autobiography

Topics: Arabic language, Slavery, God Pages: 12 (4225 words) Published: December 3, 2013
Page 787
2. Autobiography of Omar ibn Said, Slave in North Carolina, 1831.         MOST of the slaves who were imported into the American colonies, and into the United States before 1808, were brought from that part of the African coast which lies east of Cape Palmas, or still further south, but a considerable number came from the regions of the Gambia and Senegal rivers. These were mostly Mandingos, but partly Fulas. The Fulas are not precisely negroes, but seem to be a mixture of negro and Berber stock, and have long been devout Mohammedans. Among them, as among the Mandingos, education, to the point of reading the Koran and writing, was not infrequent. 1 1 Mungo Park, who in 1795 travelled in this region, having for some time a local schoolmaster as his companion, describes the status of education. Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa (London, 1816), I. 468-473. See also Comte Mollien's Voyage dans l'Intérieur de l'Afrique en 1818 (Paris, 1820), II. 99.

Therefore it is not surprising that, among the American slaves, there were a certain number of literate Mohammedans; but there are only a few of whom accounts have appeared in print, and the only instance known to the present editor of an autobiographical sketch from the hand of one of them is that set forth below, from a manuscript in Arabic lent to him by its present possessor, his friend Mr. Howland Wood, curator of the American Numismatic Society, in New York.         The first story of an educated Mohammedan slave in America which has come to the writer's attention is that which is set forth in the rare pamphlet entitled Some Memoirs of the Life of Job the Son of Solomon the High Priest of Boonda in Africa.2 2 By Thomas Bluett of Maryland (London, 1734). Later portions of his career are narrated by Francis Moore in his Travels into the Inland Parts of Africa (London, 1738).

This will be reprinted in one of those volumes of documents illustrating the history of the slave trade which are being prepared for the Carnegie Institution of Washington by Miss Elizabeth Dorman, associate professor in Wellesley College; it suffices here to say that Job, a slave in Maryland in 1731-1733, was, like the writer of the sketch below, a Fula from the kingdom of Futa, in what is now French Senegal, who wrote Arabic and was familiar with the Koran--indeed he could repeat the whole of it.

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        Another educated and originally Mohammedan Fula of whom there is an account in print is a slave called Old Paul, or Lahmen Kebby, of whom the Rev. R. R. Gurley, secretary of the American Colonization Society, reports in 1837, in the African Repository,3 3 XIII. 204

that "more than a year ago" he was preparing to embark at New York for Liberia. The fullest account of him, however, is given in the Methodist Review for January, 1864,4 4 "Condition and Character of Negroes in Africa ", Methodist Review, XLVI. 77-90, especially pp. 80-84.

in an article by Theodore Dwight (1796-1866), who for many years was recording secretary of the American Ethnological Society. Dwight was deeply interested in West Africa, and made special efforts to obtain information from or respecting Mohammedan slaves in the United States. "But there are insuperable difficulties in the way in slave countries, . . . which quite discouraged a gentleman who made exertions in the South some years since, and compelled him to abandon the undertaking in despair, although he had resided in Africa and had both the taste and the ability necessary to success."5 5 This means William B. Hodgson, of Georgia, who had been U. S. consul in Tunis for some years.

Old Paul, he says, "was liberated in 1835, after being about forty years a slave in South Carolina, Alabama, and other southern states, and spent about a year in New York, under the care of the Colonization Society, while waiting for a vessel to take him back to his native country". Dwight had many talks with him, took copious notes of his...
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