A Memoir of India and Avghanistaun


Josiah Harlan (1799−1871) was an adventurer and soldier of fortune who possibly was the first American to travel to Afghanistan. Born in Pennsylvania into a large Quaker family, he went to Asia in 1823, where he found employment as a surgeon with the British East India Company. In 1827 he entered the service of Shah Shooja-ool-Moolk, the former leader of Afghanistan who had been deposed in 1810. Harlan remained in Afghanistan for 14 years, where he engaged in various intrigues with rival Afghan leaders, several times changing allegiances. During the First Afghan War (1839–42) his activities infuriated the British authorities, who expelled him from the country. A Memoir of India and Avghanistaun is Harlan’s account of his adventures in South Asia, published in 1842, shortly after his return to the United States. The book and a series of interviews that Harlan gave to newspapers at the time stoked American interest in Afghanistan and the war then underway. The book begins with a discussion of the disastrous defeat of the Anglo-Indian force at the hands of Afghan tribesmen in January 1842. Six of the book’s seven chapters deal with British India, its foreign policy, and its relationship to Afghanistan. The seventh, and by far the longest, chapter is a detailed description of Amir Dōst Moḥammad Khān (1793–1863), based in part on Harlan’s service to and interactions with the amir. The book has three appendices. The first and third are concerned with the British defeat of 1842; the second is an 18-page essay that attempts to explain contemporary historical events with reference to a prophecy in the Bible (Daniel xi, 45). The book has several maps and a portrait, in profile, of Dōst Moḥammad.

Last updated: September 30, 2016