For decades after the Revolutionary War, America had been trying to secure a treaty of commerce with Turkey. In the spring of 1831, President Andrew Jackson sent an unlikely man to solve the problem. The proud and inflexible Commodore David Porter was a 50-year-old naval hero, who had fought in the First Barbary War, the War of 1812, had battled pirates in the WestIndies and had even been admiral of the Mexican Navy. Porter, a gruff man with a temper, was appointed the first American Chargé d’ Affaires in Constantinople (Istanbul). His mission was to get the stalled treaty signed.
Not only did he succeed in his primary mission, but he also created a unique niche in history. Porter became the first man to send Salukis to America.
The Sultan and the Commodore
By the early 1800s, the borders of the once-mighty Ottoman Empire had been reduced by war. The Turkish fleet was decimated in 1827 by an English, French, and Russian fleet determined to protect the new Greek republic and even the ruler of Muslim Egypt turned against Sultan Mahmud II in 1831. Troubled by struggles for reform and modernization, the weakened Empire needed military assistance. Fearing absorption by European powers, the Sultan Mahmud II turned to the fledging United States, whose Yankee shipbuilders were profiting from the peacetime sale of their ships to foreign governments.
Sultan Mahmud knew that a modern navy was the key to continued independence, and who better to advise him than an American naval hero? Porter, no longer in command of warships, was greatly annoyed at the continual “bowing and scraping” in the Sultan’s court and ignored protocol when it suited him. He even criticized the Ottoman Navy in front of the Sultan—whose whim could have men beheaded or strangled with a bowstring. Fortunately for Porter, the Sultan bemusedly tolerated his behavior and the two frequently discussed ships and tactics.
Not long after Porter’s arrival in Constantinople, the shipbuilder Henry Eckford arrived from New York on a sleek warship named the United States with hopes of selling it to the Sultan. At 56, the Scottish-born Eckford was the Henry Ford of 19th-century shipbuilding and kept the American Navy supplied with warships during the War of 1812. For the voyage to Turkey, Eckford asked the De Kay brothers to come along, since they had previously negotiated foreign sales and delivered his ships to their new owners. Dr. James Ellsworth De Kay (Eckford’s son-inlaw) was the ship’s surgeon; Commodore George De Kay, of the Argentine Republic’s navy, was the captain and navigator. After two months at sea, the United States dropped anchor at Constantinople in August 1831 just as Porter’s trade treaty was nearing completion—causing the Sultan’s ministers to mistake the 26-gun warship as a present from America.
The treaty was ratified in October and Eckford (assisted by Porter) sold the United States for $150,000 (over $2 million today) and was awarded a lucrative shipbuilding contract for the Ottoman Navy. The De Kay brothers and crew could not return to New York until the uncertain arrival of the next American vessel, so they spent months touring the country and learning about Turkish culture, natural history, and Salukis.
“Beautiful Angora Hounds”
The De Kay brothers first saw the beautiful “Angora-hound breed” in the courtyard of the Governor’s Palace in Bursa, and were so enchanted that George asked the chief physician to obtain a brace of purebreds at any cost. Porter also requested a pair.
Back in Constantinople, the Angora hounds eventually arrived by fancy carriage and gilded boat. Intending to hunt with them, Porter secured a special permit from the Sultan.
Sadly, Henry Eckford died in November 1832, just at the start of his Turkish shipbuilding career. It most likely was endemic cholera, but James De Kay suspected, although could not prove, poison—a frequent tactic in the Sultan’s court. Eckford’s body was preserved in a cask of alcohol and, a month later, the De Kays took him back to America along with a Turkish menagerie.
The Angora hounds were on board as well as two male goats and a pair of fat-tailed sheep. Back home in Washington, D.C., Porter had been an enthusiastic but unsuccessful farmer, and he wanted to establish these Turkish animals as breeding stock.
Coming to America
Porter introduced Angora or Saluki hounds to Americans in a letter to his friend John Stuart Skinner, the publisher-editor of American Turf Register & Sporting Magazine. Skinner knew a good thing when he saw it: He had been with Francis Scott Key during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry and seeing a spark in his friend’s poem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” arranged for it to be published.
