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The Trader and the Adventurer by guest poster Russell Stevenson

The Trader and the Adventurer

by Russell Stevenson

James Morgan, a young Mormon adventurer with the British East India Company [BEIC] descended into valley of Kashmir in fall 1850. Born in 1826, Morgan was a nawab seeking to make his fortune with the British East India Company as they made their final conquest of the Sikh Kingdom of the Punjab.

Morgan encountered a merchant named Mizra Khan while traveling through the Punjab. [1]   As a wealthy trader in yabu horses, Khan would be a useful resource for the British East India Company. Khan was impressed by the young Mormon man’s composure and “conversation.” [2]  The two men became friends, and Khan became curious about the young man’s faith.

Khan faced significant opposition from both Muslims and Sikhs when he began to investigate the faith of this enterpriser. As a Sikh state with several Muslims, religious tolerance was essential to maintaining a peaceful state.  Both religious traditions recognized that the other had a venerable heritage. Christianity—especially non-Catholic Christianity—was inextricably linked to the British imperialists.  “Oh,” Khan wrote Apostle Orson Pratt in Liverpool, “you cannot tell the feelings of indignation of some of my seik friends and the…gentlemen of the place, when they found me forsaking the Koran and spending my time in perusing Christian books.” Both Sikhs and Muslims alike formed a united front against Khan for fraternizing with Christians, and by implications, imperialists.  By the time of Khan’s conversion, Punjabi Muslims and Sheiks had reached a mutual understanding about their shared status as long-standing religious tradition. Islamic custom had absorbed aspects of other religious traditions from the Asian Subcontinent.  Devout Muslims often adhered to the caste system, and mosques resembled Hindi shrines. [3]  Khan’s sin was that he dared to embrace the religion of the colonizing Christians.

Khan was no stranger to Christian thought.  While born a Muslim, his grandfather had taught him from the Christian Bible, teachings he absorbed “with great pleasure.” When his grandfather lay on the verge of death in another region then controlled by the British, he gave his grandson a book he discovered in the local “Public Hall of Science.” [4] His grandfather showed him an old manuscript he found enjoining the Elders of the Church to bless the sick “by the laying on of hands.”  Khan found the passage fascinating and asked a missionary about it during one of his trips to Persia.  The missionary dismissed the passage as antiquated.  Khan forgot the conversation entirely—until he met James Morgan.

But Morgan was not a typical Christian minister. Morgan administered a blessing to the nazir, and the man miraculously recovered.  Moved by the power of Morgan’s blessing, Khan handed Morgan his manuscript in Persian and attempted to sputter out a few words in English describing what his grandfather had taught him.  Morgan reciprocated the enthusiasm, handing Khan copies of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the “Book of Covenants” [Doctrine and Covenants], as well as several pamphlets Orson Pratt had been publishing in the United States and Great Britain. [5]  Morgan ploughed through explaining the text to him in Persian; Khan embraced the message, and his “heart was made full of joy.”

Three months after their initial meeting, Khan informed Morgan that he was “convinced of the truth and could not suffer him to go away without being baptized.” Khan’s baptism was a family affair, and, he happily informed Pratt, “many kinsmen were present to witness the ceremony.”  After the completion of the ordinance, the desire for baptism became infectious; the entire Khan clan embraced the faith within months, including all of his wives and most of his children.

Khan never did make it to the United States,  American expatriates had warned him that the American government frowned on polygamy.  Khan had nine wives and had no knowledge of the Mormons’ embrace of polygamy.  W.W. Phelps eventually drafted correspondence urging him to come, but Phelps neither sent it nor openly acknowledged the Saints’ embrace of the system.

We know nothing of Khan’s fate.  But he presents a face of Mormonism far-removed from the imagery of stolid white men and women conquering a frontier.  Khan represented a new wave of Mormonism—a man with layered religious and cultural identities.  Yet he could  “often feel to say Khodah Buzoorgust [‘God is Great].”

Russell Stevenson is a freelance writer born and raised in rural western Wyoming. He received his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and his master’s degree in history from the University of Kentucky. He has taught history and religion at Brigham Young University and Salt Lake Community College.  He has recently published a biography on Elijah Ables available on Kindle.

