Unknown Historical Figures – Jean Henri Dunant

Jean Henri Dunant, also known as Henry Dunant, was born on May 8, 1828 in Geneva, Switzerland and was the first son a businessman. His parents stressed the value of social work and they were very active in the Geneva society. Dunant spent much of his free time engaged in prison visits and social work during his late adolescence.

On November 30, 1852, Dunant founded the Geneva version of the YMCA and three years later he took part in the Paris meeting devoted to the founding of its international organization. Dunant visited Tunisia, Algeria, and Sicily and published a book on his journey in 1858 called “An Account of the Regency in Tunis”. In 1856, Dunant went to appeal with Napoleon III of France for his land rights in French-occupied Algeria but the French emperor was at his headquarters in Solferino. Dunant had to pack his gear and fo to see him personally to ensure the emperor see the case in Dunant’s favor. He arrived in Solferino on June 24,1859 as a battle was being fought not too far from where he went to see Napoleon III.Twenty-three thousand wounded, dying and dead remained on the battlefield with no care being provided for either side. Dunant himself took the initiative to organize the civilians of Solferino, especially the females, to provide assistance to the injured and sick soldiers. They lacked sufficient materials and supplies, but Dunant himself set up the purchase of the materials they needed to continue to help these soldiers. He convinced them to service the wounded regardless of their position in the battle as per the slogan “Tutti fratelli” (All are brothers).

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Dunant wrote a book on the battle and its aftermath called “A Memory of Solferino” and printed the first 1,600 copies himself in 1862. He develops, from his experience, the idea that in the future an organization should exist to give neutral care to both sides wounded. Dunant was then a part of the creation of a five person committee which included: Gustave Moynier (President of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare), Henri Dufour (Swiss army general), Louis Appia (doctor) and Theodore Maunoir (doctor). The first meeting on February 17, 1863 was considered the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross but conflicts between Moynier and Dunant caused Dunant to remain in the shadows of the committee (meaning he was a member but hardly participated in meetings, almost non-member). 

Five years later, Dunant’s business in Algeria failed and he was forced to resign as a part of the Committee because he was a part of the Calvinist Geneva. After his mother died in late 1868, he was also expelled from the YMCA and Moynier went out of his way to ensure that Dunant received no help and that he was essentially forgotten for a time. During the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Dunant created the Common Relief Society and to advocate his ideas while ignoring his piling debt and poverty. He was an honorary member of a number of Red Cross regional branches but he lived in poverty from 1874-1886 and was nearly completely forgotten in history. But, after moving to Heiden in 1888, he was inspired by a homely couple of doctors to write about his life experiences and in 1895, he resurfaced in the public eye. 

Georg Baumberger, chief editor of St Gall neswpaper, wrote an article about Dunant as the founder of the Red Cross. The article entitled “Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross“, appeared in the German Illustrated Magazine Über Land und Meer, and the article was soon reprinted in other publications throughout Europe. The article struck a chord, and he received renewed attention and support and with that came the release of his financial strain. As a result, he received the very first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 that was jointly given to him and Frederic Passy, a French pacifist.

Sinister plots from Moynier and Dunant’s creditors caused Dunant to suffer from paranoia and depression in his final years of life. He died on October 30, 1910, and his final words were “Where has humanity gone?” He outlived his nemesis Moynier by just two months. 

Unknown Historical Figures – Thug Behram

Thug Behram was born in India in 1765. He belonged to the Thuggee* cult in India and was one of the most prolific killers in the world. The Thuggee cult was an organization of professional assassins that traveled around in India and killed travelers. It is known as history’s most notorious and deadly criminal cult. It was founded in 1300 and the name Thuggee was derived from Sanskrit, sthag and Pali, thak. Thugs were Hindu and Muslim Indians whose cult was based on Kali, the creative and destructive mother goddess of Hinduism. Thugs were a well organized, hereditary cult that practiced large scale robbery and murder, justified by their belief in serving Kali. Membership induction was often passed from father to son, with the women of the home being kept unaware of the men’s cult activity.

