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DC historians dig up details of America's earliest muslims

Posted by on Nov. 24, 2012 at 4:24 PM
  • 63 Replies
2 moms liked this

Last Updated: Sat Nov 24, 2012 12:03 pm (KSA) 09:03 am (GMT)

DC historians dig up details of America’s earliest Muslims

Many of America’s earliest Muslims were brought from Africa as slaves, according to historians. (Reuters)
Many of America’s earliest Muslims were brought from Africa as slaves, according to historians. (Reuters)

For most Muslims, what happens to the body of a deceased person is not quite as important as what happens to that person’s soul. Still, historians of all backgrounds are scrambling to locate the body and belongings of a Muslim buried in Washington, DC nearly 200 years ago, for it touches the soul of early American history. 

The deceased, Yarrow Mamout, was among tens of thousands – if not millions - of Muslims brought to America during the slave trade, but one of few for which historians have much information.

Historic documents suggest Yarrow may be buried on the property he purchased after gaining his independence in 1797. That land is located in Washington’s historic Georgetown neighborhood where homes now sell for several million dollars. Its owner, real estate developer Deyi Awadallah, hopes to build and sell a new residence on the property. He knew nothing of Yarrow when he purchased the land last spring, but he’s willing to give archaeologists a chance – a few weeks or months - to investigate before he finalizes his plans. 

“I’m trying to respect the situation. It deserves that,” he said in an interview this month. 

According to James H. Johnston, Yarrow was sold into slavery as a teenager in Senegal in 1752. The Washington-based lawyer and freelance writer spent eight years investigating Yarrow’s story for his 2012 book From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the History of an African American Family. 

“He was quite famous in his time, but (since that era), nobody had ever looked into who he was,” said Johnston. The inspiration for Johnston’s research came after he saw two portraits of Yarrow, aristocratic depictions of an African American man that dated back to the days of slavery. The more popular of the two was painted by renowned early American artist Charles William Peale, and it resides at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For Johnston, it represents dignity, perseverance, and resilience during a particularly dark chapter of American history. 

“People have been impressed by it because you’re looking at this beautiful portrait of a seemingly wealthy man, and yet he’d been subjected to the horrid conditions of slavery,” said Johnston. 

Yarrow was well known in the Georgetown community. He was a body servant for Samuel Beall and his son Brooke, two influential professionals who regularly rubbed shoulders with the likes of founding US President George Washington. He was often remembered as cheerful, diligent and very devout in his faith, stopping to pray five times a day wherever he was. 

Yarrow was also an entrepreneur who could read and write. In Georgetown, slaves were allowed to have their own side businesses, so Yarrow became a brick maker. In fact, he won his freedom by building a home for his masters and saved his money to build his own house. 

These details make Yarrow a “major footnote” in history, says Amir Muhammad, director of Washington’s Islamic Heritage Museum.

“It shows people that Muslim Americans are a part of the American fabric. He’s a real personality, not only in paintings but in his works and deeds,” he said.

For Washington DC’s official archaeologist Ruth Trocolli, any archaeological traces of Yarrow help the public to better understand how slaves, especially Muslim ones, may have lived. 

“That’s a parallel source of data on Yarrow that we can’t access any other way,” said Trocolli, who began a reconnaissance mission on the property this week. 

But the recovery effort is challenging. A few years ago, archaeologists discovered a small cemetery with the graves of five African Americans from that era on land bordering the back of Yarrow’s land, but none of the bodies matched the description of an elderly Yarrow. 

Yarrow’s house was demolished more than a century ago and the one now sitting on that property is due to be demolished because it is structurally unsound. A swimming pool in the back yard inhibits some opportunities for excavation. But Trocolli is hopeful the exposed parts of the Yarrow property might contain original features such as a well, a latrine, a cellar, or Yarrow’s grave. 

“Yarrow’s story is significant,” said Trocolli. “It’s a story about a person who persevered. He was a slave who essentially bought his own freedom.” 

Awadallah admits he has a much greater interest in the business of real estate than in historic properties, but as a Muslim American of Palestinian descent, he acknowledges the reconnaissance process is serendipitous. 

“I knew there were African Slaves that were Muslims I just didn’t know they were this close to home – just five miles from my home in Falls Church, Virginia,” he said. 


*Julienne Gage is a freelance multimedia journalist and cultural anthropologist based in Washington, DC. This article was distributed by Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

by on Nov. 24, 2012 at 4:24 PM
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Replies (1-10):
LauraKW
by "Dude!" on Nov. 24, 2012 at 5:37 PM
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 It is interesting and something I - and others, I'm sure - had never thought about.  Perhaps she is not the one who is biased?

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The point of this article is what?  I read it 3x and found no superior significance in the fact he was Muslim than I would of the African American slaves or the atrocities of the Holocaust.  It seem to be that you are desperately attempting to set this individual apart from the rest. (As usual, your posts are biased and single-subject oriented.)