Notes:

1 “Immigration,” Deseret News, October 15, 1856, 6; see also 1870 Utah census: United States Census, 1870,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MNCR-BYB : accessed 3 July 2012
2 Mizra Khan, Letter to Orson Pratt, December 22, 1850, Brigham Young Office Files, Reel 86. Any Khan quotation comes from this source.
3 Chandra Mallampalli, Race, Religion, and Law in Colonial India: Trials of an Interracial Family (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 217
4 The exact origins of Khan’s “Hall of Science” are unclear. In Great Britain and the United States, Originally developed for the promulgation for Robert Owens’ socialist thought, it assumed much broader objectives over the course of the century. Owens’ own hall would later host Christian lectures. Another observer noted that the “hall of science” in China was a religious hall built by the Catholics to Christianize China. Charles Darwin’s contemporary and rival, Alfred Russel Wallace, described it as a “kind of club or mechanics’ institute for advanced thinkers among workmen.” Within a few years of settling in Salt Lake City, Brigham Young ordered a similar structure built nearby the newly-dedicated temple site. See “Items,” Alexandria Gazette, May 9, 1832, 2. See also “Owenism,” North American [Pennsylvania], June 19, 1840; Alfred Russell Wallace, “The Evolution of a Socialist,” in Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Anthology (New York: Verso, 2002), 309; and “For the News,” Deseret News, November 2, 1850, 5; and “Seventies’ Hall,” Deseret News, January 25, 1851, 5.
5 For examples of these pamphlets, see Orson Pratt, A Series of Pamphlets on the Doctrines of the Gospel (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor, 1891). John Hyde observed that when he read Pratt’s pamphlets, he “felt that he taught…deep, yet glorious truths.” See “Minutes of the Special General Council,” Millennial Star, vol. 14, no. 12(May 15, 1852): 181

 

 

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Reason 2: Mixing Governance & Religion

Missionaries in the 1850s mixed politics with religion. Europeans expected Asians who accepted Christianity were assimilating into the so-called colonial civilization.

Reason 2: Mixing Governance & Religion

Here is an example of what mixing religion and politics sounded like. George Bacon, an American in Siam, reported about the Christian missionaries efforts in 1881.

[The missionaries] have introduced Christian science; they have made a beginning of Christian literature, by the translation of the Scriptures; they have awakened an insatiable appetite for Christian civilization; and the end is not yet.”  George Bacon

Asian countries also mixed religion and governance.  From the Oriental Herald of October 1824 published in London, a report about the government of Burma highlights a  combination of religion and law:

The Burman laws, like those of the Hindoos, are inseparable from their religion; indeed, both are derived from the same source.  The Dherma Shastra of the Burmese is one of the best of the numerous Commentaries on Menû, and its regulations appear to be conscientiously administered.  “It is,” says Colonel Symes, “replete with sound morality; and is, in my opinion, distinguished above any other Hindoo Commentary, for perspicuity and good sense;…”  pg 214

Is Christianity separate from governance?

The British Oriental Herald acknowledged  the “sound morality” and “good sense” of the Dherma Shastra.  Why did Asians necessarily need a whole new Christian legal code?  Is Christianity really inseparable from governance?

If Christianity began in an Asian context, are there Christian religious principles of governance that Asians could interpret and implement differently?  What Christian principles are included in European governance and which principles are not included?

 

Source: Bacon, George. Siam: The Land of the White Elephant as it was and is. Compiled and arranged by George Bacon. Revised by Frederick Wells Williams. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1893. (Kindle Location 3022)
Source: The Oriental Herald and Colonial Review. Vol III. September to December 1824. London, J. M. Richardson, 23, Cornhill. pg 214

 

 

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1850’s – Asia Changed Forever

In the 1850’s Asia changed forever.

We travel to these Asian countries on the Mission to Siam in 1852 at the height of this change.

 

India  (Hindustan – 1852 English name)

गदर

The great Mutiny was still five years away in 1857 which would trigger a slow but growing momentum for Indian independence from the British.

The Santal Rebellion of 1855 would erupt in another three years.

Twenty years after the Kol Insurrection subsided.

In other words, in 1852 the pot simmered but the British still didn’t realize how close to boil.

