Who has not wanted to be king? Not a king now, of course, our monarchies deliquescent and dull, but the brave monarch of a remote and fabulous realm earned by the force of courage and lust for adventure horizons. A king of those who made themselves wielding the gun in wild places that challenge the imagination, leaving the burden of everyday life, affection and security.
Among the handful of brave men who sought the kingdom of their dreams and were crowned with his own hands on thrones of jungle, mountain or desert stand, of course, James Brooke, who became the White Rajah of Sarawak, and Charles de Mayrena, which was proclaimed king of the sedang in the jungles of Indochina. Less well known, there were minor adventures and achievements of the Quaker and freemason Josiah Harlan, who left Pennsylvania with only bare hands in 1823 to conquer the dangerous lands of Afghanistan and become ruler of the principality of Gohr, in the Hindu Kush. Harlan got there on the back of an elephant: these were different times.
At the origin of his incredible adventures are a broken heart
The amazing adventures of Harlan, obsessed with Alexander the Great, was one of the elements that inspired his famous Rudyard Kipling story The man who would be king, based on John Huston film with Sean Connery and Michael Caine. "We leave here to be kings" Dravot and Peachey said the narrator of the story. Armed with ambition and 20 rifles, met their fate in Kafiristan to lose the throne, then respectively life and sanity. Harlan, who said that a sharp sword and a bold heart supersede the laws of inheritance, could not keep his kingdom but survived to return to the U.S. and live new adventures.
During the Civil War, he organized his own regiment of cavalry, Harlan's Light Cavalry, to fight the Confederates, the same man who had led armies in Afghanistan, served as military adviser Ranjit Singh, the Lion of Lahore, and adopted the code Pashtuns of honor!
Harlan's life, told in detail by Ben Macintyre in his splendid biography Josiah the Great (HarperCollins, 2004), gave a glimpse of the most outrageous adventurer and explored a romantics twist. Could you ask for more? Scion of a family of pious and wealthy Philadelphia Quakers, Harlan (1799) embarked as a sailor bound for Eastern ports leading into the heart of his beloved Elizabeth Swaim, with whom he planned to marry.
In Calcutta he got a letter informing him that the fickle girl had married another. In a fit, our man decided to never return to the U.S. and gave the search for adventure, fame and fortune.
Harlan moved to northern India and entered the service of the exiled Afghan king Shah Shujah, who conspired to regain his throne. Thus, the U.S. was involved in the dangerous great game of European powers for control of Central Asia. At the same time, was placed in a position to take advantage of quarrels to gain personal power and, who knows, catch a title. "There are realms available, requiring only initiative, energy and luck" wrote Harlan, who added a phrase to remember: "Each in his own estimation is a king".
He left Kabul to destabilize the reigning Dost Mohammed and prepare the invasion at the head of a small army of hustlers and desperados. If getting the return of their King this would make me the vizier and then we would see. In this Harlan's ambition amaze you almost as much as his courage. In the march towards Kabul, dressed dervish, had to deal with bandits, tribes cruel quicksand and even a riot. Dost Mohammed was unimpressed and saw Harlan as only as an unlikely tourist. After many vicissitudes, the U.S. concluded that a revolt was impossible and returned to India.
He then moved to Punjab to get the service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The American Medical hypochondriac made the debauched eyed maharaja general in his army, and was appointed governor of Gujrat. It was then that he became involved in the war between Afghan and Sikh and decided to ally with Dost Mohammed, who had tried to depose before. The emir of Kabul, who was cruel but not spiteful, made him commander of his troops. After the victory over the Sikhs at Jamrud, presented him with a gold-plated sword and charged a punitive expedition against the infamous Murad Beg, khan Kumduz an Uzbek slavery of the worst kind.
He led an army of 4,000 Afghans, the U.S. went to the great opportunity of his life riding on elephant. Harlan rode the beast through the Hindu-Kush and during their journey through the Hazarajat in 1839, sufficiently impressed Prince of Ghor (or Goree or Gawr) that he proposed that he transferred sovereignty to Harlan who assumed security of the kingdom. He wrote a paper in which Harlan undertook to create, prepare and command an army and in return he and his heirs claimed the crown.
The adventurer had his dream fulfilled. He returned to Kabul Ghor thinking to settle in and then it all fell apart: the British had invaded Afghanistan. And they did not suffer fools gladly: Harlan was a type that had become doubtful through Afghanistan, so he left the country with paper declaring him king still in the pocket. The America returned to his homeland, but not before passing by Russia where surely intrigued to see if the Tsar helped him settle in his throne. In 1841 he was in Philadelphia where he asked to be called modest overall and King Josiah Harlan.
In October 1871, planning to sail for China to provide military services to the emperor, Harlan Sahib slumped dead on a street in San Francisco. They say in Ghor found only a crown but also a young Hazara and his unrequited love for Eliza Swaim. Maybe that was so eager to return. We know what it takes to win a kingdom, but it is sometimes more difficult to conquer a heart.