Charles Chaillé-Long

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Princess Anne has an interesting history, I recently came across a character who was born there that has largely been forgotten. Charles Chaillé-Long was a Delmarva native who explored Africa in the late 19th century.

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Charles Chaillé-Long Charles Chaillé-Long Attacked by the Yandaki Tribe Capture of a Boa Constrictor Attack of the Keba Rega tribe. Human Sacrafice Elephants Khartoum Charles Chaillé-Long

He was born in Princess Anne July 2, 1842. His parents were plantation owners whose ancestry was part French Huguenot and part English. His biographical information indicates that he attended Washington Academy in Maryland which is probably a reference to Washington College. He did not finish because he felt called - quite to the contrary of many friends and neighbors back home - to join Union forces during the Civil War in 1862. He enlisted in the 1st Maryland infantry, serving with his regiment until the end of the war and rising to the rank of Captain.

Charles, like many officers in both the Union and Confederate Armies was bitten by their taste for wartime adventures. Returning home to a quiet life held little attraction for them. Like they say in the movies they wanted to travel the world seeking "fortune and glory". Charles loved all the pomp and circumstance of being an officer. He had a reputation for his vanity, wearing a very fancy uniform including a lot of gold braid and a red lined cape.

In 1869 Charles answered a want ad for soldiers to join the army of the Khedive of Egypt who was a viceroy of the Ottoman Empire. They had a tenuous relationship with Great Britain who was now our ally. Americans were now taking their place alongside British soldiers in Africa.

The Khedive Isma'il wanted to consolidate his control over his Egypt and expand his borders. The British wanted to continue to suppress the slave trade and establish trade centers. By 1872 Charles Chaillé-Long was assigned to be chief of staff to a Brit named General Charles Gordon.

He was then dispatched on a secret mission to secure a strategic treaty with a tribal chief named King M'Tse in present day Uganda. On the way there he explored parts of the Nile that had never been visited by outsiders. His journals added valuable information to the work of famed explorers Stanley & Livingston connecting the Nile to its source in Lake Victoria. He is also said to have discovered Lake Kioga.

Sadly, he was not a great map maker. His calculations on the size of Lake Victoria were so off that British geographers ridiculed him. He had a long running feud with British Royal Geographical Society because he was not allowed to name the lake he discovered after his patron's father.

Later campaigns for the Khedive took him south. One expidition led to the opening up of an equatorial road from the Indian Ocean along the Juba River to the central African lakes.

Throughout, his time in Africa working for the Khedive of Egypt Charles Chaillé-Long and the troops under his command fought off attacks from unfriendly tribes. He seems to have accomplished his diplomatic missions in part by not objecting to the practice of human sacrifices made in his honor.

In his memoirs Charles describes many atrocities, and attempts to record scientifically the cultures and natural wonders of Africa. He glosses over the practice of tribal chiefs giving women and children as gifts to visiting dignitaries. He claims that because they were nomadic people this was simply part of their culture, and when it was for the betterment of their chief they saw it as an honor. At various times he took on several hundred as refugees. One very large group had been given to a Sheik named Latroche who couldn't support them all. Charles in turn gave them in marriage to other chiefs and soldiers supposedly making everyone very happy and increasing his diplomatic stature. Those Charles was given directly he either gave away, also to his advantage, or sent to school in Cairo.

I have to stop here and say that while it may have seemed to Charles that he had found the most ethical solution for these circumstances, this all still seems horrific. Only a conqueror, who had no further contact with those displaced people; would believe that they were willing, even honored to be owned by someone else. I suppose it is possible but I find it unlikely. But, then I am looking through the lenses of what we think now. And, it is unfortunately the nature of history that we only have the account of those who write it down. On the plus side, Charles was often showered with other riches by those chiefs who wanted to curry favor. He routinely distributed these among his troops or gave them to other chiefs to build good will. He could have left Africa a very wealthy man if he had followed General Gordon's advice to keep some for himself.

Charles returned home in 1877 taking with him almost nothing save a case of malaria. But ever industrious, he used his time recovering to get a law degree at Columbia University graduating in 1880. He then returned to foreign service in Egypt. When he got there the government of his benefactor, Khedive Isma'il, was under fire for bankrupting the country. The British had sided with the Ottomans against him and an insurrection of Arab tribes. There was a terrible massacre. Charles led a group of Americans to the protection of a nearby detachment of American marines. Together they reestablished the U.S. consulate in Alexandra where he became the temporary consul-general. He was decorated for his efforts and promoted to the rank of colonel.

In July of 1890 he returned home again and married Marie Hammond the daughter of a well to do American general. There is not much more said in the literature about this. You have to wonder if this was not some sort of arranged marriage, because by the very next December he had returned to Egypt leaving Marie stateside. Charles then had a succession of jobs none of which lasted very long. He tried his hand at international law in Paris, and then accepted a post as the consul-general for the United Sates in Korea but he only lasted about two years there. Eventually he returned permanently to the U.S.

Charles seems to have spent his golden years recounting his exploits in magazine articles, and traveling on the lecture circuit. He wrote a few books including one with the provocative title Central Africa: Naked Truths of Naked People. He eventually won the accolades he wanted so much. The Maryland General Assembly created a special gold medal to honor him. And the American Geographical Society awarded him for his contributions to the field of geography. Charles Chaillé-Long died March 29, 1917 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery along with most of the tales of his adventures.


Maryland Biographical Dictionary
By Jan Onofrio
Somerset Publishers 1999

Men of mark in Maryland - Volume 2
By Bernard Christian Steiner, Lynn Roby Meekins, David Henry Carroll, Thomas G. Boggs
B.F. Jouhnson, Inc. Baltimore, Washington and Richmond 1910.
He married on July 16, 1890 Marie Amelei Hammond.

Charles Chaillé-Long - Arlington Cemetary Page

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Writings of Charles Chaillé-Long - In Google Books