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.  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.”  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.  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.”  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.  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.