we have decided that India isn’t big enough for such as us.”They certainly were too big for the office. Dravot’s beard seemed to fill half the room and Carnehan’s shoulders the other half, as they sat on the big table. Carnehan continued: — “The country isn’t half worked out because they that governs it won’t let you touch it. They spend all their blessed time in governing it, and you can’t lift a spade, nor chip a rock, nor look for oil, nor anything like that without all the Government saying — ‘Leave it alone and let us govern.’ Therefore, such as it is, we will let it alone, and go away to some other place where a man isn’t crowded and can come to his own. We are not little men, and there is nothing that we are afraid of except Drink, and we have signed a Contrack on that. Therefore, we are going away to be Kings.”“Kings in our own right,” muttered Dravot.” (Rudyard Kipling “The Man Who Would Be King”)



Josiah Harlan, wearing a variation of an Afghan costume,
probably taken after his return to the United States in the 1850s


young man’s story hardly gets more Romantic than that of Josiah of Newlin Township, Pennsylvania. Speaking five languages and having his head full of Plutarch’s stories about Alexander the Great, Josiah left his bride-to-be back home in the States, shipped on board of a Canton- and Calcutta-bound East Indiaman and learned that his girl left him for another man. He vowed never to return home again but to seek adventure and fame in the East. And he did. First, he became a surgeon during the Honourable East India Company’s First Burmese War with the qualification of having read a few medical books in school. By the end of the 1820s, he managed to negotiate a position for himself as governor of Gujarat, then part of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Punjabi Sikh Empire and finally decided to try his luck in Afghanistan.



The Durbar of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (image from around 1850)


A deep-rooted aversion against slavery and the idea to lead an army across the Hindu Kush in a latter day Alexander campaign might have been the prime motivations for Josiah Harlan to mount a punitive expedition against the Uzbek warlord and slave trader Murad Beg, haunting the Central Afghan region of Ghor in 1838. Riding an elephant, hoisting Old Glory on one of the peaks of the Indian Caucasus and setting out to bring the American ideas of getting rid of a foreign ruler’s yoke and a free society to the suppressed Hazari people in the region and picking up a marmot en route and carrying the beastie throughout the campaign in his bag. His disciplined 2,500 men, probably part of Ranjit Singh’s Khalsa, at the time one of the best armies in Asia, reinforced by Hazari tribal warriors made short work of Murad Beg’s raiders and a few hundred followers of the local hero Mohammad Reffee Beg Hazara. Mohammad Beg promptly created Josiah the hereditary Prince of Ghor and himself his Grand Vizier. Full of admiration for the Hazaris, Josiah wrote: “Such resources would, in the hands of an intelligent agent, establish the foundations of an empire.", rode back to Kabul, promptly ran into the newly arrived British Army of the Indus on the brink of the First Anglo-Afghan War and got the boot from the Governor-General’s political agent, the conditions-wise rather challenged Sir William Macnaghten in 1841.


"The seizure and murder of Macnaghten and his escort by Akbar Khan and his guards" - late 19th century imagination of the fate of conditions-wise rather challenged Governor-General’s political agent shortly after Harlan left the region


Thus, his career as Central Asian royalty was over within just three years without having accomplished very much in regards to empire-building. Josiah finally returned to the States in the 1850s and wrote a controversial book about his experiences and views on the region he lived in and influenced over 15 years, tried to return to Afghanistan as a trade agent, failed, but could at least convince the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, to establish a Camel Corps for the US Army. When the Civil War broke out, Josiah was in his early sixties, tried to raise a Union regiment and was soon court-martialled for treating his men like an Oriental potentate would and was dismissed. In 1863, the Prince of Ghor died in San Francisco of tuberculosis. 20 years later, Rudyard Kipling would pick up the threads of Josiah Harlan’s story of the “Man Who Would Be King” in his parable about the white man’s hubris in Central Asia and the end of empires. The current Prince of Ghor is Scott Reiniger of “Dawn of the Dead”-fame, a direct descendant of Josiah Harlan.


More about Josiah Harlan on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josiah_Harlan


and Rudyard Kipling’s “Man Would Would Be King” on