The perceptive Skinner saw prospects for the new hound, and Porter’s letter contained a detailed description that could have been the first Saluki breed standard: “…Their ears are covered with hair something like floss silk. Each ear looks like a delicate feather. At the extremity, and hanging under their beautiful curled tail, is a delicate fringe. Nothing could be more beautiful. They are formed for swiftness: all bone and muscle; legs long and very strong; feet also uncommonly long; head small, sharp, and delicate; neck and body long and slender. I think the breed will be a great acquisition to our sportsmen. They are used here in running down deer and hares, and in hunting the wild boar. They run altogether by sight, and the quickness and strength of their vision is surprising. They are said not to be affectionate; but I never had dogs more attached to me than the pair I speak of.”
In his letter, Porter also offered puppies to anyone who would write to George De Kay. However, on the voyage to New York, the male Saluki had died and the female, Dudu (possible meanings are dark, parrot, woman or older sister), was not in whelp. In 1832, she arrived in America as the solitary specimen of her breed.
De Kay wrote Porter for a replacement mate so that a “full blood” litter could be produced. He knew that this would probably take at least a year as he had waited over nine months to obtain Dudu and her mate in Turkey. De Kay seems to have despaired of getting a mate for Dudu and was then intending to breed her to an English Greyhound sent to Colonel James Watson Webb by Lord Stanley. Webb, the bellicose, dandyish editor of the New York Courier and Enquirer, was known both for horsewhipping his critics in the street and being a sporting enthusiast. Skinner had been promised one of the Dudu–Greyhound pups and continued to be enthusiastic about Porter’s livestock plans. In an editorial, Webb urged the government to reimburse Porter for importing Turkish animals for the benefit of American citizens. Not surprisingly, the proposed subsidy of imported Salukis, goats, and sheep never happened.
Meanwhile, George De Kay had been researching his unusual breed in French zoology texts and determined that its proper name was “Persian greyhound.” As the first dog shows in America were still 30 years away, De Kay had only newspapers and magazines for publicity. In 1833, he commissioned a watercolor of Dudu and published it in the Annals of the American and English Turf along with portraits of winning racehorses. Accompanying the color illustration was De Kay’s summary of breed history, characteristics, and hunting methods. The hounds had servants, wore richly embroidered coats in the winter, and were “appendages of rank and state among the nobles of Turkey and Persia.” George closed his letter hoping that a mate for Dudu would arrive before the spring of1834.
Gone Missing …
Late in 1833, James De Kay received his own brace of 4-month-old Salukis from Porter, and Skinner was scheduled to get the next pair. In a letter from his home at Oyster Bay, Long Island, James wrote to Skinner, “In compliance with the rules of the turf, I have given them sonorous if not significant names, and if any of your sporting friends should be desirous of having a seedling from the future progeny of Mahmoud and Pook, their wishes shall be gratified.”
James went on to praise their“faultless elegance of form, and such almost incredible speed, that I am persuaded, under proper tuition, they will become as useful on the plains of the south, as they are ornamental to a ‘lady’s bower.’ ” George still had Dudu— now full-grown with “silken ears and beautifully feathered tail.” She astonished country neighbors by catching birds on the wing and proving the old Turkish saying, “Other animals run, but these hounds fly!” James gave no further word about Dudu’s proper mate or the Greyhound breeding, but did say that he intended to hunt Mahmoud and Pook the following summer and promised to write about their success.
And there, the trail of Dudu, Mahmoud, Pook, and the promised imports mysteriously ends. Perhaps they went missing, or died of disease or a hunting accident—or just passed into old age. Whatever the reason, Salukis would not come in force again to America until the Roaring Twenties, after Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in late 1922. The resulting “Egyptomania” and growing population of Salukis prompted recognition by the English Kennel Club in 1923. Four years later and 95 years after Dudu landed in New York, the American Kennel Club formally recognized her breed.
Brian Patrick Duggan is the author of the award-winning Saluki: The Desert Hound and the English Travelers Who Brought It to the West. He is now researching U.S. Army officers and their sighthounds in the American West.