An American Quaker in Afghanistan: Josiah Harlan, Prince of Ghor

I am an adventurer by nature. I mean the kind of adventurer who has enjoyed trekking through far-flung places: the Indian state of Kashmir, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, to name but a few of the off the beaten track destinations I’ve visited. I prefer places without mod cons. Places where I have to rough it (which you wouldn’t guess if you were to look at me!). I’ve thought nothing  of sleeping in drafty old mountainside barns, along  with livestock, for the privileged of experiencing unspoiled parts of the world where few Westerners have ever travelled.

And I’ve finally found a distant relation I think would have appreciate this.  This cousin happens to be the first American to step foot in Afghanistan.

Josiah Harlan in his Afghan robes. The only known photograph of him.

Josiah Harlan in his Afghan robes. The only known photograph of him. Image is in the public domain

19th Century Pennsylvania-born Quaker Josiah Harlan, Prince of Ghor (Afghanistan).  He’s my second cousin quite a few times removed on my mother’s side of the family. The more I read about him, the more I feel he’s a kindred spirit. Restless in the times he lived in, definitely a non-conformist – he was a man who was never going to be a 9-5 white collar office kind of guy; although that was very much the world he was born into. A man who reputedly inspired the main character in Rudyard Kipling’s story The Man Who Would Be King.


A Memoir of India and Afghanistan, which is actually still in print!

Josiah wrote a memoir of India and Afghanistan in 1842 (A Memoir of India and Afghanistan − With observations upon the present critical state and future prospects of those Countries).  His story would have been well-known during the time Kipling lived in Afghanistan.

Josiah Harlan was born in Newlin Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania on 12 June 1799. He was the ninth of ten children. When his mother died, she left a 2000 dollar inheritance to each of her children – a small fortune back in those days. Harlan and his brothers, however, were expected to build their own fortunes. Josiah and his brothers all had an adventurous streak, and a number of them chose to explore various exotic locations. Josiah’s brother Richard worked as a doctor in India. Richard returned to America with tales of his experiences and set up a job for Josiah on a ship to Calcutta. At age 20, Josiah worked at sea for a little over a year, using his shore leaves to explore China and India.

When his fiancée broke off their engagement, Josiah returned to India and stayed overseas for almost 20 years (This resonates with me. I spent 30 years in the not-so-exotic England). Interestingly, Josiah wasn’t actually trained as a doctor. I’m not sure how he blagged that one. However, he worked as a surgeon with the East India Company, which allowed him to live in India. His desire for adventure and glory soon pushed him beyond India’s borders. In 1815, he read an account of the Kingdom of Kabul, and its dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India.  This book’s view of the Afghan Nation inspired Josiah’s goal to achieve the level of glory and riches described in this book.

I guess this where we differ. My treks to roughly the same part of the world were journies of enlightenment. A spiritual quest as it were. Josiah, it appears, was in it for the glory.

Map showing The location of Ludhiana in the Indian state of Punjab.

The location of Ludhiana in the Indian state of Punjab.

Image of Shah Shujah al-Moolk, circa 1835

Image of Shah Shujah-al-Moolk, circa 1835

His Central Asian saga began in the Indian border town of Ludhiana. It’s here that he met the deposed Afghan king, Shah Shujah-al-Moolk, who was in exile. Josiah approached him with a startling proposition: he would organize a rebellion against Dost Mohammed Khan, the usurper who had seized the crown.  In 1827, Josiah led a “ragtag” mob of Afghans, Muslims, Hindus, and Akali Sikhs off to Kabul. He followed the path Alexander the Great had taken into Afghanistan, both in travel and in politics. He disguised himself (as what, I don’t know) and slipped into Kabul.

By his own account, Josiah immediately fell in love with Kabul. He writes of “a jewel encircled by emerald, with flowers and blossoms whose odours perfume the air.” Its markets overflowed with fruit; grapes were so abundant that he fed them to his horse.

