Ibrahim Ben Ali

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Ibrahim Ben Ali was a soldier, physician and one of the earliest American settlers of Ottoman origin.

Youth and antecedents[edit]

Ibrahim Ben Ali was born in 1756 near Istanbul. His father, Ali Ben Mustafa, was a man of wealth and prominence and his estate, situated about six miles from that city, was valued at thirty thousand machbeu, equivalent to about fifty thousand dollars. He was a zealous Muslim and lost no opportunity to instill in his son a feeling of devout worship of Allah. His mother was born on the island of Zante and was a Greek Christian. She was kidnapped by Venetians, who sold her in Aleppo, Syria, to Ali Ben Mustapha.

When he was eleven years of age Ibrahim was circumcised and at thirteen he married his first wife, Halima, then twelve, making his first pilgrimage to Mecca soon after that event. The next year he married a second wife, Fatima, a name that has survived in his descendants the James Ben Ali Haggin family,[1] and later in the same year chose a third, Ayesha.

Early career and conversion[edit]

Through the influence of his father he secured an appointment as captain in the Janissaries, a royal corps in the Sultan's army, and usually designated as the bodyguard. (Later, after five centuries of existence, this military organization fell into disrepute and was exterminated by royal decree.) After five years' service he reached the turning point in his life, undergoing a remarkable experience. Two companions, who slept next to him in the barracks, were murdered and suspicion at once pointed to Ibrahim, who was last seen with them. He protested his innocence and through the intercession of friends secured a reprieve of five days in which to establish proof of his assertion. On the fifth day a dish of black olives was sent to him, signifying that he must die on the sixth. In the prison was an old Spanish slave who advised him to put no trust in Mohammed. Sitting down by his side, the Spaniard taught him to repeat the following words: "Turn Christian and recommend your soul to God through Jesus Christ, and He will save you unto life eternal." This he did at intervals during the long night and on the morning of the day set for his execution the jailer came to announce his pardon, saying that two soldiers had confessed to the crime, for which they would immediately pay the penalty.

Russo Turkish War and Europe[edit]

About the time of his release Turkey became involved in war with Russia and Ibrahim was forced to join the campaign. He participated in many battles and received several wounds. He was taken prisoner in the province of Wallachia, Romania on the banks of the Danube, and conveyed to Arzeniceur, about five miles from St. Petersburg, Russia where he spent two years, securing his liberty through the efforts of an influential lady whose sight had been restored by his treatment. His enemies accused him of having betrayed the Greek troops into the hands of the Russians and he was warned by his brother not to return to his home. He went to Denmark and at Copenhagen secured passage on a boat bound for England. He landed at Liverpool, England and then journeyed to Dublin, Ireland, where he met Dr. Adam Clarke, the great Biblical commentator, by whom he was baptized. Ibrahim became strongly attached to the Doctor and his family, accompanying them on their return to Liverpool, where he spent two years, and also went with them to Manchester, England. He lived for several years in that city and then sailed for America.

United States[edit]

After his arrival he met and married a woman of the Baptist faith and established his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he engaged in the practice of medicine.[2] He afterward moved to Baltimore, Maryland, and died in that city during an epidemic of yellow fever. He was the grandfather of James Ben Ali Haggin through his daughter Adeline, and considered a pioneer member of America's Turkish and Greek communities.[3]


  1. ^ J.S. Clarke. "History". Linda Haggin Peck. Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2008-09-30. 
  2. ^ Frederick Seitz. "History". Richard Lounsbery Foundation. Retrieved 2008-09-30. 
  3. ^ History of Kentucky By William Elsey Connelley, Ellis Merton Coulter