March 09, 1878

Ulysses S. Grant Comments on the Refugees – Many, Bulgarian Jews – Who Have Fled to Constantinople Before Russian Invaders

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General Grant's arrival in Constantinople had been fairly well timed, as it occurred but a few days after the treaty of San Stefano.

  -John Russell Young, Around the World with General Grant (New York: American News Company, 1879), p. 346

“After a most pleasant visit up the Nile, back through the Suez Canal, then to Jeppa [Jaffa] and out to Jerusalem,” Grant reports, they have travelled “up to Smyrna, and from there to Constantinople – where we spent five days”, to have reached Athens “on our way to a different civilization.” Constantinople, however, is on his mind, Grant having been struck by scenes of the refugees – many of them, Bulgarian Jews – who had fled the notoriously anti-Semitic Russian invaders during the just-concluded Russo-Turkish War:

I found the authorities in Constantinople looking and feeling very gloomy, but the appearance of a successful foe immediately outside the gates of the city did not seem to effect the population generally. In a small portion of the city is stowed away in the Mosques and public buildings, probably more than a hundred thousand refugees, men women and children who have fled to the capital before a conquering army. They are fed entirely by charity and mostly by foreigners. What is to become of them is sad to think of. Beside these many tens of thousands have been shipped to places in Asia Minor and turned loose upon the inhabitants.

His reception, however, “not withstanding the surroundings was cordial” and involved the offer, by the Sultan, of the gift of an Arabian horse – the initial decline, then acceptance of, and subsequent concern for its shipping, are detailed at length. This gift, which Grant rather hoped, for all the burden of it, would actually not come to pass, did: and so began the Arabian breed in North America.

Of special interest here is Grant’s opening allusion to his visit to Jaffa and Jerusalem – where he had hoped to calmly see the sights but was instead, treated as a conquering hero.

Autograph Letter Signed, 6 pages, octavo, Athens, Greece, March 9, 1878. To Alfred Torbet, Consul at Paris.

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Transcript

[in an unknown hand at top right: “Gen. Grant.]

Athens, Greece
March 9th, ‘78

My Dear General:

After a most pleasant visit up the Nile, back through the Suez Canal, then to Jeppa [Jaffa] and out to Jerusalem, up to Smyrna, and from there to Constantinople – where we spent five days – we have reached this city on our way to a different civilization. I found the authorities in Constantinople looking and feeling very gloomy, but the appearance of a successful foe immediately outside the gates of the city did not seem to effect the populace generally. But the sight is wretched enough.  In a small portion of the city is stowed away in the Mosques and public buildings, probably more than a hundred thousand refugees, men women and children who have fled to the capital before a conquering army. They are fed entirely by charity and mostly by foreigners. What is to become of them is sad to think of. Beside these many tens of thousands have been shipped to places in Asia Minor and turned loose upon the inhabitants. My reception however, not withstanding the surroundings was cordial. I was invited to an interview with the Sultan and to visit with his stable of blooded Arabian horses. After the interview when I retired the Sultan sent for the Turkish Admiral who had acted as interpreter who, on returning, said that “His Highness” wishes to present me with one of his best horses, and that he would send him to the ship the following day. I thanked him for his kindness but declined the proffer. When dining with the Minister of Marine after – at which the Cabinet and other officials were present – I learned that my declaration had not been communicated to the Sultan and was informed that he would feel very badly if his offer was declined. If the horse is sent – I hope he will not be – he will be sent to Marseilles, care of our Consul there. I shall not be back in Paris before May and I want to ask you if you will be kind enough, if the horse goes to Marseilles, to have him taken charge of and forwarded carefully to Gen. Fairchild, Consul at Liverpool. If you will pay all the charges until he reaches Liverpool – including any that may accrue in getting him to, and through, France please draw on me at sight, through Drexel Hayes & Co. I will write to Gen. Fairchild what to do with the horse if he reaches there. I have not written to the Consul at Marseilles about the matter. The horse will not be sent for two or three weeks if at all.

Please remember Mrs. Grant and myself kindly to Mrs. Torbet and believe me

Very Truly
Your obt. svt

U.S. GRANT

General A. Torbet
Consul Gen. of the U.S.
Paris, France