An interesting article appeared today in the Raleigh News & Observer, reminding me of the story of Omar ibn Said (ca. 1770-1863), a Muslim teacher and trader who was sold into slavery in Africa and sent to America in 1806 or 1807 — see “Slave and scholar led exceptional life in N.C.”
Although often called a “prince,” it would be more accurate to say that Said was from a prominent family of Futa Toro, which is now part of Senegal. The Wikipedia article on Said says he was captured in a military conflict before being sent to America. A bio from UNC says he was convicted of an unspecified crime.
Said eventually wound up with the wealthy Owen family of Fayetteville, N.C. The family evidently gave him few work assignments, allowing Said to live an easier life and pursue scholarly efforts.
A historian at the N.C. Office of Archives and History told the News & Observer that Said “was likely the most educated slave in North Carolina and one of the best documented practicing Muslim slaves in America.”
Here is an excerpt from an autobiography by Said, which appears to have been written in 1831:
I reside in this our country by reason of great necessity. Wicked men took me by violence and sold me to the Christians. We sailed a month and a half on the great sea to the place called Charleston in the Christian land. I fell into the hands of a small, weak and wicked man, who feared not God at all nor did he read (the gospel) at all nor pray.
I was afraid to remain with a man so depraved and who committed so many crimes and I ran away. After a month our Lord God brought me forward to the hand of a good man, who fears God, and loves to do good, and whose name is Jim Owen and whose brother is called Col. John Owen. These are two excellent men. I am residing in Bladen County.
I continue in the hand of Jim Owen who never beats me, nor scolds me. I neither go hungry nor naked, and I have no hard work to do. I am not able to do hard work for I am a small man and feeble. During the last twenty years I have known no want in the hand of Jim Owen.
The News & Observer article says that on Friday Nov. 5, the state of North Carolina will inaugurate a roadside historical marker in Fayetteville, in front of a mosque name after Omar ibn Said.
AB — 31 Oct. 2010