Image of Ranjit Singh, maharajah of the Punjab

Ranjit Singh, maharajah of the Punjab

Once he was in Kabul, Josiah survived a particularly virulent cholera epidemic. He credits “hard drinking and smoking intoxicating drugs,” in avoiding contracting the deadly disease. While there he heard rumours that Ranjit Singh, maharajah of the Punjab, was recruiting European generals. He rode to Lahore, where he met Singh, who granted him governorship of Gujrat. Joseph Wolff, an English missionary, sought a meeting with the Gujrat ruler, when “to his great surprise he heard someone singing ‘Yankee Doodle’.” Yep, this would be Josiah’s voice he heard.  Wolff described Josiah as a “fine, tall gentleman . . . with an Indian hookah in his mouth.”

Josiah was eventually sacked by Singh. The charge was for counterfeiting currency. Undaunted, Josiah struck oil in the ruins of a city razed by Genghis Khan, and later met the Hazara tribe – famed for its women, who were fearless hunters and famously beautiful.

Now quite a few adjectives get bandied about when it comes to Josiah during this period of his life. None of them are flattering: treacherous, duplicitous, and Machiavellian. While I don’t grasp all of his decisions, I’m trying to put myself in his shoes. He’s alone in a strange land where none of his fellow countrymen have ever been. I’m sure he was forced, many times, to live by his wits. Remember, there were no consulates or embassies to run to. Or, in the pursuit of glory, all other considerations were secondary.  I can’t make my mind up.

It’s reputed by the British (who occupied parts of Afghanistan at this time) that Josiah convinced the people of Kabul that he was a god. It’s worth noting at this point that the British were not Josiah’s biggest fans. Perhaps it was due to Josiah’s ‘going native’ – which was always a no-no with the British. Or perhaps it was because he upset the power balance in that part of Afghanistan where he settled by training the Afghans to fight.


Map showing the provice of Ghor in Afghanastan

Whatever the reason, Josiah became a prince through an agreement with the region’s ruler, Dost Mohammed Khan.

Image of  Dost Mohammad Khan

Image of Dost Mohammad Khan

In and amongst his personal papers, there is an ancient contract penned in Persian. By all accounts, this contract is stamped with an intricate and beautiful oval seal. Issued by a tribal leader, this contract granted him powers that included “the absolute and complete possession of his government.” Josiah had, indeed, become an Afghan suzerain (an autonomous sovereign). Which must have been anathema to the British government, which was engaged in annexing Afghanistan to its empire at the time. He ruled until 1839, resigning after British forces came to Kabul and reinstated an Afghani king.

After 20 years of adventure in India and Afghanistan, Josiah returned to the United States. He married Elizabeth Baker on 1 May 1849, in Chester County, Pennsylvania . Both were Quakers. Josiah was re-admitted back into the Friends after a judgment against him for violating the rules of pacifism had been withdrawn.

Harlan was feted as a national hero when he returned to America. His relationship with the American press was skillfully played. He instructed the press not to dwell on his royal title, since he “looks upon kingdoms and principalities as of frivolous import, when set in opposition to the honourable and estimable title of American citizen.” His glory quickly faded after the publication of his memoir, where he openly criticized the British and lauded the Russians, who were competing against the British for influence in this part of the world. It’s no surprise that Josiah was denounced in Britain.

Josiah became a consultant for the US government in the 1850’s during its quest to use camels as military transport in the deserts of the west. The US government opted for camels from North Africa instead, and a Turkish immigrant was used to secure them. All of Josiah’s plans to return to Afghanistan via a US government posting came to nothing.

Josiah wasn’t one to be idle. He turned a hand to botany. By all accounts he had a talent for it. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, he formed Harlan’s Light Cavalry (41 officers and 1,089 enlisted men) to fight for the Union. His abhorrence of slavery was his driving force. While I’ve read much of his writings, there isn’t any indication he was aware that his Harling cousins were slave owners in South Carolina. Whether or not he was aware of his own family’s connection to slavery, his Civil War gambit didn’t fare very well. Several subordinates objected to the old soldier’s abrasive manner and mutinied. There was even a messy court-martial.

