Mr. English, American Muslim

November 1, 1822 – March 10 , 1823

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson: “Mr. English a Bostonian has published a volume of his expedition with Ishmael Pashaw up the river Nile. He advanced above the third Cataract and opens a prospect of a resurrection from the dead of those vast and ancient Countries of Abyssinia and Etheopia. A free communication with India and the river Niger and the City of Tombuctou. This however is conjecture and speculation rather than certainty, but a free communication by land between Europe and India will e’re long be opened. A few American steam boats, and our Quincy Stone Cutters would soon make the Nile as navigable as our Hudson Patomac or Mississippi. You see as my reason and intellect fails my imagination grows more wild and ungovernable, but my friendship remains the same.”

I don’t follow JA’s connections between the Nile, Tombuctou, and India, but it sounds like he doesn’t either.

Africa, 1828from "HISTORISCH-GENEALOGISCH-GEOGRAPHISCHER ATLAS von Le Sage Graf Las Cases. Karlsruhe. Bei Creuzbauer und Nöldeke 1829"
North Africa, 1828
from “HISTORISCH-GENEALOGISCH-GEOGRAPHISCHER ATLAS von Le Sage Graf Las Cases. Karlsruhe. Bei Creuzbauer und Nöldeke 1829”

Who, I ask, was George Bethune English?

You may not be surprised by this, but I am trying to avoid the siren call of Wikipedia to answer my questions. So, like a good researcher, I randomly scrolled past Google’s first few search results pages until I finally came across a brief Bethune biography courtesy of Yale University Library. I wouldn’t dream of paraphrasing the work of such academic excellence, so here is the full entry:

George Bethune English (March 7, 1787 – September 20, 1828) was an American adventurer, diplomat, soldier, and convert to Islam.

The oldest of four children, English was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was baptized at Trinity Church on April 1, 1787. He later attended Harvard College, where his dissertation won a Bowdoin Prize he received a Masters in theology in 1811. During his studies, however, English encountered doubts about Christian theology, and went on to publish his misgivings in a book entitled ”The Grounds of Christianity Examined”, which earned him excommunication from the Church of Christ in 1814. English addressed some of the criticisms and controversies caused by his first book in a second tract, “A Letter to the Reverend Mr. Cary,” as well as in published responses to Unitarian leader William Ellery Channing’s (1780–1842) “Two Sermons on Infidelity.” Subsequently he edited a country newspaper, during which time he may have learned the Cherokee language.

English was nominated by President James Madison on February 27, 1815 and commissioned on March 1, 1815 as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps during the War of 1812 and assigned to Marine Corps headquarters. He then sailed to the Mediterranean, and was among the first citizens of the United States known to have visited Egypt. Shortly after arriving in Egypt he resigned his commission, converted to Islam and joined Isma’il Pasha in an expedition up the Nile River against Sennar 1820, winning distinction as an officer of artillery. He published his ”Narrative of the Expedition to Dongola and Sennaar” (London 1822) regarding his exploits. A colleague from Harvard, Edward Everett, published a rejoinder to English’s book “The Grounds of Christianity Examined,” to which English responded with his 1824 book “Five Smooth Stones out of the Brook.”

After his work for Isma’il Pasha, English worked in the Diplomatic Corps of the United States in the Levant, where he worked to secure a trade agreement between the United States and the Ottoman Empire, which had trade valued at nearly $800,000 in 1822. In 1827, he returned to the United States and died in Washington the next year. Provided by Wikipedia.

Damn it. I knew something was wrong when I read the third sentence and that random bit about learning Cherokee. You win this round, you nameless, soulless cloud of inconsistent yet extremely helpful knowledge.

On the plus side, Narrative of the Expedition to Dongola and Sennaar is an audiobook, downloadable here. Is this now loaded on my iPod, ready for tomorrow’s morning commute? You know it is.


2 thoughts on “Mr. English, American Muslim

  1. You crack me up! Hmmm, another obscure person that would be great to have in my repertoire of odd facts to know as a way to halt all conversation. Time to go read that Wikipedia entry again.

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