 

muslimahpj
by Ruby Member on Nov. 24, 2012 at 5:37 PM


Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The point of this article is what?  I read it 3x and found no superior significance in the fact he was Muslim than I would of the African American slaves or the atrocities of the Holocaust.  It seem to be that you are desperately attempting to set this individual apart from the rest. (As usual, your posts are biased and single-subject oriented.)

Holy crap, who pissed in your cheerios today?

The point of this article is that it shows that muslims have been in America since the beginning. That is the point.

If you feel that way about my posts, why do you bother opening any of them? To bitch?

muslimahpj
by Ruby Member on Nov. 24, 2012 at 5:38 PM

I have to say, Im a little shocked at being attacked for posting this. LOL I mean, it's a part of our history. 

Quoting LauraKW:

 It is interesting and something I - and others, I'm sure - had never thought about.  Perhaps she is not the one who is biased?

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The point of this article is what?  I read it 3x and found no superior significance in the fact he was Muslim than I would of the African American slaves or the atrocities of the Holocaust.  It seem to be that you are desperately attempting to set this individual apart from the rest. (As usual, your posts are biased and single-subject oriented.)

 


LauraKW
by "Dude!" on Nov. 24, 2012 at 5:39 PM

 I don't know why it never occurred to me, but I never considered that slaves - at least some - would be Muslim.  It makes sense but again, not something I had ever thought about.  Maybe that says something about me?  Have to ponder now...

muslimahpj
by Ruby Member on Nov. 24, 2012 at 5:42 PM

I dont think it says anything about you, but, it does say a lot about how history is being taught in our schools. 

Quoting LauraKW:

 I don't know why it never occurred to me, but I never considered that slaves - at least some - would be Muslim.  It makes sense but again, not something I had ever thought about.  Maybe that says something about me?  Have to ponder now...


lancet98
by Silver Member on Nov. 24, 2012 at 5:58 PM
3 moms liked this

That's fascinating.   I did not know that there were a lot of Muslims in the countries involved in slave trade with the United States, I thought that Islam was only really popular in the most northern countries of Africa.  That's very interesting.   I hope more history can be uncovered about early Muslims in America.   

As far as those who are questioning 'the point' of this article or what 'superior significance' (LOL) it has, it's American history, so it is interesting as well as important, because it is a part of this country.  

I think some people are so blindly and hysterically prejudiced against Muslims that this sort of article gets them all huffy and excited - but it sure is a difficult stretch to try and come up with reasons why it is not important or interesting.

Our country's roots are diverse and interesting - diversity has helped to make this country profitable as well as secure.   There isn't anything wrong with investigating early Muslims in America.  

But there is something wrong with struggling so valiantly to remain ignorant and uneducated for the sake of an unreasoning prejudice.

muslimahpj
by Ruby Member on Nov. 24, 2012 at 6:47 PM

LOL. Actually, no Im not and before you start being an asshole to someone, you better make sure you have the right person.

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

All of your posts deal with bitching about Israel or defending Muslims in whatever capacity you see fit.  You are the same poster that wanted the maker of the anti-muslim film to be `raped' in jail.  The only time you don't condone violence of any kind is when it is against Muslims while everyone, other race, can sit and spin.  You are completely and utterly biased.

Quoting muslimahpj:


Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The point of this article is what?  I read it 3x and found no superior significance in the fact he was Muslim than I would of the African American slaves or the atrocities of the Holocaust.  It seem to be that you are desperately attempting to set this individual apart from the rest. (As usual, your posts are biased and single-subject oriented.)

Holy crap, who pissed in your cheerios today?

The point of this article is that it shows that muslims have been in America since the beginning. That is the point.

If you feel that way about my posts, why do you bother opening any of them? To bitch?



muslimahpj
by Ruby Member on Nov. 24, 2012 at 6:48 PM
1 mom liked this

How childish are you that you are going to take your ill feelings for someone else out in a completely different post. Did you even bother to read it? I some how doubt. It is about our history, you know US history.

Stupid.

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

All of your posts deal with bitching about Israel or defending Muslims in whatever capacity you see fit.  You are the same poster that wanted the maker of the anti-muslim film to be `raped' in jail.  The only time you don't condone violence of any kind is when it is against Muslims while everyone, other race, can sit and spin.  You are completely and utterly biased.

Quoting muslimahpj:


Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The point of this article is what?  I read it 3x and found no superior significance in the fact he was Muslim than I would of the African American slaves or the atrocities of the Holocaust.  It seem to be that you are desperately attempting to set this individual apart from the rest. (As usual, your posts are biased and single-subject oriented.)

Holy crap, who pissed in your cheerios today?

The point of this article is that it shows that muslims have been in America since the beginning. That is the point.

If you feel that way about my posts, why do you bother opening any of them? To bitch?



MeAndTommyLee
by Gold Member on Nov. 24, 2012 at 7:00 PM

I stand corrected, OP.  You did not make the rape comment prior.

muslimahpj
by Ruby Member on Nov. 24, 2012 at 7:01 PM


Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

I stand corrected, OP.  You did not make the rape comment prior.

Is this supposed to be an apology for you being an ass? 

OH and no kidding I didnt make the comment. 

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