Josiah died on 12 Oct 1871, while walking down the street in San Francisco, California.

As a result of a treaty Harlan signed, his heirs (which includes the 1978 Dawn of the Dead actor Scott Reiniger), are granted the title Prince of Ghor in perpetuity.

Whatever his faults and foibles may have been, I admire his adventurer’s spirit, his fortitude and his resilience.

Descendants of David K Harling (Harlan) of Edgefield County, South Carolina

Updating the various family trees I posted a few years ago has been a long overdue task. These trees have grown so large, that a nice graphical representation is impossible. So…back to using the traditional generational list format.

Family Tree Key:

This family tree is arranged by generations. The numbers that appear before are name refer to generations.

For instance:

  1. John Smith (The ancestor whose descendants have been documented)
  2. Adam Smith (This is the 1st generation level. He would be John Smith’s child)
  3. Carrie Smith (This is the 3rd generation level.She would be John Smith’s grand daughter)
  4. Robert Smith (This is the 4th generation level. He would be John Smith’s great grandson)
  5. Helen Smith (This is the 5th generation level. She would be John Smith’s 2x great grand daughter)
  6. Randolph Smith (This is the 6th generation level. He would be John Smith’s 3x great grand son)

Privacy Note:

I have made every effort to delete details for living people. I’ve also made every effort to delete details of people who would make it easy to find their living descendants. I may have missed a handful. If I have, please accept my apologies and let me know. I will remove them from this list of descendants.

Descendants of David K Harling (Harlan)

with roots in Edgefield County, South Carolina


David Harling is a descendant of the old English-north Irish-Pennsylvania Quaker Harlan family. His family changed the name from Harlan to Harling upon their  arrival in Edgefield, South Carolina.

The one about me & Abraham Lincoln…

So I was reading The Story of Honest Abe’s Family Tree on the website Today I Found Out ( ). I mean, if anyone was going to read up on a US President’s family tree it was bound to be me.

image of Mary Eunice Harlan

Mary Eunice Harlan

Reading through the article, I had a genuine ‘wait, what?’ moment. It all had to do with one surname: Harlan. It turns out that Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd, married my 6th Cousin (4x removed), Mary Eunice Harlan.

The common ancestors Mary and I share are George Harlan(d) and Elizabeth Duck; English Quakers who fled to Antrim in northern Ireland – and eventually settled in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Naturally, I did a quick work up of Abraham Lincoln’s family tree and soon found a surname of interest: Flower(s). It turns out that wife of Abraham’s paternal great-grandfather was one Rebecca Flowers, a daughter of a very old Quaker family in Antrim and Pennsylvania. I too am a direct descendant of the Flowers clan (yeah, I know, that sounds like a 70s hippie folk act).

However, the many branches of the Flower/Flowers family is notoriously difficult to connect. So, at this stage, I have no idea how Rebecca Flowers and her family are related to the dozens of Flower(s) I already have in my tree.  Time will tell.

Yesterday I had no idea I shared a connection to Abraham. Today, I know of one indirect route through his son’s marriage. It may well turn out there is a direct route through the Flowers family.

Yet another reason why I love genealogy. The surprises just keep coming. What an adventure.

AncestryDNA: So what does it take to get a DNA Circle?

So I’ve previously shared my frustrations with the whole DNA Circles thing. Namely, the fact that I have a distinct lack of what AncestryDNA refers to as DNA Circles.

For those of you not in the know, DNA Circles on Ancestry.Coms DNA testing service purportedly go beyond finding a common ancestor with your DNA matches. These circles are meant to link you to additional AncestryDNA members with the same common ancestor…thus creating a Circle of people who are all related. Nice and simple, isn’t it? :O)

Given the size of my tree and known DNA matches for my family lines such as Sheffey, Roane, Harling and Josey –  I shared my frustration about the fact that I didn’t have a single DNA Circle on  I felt (and still do) that this was a legitimate gripe…and a gripe shared by many using the service, especially those with African American lineages.