As a well organized group of professional murderers or assassins, Thugs traveled throughout India in gangs of 10 to 200 members, all dressed in various guises. They targeted wealthy travelers and gained their confidence. When a favorable opportunity arose, Thugs strangled their victims with a rumal, or a ceremonial handkerchief,  around the victim’s neck. Once the victim was dead, the Thugs then plundered his belongings and buried the body. The acts of displaying false friendship, murder and the burial of the victim were performed according to an ancient, rigidly prescribed process. These barbaric acts were all part of their elaborate religious rites performed to honor Kali. A portion of spoils of their robbery were often set aside for Kali.

Thug Behram began his murderous spree in 1790 when he turned 25 years of age. He was very talented at the ceremonial murder style of the Thuggee and  quickly rose through their ranks to become a top member. Behram used his cummerbund, a broad waist sash, as his rumal to strangle his victims and could do it so skillfully. Every time he used the rumal, he would get the large medallion on it onto the adam’s apple of his victims to add pressure to the throat. The Canova medallion is confirmed to have been used in at least 65 murders and is currently in a private museum. Thug Behram is thought to have killed 931 people in his 50 years in the Thuggee cult. He was even captured in the process of strangling a victim in 1840 at the age of 75! He was immediately sentenced to death and was hung for his heinous crimes under the British rule. He was known as one of the most brutal murderers in history. 

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*The English word “thug” is derived from the cult of the Thuggee although its use differs from what Thuggee stood for in India during the Thuggee reign from 1300 – 1840. 

Unknown Historical Figures – Rabban Bar Sauma

Rabban Bar Sauma was a Nestorian monk of the Church of the East faith but later became a diplomat for the same organization. He was born in 1220 in Khanbaligh near Beijing, China. It is debated about his specific origins about whether or not he is from the Turkic Uyghur or from the Ongud (Wanggu in Chinese), which was a tribe of Turkic origin associated with the Mongol castle during the Yuan Dynasty. He was of Nestorian faith from the Church of the East and the religion was locally known as Jingjiao. Bar Sauma became an ascetic monk when he turned 20 and then became a religious teacher for a number of decades. 

Around the middle years of his life, Rabban Bar Sauma and Rabban Marcos, one of his young students, set off on a journey from China to the religious center known as Jerusalem.But there were complications on the way to their destination when they neared southern Syria. Warnings of danger forced them to turn to Mongol-controlled Persia, or the Ilkhanate, where they were welcomed with open arms. The Partriach of the Church of the East, Mar Denha I, requested that the two travelling monks visit the court of the Ilkhanate ruler Abaqa to retrieve confirmation papers for Denha’s ordination as Patriarch in 1266. During this respite in their journey, Rabban Marcos became a Nestorian bishop. The Patriarch attempted to send the pair back to China as messengers but it was impossible due to extreme military conflict and they remained in Baghdad. After the Patriarch Mar Denha’s death, Rabban Marcos was chosen to replace him as the Patriarch in 1281. His name was changed to Mar Yaballaha III but that did not stop Rabban Bar Sauma and his student from going to see Abaqa that year. Unfortunately, as they traversed the distance to Maragha to confirm Marcos’ position, the Ilkhanate ruler died. He was succeeded by his son, Arghun Khan, who wanted to form a strategic Franco-Mongul alliance with Christian Europeans. The common enemy that Arghun and the Christian Europeans had were the Muslim Mamluks and he was trying to get the alliance so they could eliminate them. Patriarch Mar Yaballaha, a few years after they met Arghun, suggested that Rabban Bar Sauma be the embassy to the Pope and European monks. He went with no delays or complaints for his faith. 