 

Myanmar  (Burma – 1852 English name)

The British just entered Burma for the second Anglo-Burmese war.  The Company would annex Pegu province.

The British would annex the entire country after the third Anglo-Burmese war in 1886.

 

Thailand  (Siam – 1852 English name)

พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรเมนทรมหามงกุฎฯ พระจอมเกล้าเจ้าอยู่หัว

King Mongkut or Rama IV ascended the throne the previous year, 1851 with a mind to reform Siam, protecting it from the West, while keeping it’s traditional character.  He discouraged his people from accepting Christianity.

This story is about a mission to Siam so we’ll get into the shoes of the people who saw it unfold.

In 1855 three years later King Mongkut would invite Lord Bowring, the British governor of Hong Kong to Siam to negotiate a treaty.  The treaty enlarged trading prospects but in exchange granted the British extraterritoriality rights meaning Siam relinquished the right to prosecute British citizens within its borders.

 

China  (中国 Zhongguo – Chinese name)

鸦片战争 or 鴉片戰爭

Chinese officials wanted to stop the spread of opium which created addicts and destroyed lives in the societies where they lived.  The first Opium struggle ended only ten years earlier (1839-1842).  The next struggle loomed in four more years, 1856.

Chinese look back on the Opium Wars with anger and are still suspicious of Westerners because of events during this time period.

 

[Update 11/25/14: I corrected the wording for the Kol Insurrection which ended 20 years earlier in Jan 1832. I also updated the Second Anglo-Burmese War dates. The official fighting ocurred between April 5, 1852-December 20, 1852. When Elam Luddington and Levi Savage arrived in 1853, reverberations and carnage were still fresh and ongoing.]

If you have a better translation for these terms in your native language, please send feedback.
Source: Guha, Ranajit. Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India. Durham University Press. London, 1999.
Source: Myint-U, Thant. The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma. Farrar, 2008 (Although this is a history after the third Anglo-Burmese war it gave me an idea of the Burmese perspective on the British.)
Source: Phongpaichit, Pasuk and Chris Baker. A History of Thailand, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press. Melbourne, 2005. pg 41, 45
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Mormons who Begin Journeys II: 40 Rooms with Staff and Servants

Let me introduce you to Harry McCune who may fill in some blanks on our Elam Luddington’s three year South Asian journey.  Harry, a young British lad of 17 lived in a bungalow of 40 rooms with a staff of servants in the heat and congestion of Calcutta in the late 1850s.

Their comments and the pamphlets they left would change the course of Harry McCune’s life

He survived his sister who died soon after birth and another brother who died from a mad dog bite.  He also survived the Asiatic cholera which killed hundreds of English including his two brothers.  Harry, however, would live to age 84 and die in Salt Lake City, Utah.

His father Matthew, an officer in the British Royal Army, arrived in India with his new wife by sail boat in the mid 1830s before there were steam ships.  They threw merry parties in their lovely home hosting young British soldiers and talking late into the nights on a range of topics.

It was at one of these parties where the conversation turned to religion in their small circle they called the Plymouth Brethren associated with the Baptist Church of India.  A couple of eighteen year old adventure sailors, Benjamin Riches and George Barber, stopping at the Calcutta port on their way back from Singapore heading to London were in the circle that night.

Their comments and the pamphlets they left would change the course of Matthew McCune’s life and his son Harry’s life and the rest of the family and some of their friends.  George and Benjamin had just become Mormon in London before they shipped out.  They were about to begin a journey they thought would be just another seafaring voyage and so it was.  But they also inadvertently became missionaries, too.  They were likely surprised at converting others as much as they were surprised to be converted themselves.  In George’s words,

“Through my acquaintance with Miss M A Wingfield who had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of [Latter-day] Saints the Gospel by her was introduced to us and strange and marvellous [as] it now appears both Benjamin and myself was [impressed] with the Truth of the same and about 3 weeks after was bapized in London on the 3 day of IS by Elder H. Savage.”

(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections and Archives, Joel E. RicksCache Valley History Collection, COLL MSS 46, Folder 14, Page 4)

Matthew and Harry McCune would now cross paths with Elam Luddington on his sea voyage.  Elam’s purpose was missionary work but it may have been more seafaring adventure less missionary work than George Barber’s.
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