Two months ago two names suddenly appeared on my AncestyDNA landing page. Now, the sting in the tail was these two names appeared as “New Ancestry Discoveries” and not as DNA Circles. And, of course, neither name was familiar to me. Then, just as suddenly as these two names appeared, they disappeared just as quickly.

So you can imagine my surprise when these two individuals appeared once more today.


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I have no Medders or Altmans on my family tree. So, in order to determine how these two people could conceivably relate to me, I had to do some digging.  And this is what I discovered:

I clicked on the link for John Smith Medders.


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I then clicked on “See Your Connection” in the right column…for obvious reasons. And got this:

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This left me none the wiser about who John Medders was or how we might be related. So I clicked on the “Relationship” link, hoping this might shed some light.

What this gave me was a list of members I shared varying degrees of DNA with:

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Well, one thing became quickly apparent: I was definitely in the realm of the Medder family. Each and every individual was a member of various Medders family groups on Ancestry.

The second thing that quickly became apparent was that I had a solid DNA match with two individuals – the same two individuals that are shown in the third image in this post.

In order to “see what I could see’, I selected the “View Relationship” for both individuals. And that’s when things quickly clicked. I’m only going to show one of the relationships to illustrate the discovery.

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The surnames of Flowers, Gregory and Moore are exceedingly popular surnames in America. However, taken collectively, and with roots in Pennsylvania, and then the Carolinas, I knew exactly what family in my own tree these names related to: the Harlan / Harling family. Yep, another Quaker family connection via the Quaker Harlan family.  The Harlan / Harling family had married Flowers, Gregory and Moore for nearly three centuries: first in England and then northern Ireland. And continuing such marriages in Pennsylvania and then in the Carolinas.

In this instance, Hannah Flowers b. 1722 (a cousin many times removed), married a Joseph Ashton. Their daughter, Hannah Ashton, married William Thomas.  Hannah and William’s son, William Jr, married Celia Alice Gregory (yet another Quaker cousin through the Harlans). The Meddars family shown for my two DNA connections above are descendants of William Thomas, Jr and Celia Alice Gregory.

So, at the very least, I am a distant cousin to at least John Smith Medders.  I may yet be a cousin of Mary Ann Altman. At the moment, I haven’t come across any familiar family names in the family trees I’ve seen for her.

So, while these two DNA matches don’t have a single Harlan or Harling in their tree (yet!), I get the connection.

I don’t get the lack of DNA Circles though.  Of which I still don’t have a single one. Go figure.

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When ancestral documentation trumps belief: The Harling-Harlan-Harland family

This post could almost be a companion piece to my post When the genealogy mistakes of others leads you astray: Elizabeth Bartellot Almost. I’ve learned quite a bit about family history research since then.

I’ve been intensively researching my Edgefield County, SC Harling family roots. I kept butting up against a brick wall that I had noticed in many other South Carolina-based Harling family trees online. The ancestral trail always went cold with my 7x great grandparents, Ezekiel Harling (1707-1754) and Hannah Oborn (born about 1707). The trees of their South Carolina descendants cite Germany as the place of birth for both. had provided plenty of hints for an Ezekiel Harlan and Hannah Oborn. The problem was, Ancestry’s hints were all for an English couple. So I temporarily ignored these hints in pursuit of any German ancestry records I could find. I was quite inventive. I used every form of the Harling name I could think of, including making it more Germanic by using the spelling Härling. I did find people with the variant spellings of the name. None, however, were the couple I was seeking.

I gave it a week.

Then I started accessing the records that Ancestry was offering for this couple. What a goldmine of information this turned out to be.

Ezekiel Harling and Hannah Oborn 1

Source: U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Swarthmore, Quaker Meeting Records. Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Description: This collection of Quaker meeting and vital records is one of the first of its kind. These records from monthly meetings have been brought together to form the most extensive searchable online database

Synopsis of the above record:

Name: Ezekiel Harlin Jr
Marriage Date: 23 Dec 1724
Marriage Date on Image: 23 Tenth 1724
Marriage Place: Delaware, Pennsylvania
Spouse: Hannah Oborn
Event Type: Marriage
Monthly Meeting: Concord Monthly Meeting
Yearly Meeting: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Title: Births and Marriages, 1693-1808
Meeting State: Pennsylvania
Meeting County: Delaware (part of the Pennsylvania colony at this time)

The above record sent me on a journey of family history discovery spanning 200+ years.