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In 1287, the now elderly Bar Sauma, while bearing gifts and letters for the Byzantine emperor, the Pope, and the European Kings, set out for Europe. He traveled with a large number of assistants and a calculated 30 riding animals. They went through Armenia to the Byzantine Empire of Trebizond on the Black Sea. Bar Sauma received audience with Andronicus II Palaeologus in Constantinople where he witnessed the great Hagia Sophia, the Greek orthodox patriarchal basilica, and was thoroughly impressed with its utter magnificence. He then went by boat to Italy and eventually reached Rome to meet with Pope Honorius IV but the Pope had unfortunately passed away. After continuing his journey, he went to Paris, France where he spent one month with King Philip the Fair. The King responded positively to the Mongol embassy and gave him numerous presents and even sent one of his nobleman ( Gobert de Helleville) to accompany the embassy. In Gascony (southern France–belonged to Britain at the time), Bar Sauma met with King Edward I of England who seemed overall happy with the embassy. Unfortunately, King Edward could not join a military alliance with the Mongols due to conflicts in Britain with the Welsh and the Scots. On his return home in 1288, Bar Sauma stopped in Rome to see the new Pope, Nicholas IV, and Nicholas gave him a precious tiara to give to Mar Yaballaha when he reached Baghdad. 

Rabban Bar Sauma lived out the rest of his life in Baghdad after he returned from the embassy trip to Europe. He wrote a specific account of his travels during his final years which wasn’t translated to English until 1928 and it was called The Monks of Kublai Khan. Rabban Bar Sauma passed away in 1294 after spending his life traveling and teaching. 

Unknown Historical Figures – Elisha Kane

Elisha Kent Kane was born February 20th, 1820 to a US district judge father and a Victorian-era mother. He became an American explorer and medical officer in the US Navy after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1842. He served in the US Marine Corps in the Mexican-American War and fought several battles. In 1848, after capturing the Mexican General Antonio Gaona and his wounded son, he befriended them and saved their lives at Napoluca.

Most of his naval life was spent searching for the missing Sir John Franklin in the Arctic. Sir John Franklin and the majority of his crew all went missing after becoming trapped in ice when on their way home to England. They were sent to explore the Northwest Passage in 1845 and ended up trapped in the ice near King William Island. It was many years until scientists found out that Franklin died in 1847 on that island.

But Kane was a member of two Arctic expeditions that searched for the famed and lost expedition. The first expedition was the Grinnell Arctic Expedition that went to find Sir John Franklin in 1850-1851 after Lady Franklin’s numerous pleas to find her husband. She charged the Admiral of the time to give a 20,000 pound reward to whomever found, and brought, her husband back to her. Many expeditions went out and the cost of these many searches were more sunken ships and lost men. But the Grinnell Arctic Expedition found Sir John Franklin’s first winter camp in late-1850 but did not succeed in finding any of the crew or Franklin. Determined to succeed, Kane took a Second Grinnell Expedition which sailed from New York on May 31, 1853. Suffering from scurvy and near death for some of the trip, he pushed onward and charted the coasts of Smith Sound and Kane Basin. He penetrated farther north than any other explorer of the time and searched through Cape Constitution. While there, he discovered the ice-free Kennedy Channel that numerous other famous explorers would use to get to the North Pole in later years. Kane later abandoned the icebound brig Advance for an 83-day march to Upernavik to evade the frozen north and its wrath. The wayward crew and Kane lost only one man on the exploration after a sailing ship picked them up.

Upon his return to New York in late 1855, he wrote a two-volume description of his journey that he called “Arctic Explorations”. He published them a year after his arrival home and then sailed for England to fulfill a promise to Lady Franklin. He promised that he would relay his report on his expedition directly to her and after he did so, he left for Havana, Cuba in late 1856. Kane went to Cuba in a vain attempt to recover from his harrowing journey but he instead died on February 16th, 1857, just days before he turned 37. His body was taken on a funeral train from New Orleans to Philadelphia. It is astounding that Kane is so unknown because the procession was met at nearly every platform by a memorial delegation and is said to be the second largest funeral in US history – second only to Abraham Lincoln.