Ezekiel Harling and Hannah Oborn 2

Source: U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

Synopsis of the above record:

Name: Ezekiel Harlin
Marriage Date: 7 Dec 1724
Marriage Place: Delaware, Pennsylvania
Residence Date on Image: 07 Tenth 1724
Spouse: Hannah Obourn
Event Type: Marriage Intention (Marriage)
Monthly Meeting: Concord Monthly Meeting
Yearly Meeting: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Title: Women’s Minutes, 1715-1751
Meeting State: Pennsylvania
Meeting County: Delaware

 Ezekiel Harling was actually born with the name Ezekiel Harlan (sometimes spelled ‘Harlin’). He, and his wife Hannah Oborn, came from a long, long line of English Quakers. I’m going to go ahead and say they were English, and not Irish although both were clearly born in northern Ireland. Their parents and grandparents were English. I’d hate to muddy the genealogical waters by giving them an Anglo-Irish identity that a series of marriage, birth and death records just aren’t showing.

And what an amazing thing that turned out to be. Quakers thoroughly documented every aspect of their lives: their weekly meetings, marriages, births, deaths, excommunications, the travel of members from one Quaker community to another – everything. This enormous body of documentary evidence still exists. And it has been digitized (in America, at any rate).

Through these primary source records, I followed the Harling-Harlan trail back to 16th Century Harland family of County Durham in England. Along the way, I uncovered parts of history I’ve never known.

I’m not a Quaker scholar. I know very little about the religion. However, I do remember being taught that after facing persecution from the Church of England, many English Quakers left for the Netherlands, and from there to establish a colony in Pennsylvania. Or they went straight from England and Scotland to Pennsylvania.  I never knew that quite a number of English and Scottish Quakers went to Ulster and County Antrim in the northern part of Ireland. At least two generations of my Harlan ancestors were born in Antrim and Ulster before moving to Lancaster and Chester Counties in Pennsylvania, along with what looks like the majority of their local and regional religious community.

The Quaker bit explains why cousins within this family married members of their extended family generation after generation. They married members of their own faith. Existing in relative isolation, that also meant marrying someone from their own community or neighbouring communities.

Which explains why family names like Bailey, Breed(e), Gregg, Heald, Hollingsworth, Hoopes, Mendenhall, Pearce and Webb – and many others – appear with regular frequency. You’ll see these names in the records provided above. Over a few generations, this became one, enormous, extended family.

Naturally, I’m curious about how the Harlan name came to be changed to Harling when Ezekiel Harlan came to reside in Edgefield County, SC. I have some educated guesses.

My Virginia-based German-American Sheffey family became part of the English-descended elite that dominated southwest Virginia. They fashioned themselves after the dominant culture in this region of Virginia. The early 19th Century Sheffeys in Tennessee became part of the Scots-Irish community there. The Scheffe/Sheffeys of Pennsylvania and Frederick County, Virginia remained part of the German communities they lived amongst and maintained a strong German identity.

I’m guessing Ezekiel Harlan or his children did the same thing. They fashioned themselves after the leading, and genuinely German, families that dominated their community: families like Ouzts, Dorn and Timmerman. These are the families Ezekiel and Hannah’s descendants married into. ‘Harling’ does have a Germanic ring to it. Or perhaps the next generation of the family wanted to erase their Quaker connections. Or a mixture of both? I think they were partly successful in this. For 150 years, this line was ‘lost’ to the Harlan family. It’s only within the past few decades that it was re-discovered by members of the Harlan family.

The re-discovery thing is kind of interesting. A handful of their Harlan cousins left Pennsylvania for Union County, South Carolina a few decades after Ezekiel had left Pennsylvania. I’ve just located another Harlan branch that came to reside in Edgefield as well. I can only assume this wasn’t happenstance. And by that, I mean Ezekiel must have corresponded with his family back in Pennsylvania.

The records do seem to indicate, however, that connections with the family’s Pennsylvania roots were either lost through time or permanently severed.

It’s a shame. Reading through the Quaker records reveals an interesting and fascinating family history. I, for one, am thankful that the Quakers had one heck of an impressive administrative system – and such discipline when it came to the practice of documentation.

So what’s my takeaway point? Never fear to question established dogma when it comes to family history. If you keep coming up empty handed in your search, and if you keep coming across records that suggest an alternative answer to questions about an ancestor’s lineage…check those records out. Those records could prove a goldmine of information.

If you are researching your Harling-Harlan-Harlin-Harland family roots in America, I can definitely recommend the book below. It has been digitized and is available for free to read online. So far, i have found it to be incredibly accurate in the information it provides. in other words, the digitized records online supports the information provided in this old book. By the way, I’m a descendant of the George Harlan mentioned in the book’s title.

Harlan, Alpheus H., History and Genealogy of the Harlan Family, and particularly of the line of descendants of George and Michael Harlan who settled in Chester County, PA., 1687. 1914.

So…I’ve discovered a glitch with’s ‘View relationship to me’ feature. Anyone else experiencing this?

I’ve stumbled across an interesting issue with’s ‘View relationship to me’ feature. It has to do with family lines where multiple generations of people married cousins. I’m wondering if anyone else is experiencing this.

This issue arises with my Harling-Harlan-Harland ancestors. Due to religious reasons (which I’ll get into in my next post), this family has a history of generation after generation of family members marrying 2nd and 3rd cousins stretching back to the early 1600s.

This family tree is so labyrinthine, so inter-connected within its branches, that even I struggle to comprehend the degree to which some of these cousin couples (as I call them) are related to me…forget how they’re related to each other. In many cases, some of these cousin-couples are related three, four and five times over. In other words, their parents, both sets of grand-parents and most of their great-grandparents were also cousins from the different branches of this enormous family.

So if I’m struggling, I can’t really blame Ancestry for struggling.

Here’s a classic example of the problem I’m having with this feature.

image illustrating How interprets Lewis Harlan's relationship to me.

How interprets Lewis Harlan’s relationship to me. click for larger image.

Ancestry’s answer to how Lewis and I are related is quite the mouthful. Basically, boiled down, it’s Ancestry’s way of saying we’re related through marriage. Which is true. However, Lewis is most definitely my cousin by blood. His great-grandfather, Michael Harlan, Sr., and my 9x great grandfather, George Harlan, were brothers, as you can see below.

James Harland

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So, Lewis Harlan really  is my cousin.

Now the logical question to ask is where this family relationship glitch goes wrong. Turns out that it goes wrong straight away. should show Michael Harlan, Sr to be my grand uncle. That is what he is, after all. Nope, not a bit of it according to This is how the service describes my relationship to him:

michael harlan

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What’s going on, then? Maybe it has something to do with the intertwining of all of James Harlan’s (my 10x great grandfather) lines. Trying to work backwards as I add subsequent generations of their descendants, it’s as though is saying: “Sorry, mate, too complicated for me. Good luck sorting this out!”

My suggestion to Ancestry, for whatever it’s worth, is that it should tweak the algorithm behind this relationship feature so that the most direct familial relationship over-rides all others. In other words, forget all of the other ways I’m connected to  Michael Harlan, Sr and just go with ‘grand uncle’. In other words, ignore that he is also my cousin.

I make this suggestion for a reason. It has a knock-on effect on AncestryDNA results. I have  matches with a number of James Harlan’s descendants on AncestryDNA. However, because they are not showing as actual cousins on, AncestryDNA doesn’t provide any match hints. Nor does it shows how we’re actually related. So there’s no chance of connecting through AncestryDNA’s ‘Circle’ feature. This is probably due to Ancestry interpreting that we’re only connected through marriage and not through blood. Which kind of defeats the purpose of spending months of intensive research on this family – and adding generations of descendants to my family tree.