Notable Slaves Who Helped Build Our Country

Enough can not be said about the sacrifice slaves gave to our country.  Without all of the stolen labor, the United States of American would have never built the wealth that it did.  Historians and scholars debate the percentage of slaves who were Muslims, but most agree that somewhere between 10 to 30 percent of slaves who were brought to America were Muslims. The event of transporting Muslim slaves was made famous by the book by Alex Haley, Roots.

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Ayuba Suleiman (b. 1701 and d. 1773), also known as Job Solomon, was born in Senegal, was believed to have come from a prominent Muslim family. He was captured and sold as a slave, then shipped to Annapolis, Maryland. Ayuba was known to have known how to read and write Arabic, refuse wine when it was offered to him, and to have fled from his slave owners home when a child made fun of him when he prayed.  He was later purchased by a man named Oglethorpe.  In England, a man named Hans Sloane, who made him a translator, and Ayuba translated a number of Arabic documents for the British Museum.  He was given a high status when he was made a member of the Gentleman’s Society of Spalding. Unfortunately, he was captured as a slave again by the French just before he passed away. Ayuba’s memoirs were published by a friend of his, Rev. Thomas Bluett, who had helped him gain his freedom.

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Sambo Anderson, also referred to as Uncle Sambo or Samuel Anderson, was one of George Washington’s most coveted slaves.  Purchased around 1750, he was trained as a carpenter, and built and repaired several wooden structures at Mt. Vernon. George Washington was known to allow his slaves autonomy to keep their own religion and even gave Sambo permission to use his boat to go visit his family at a neighboring farm.  Other slaves, by the name of Fatima and Nila were also believed to have been slaves on Washington’s property as well, and may have been related to Sambo.  Washington gave his slaves their freedom upon his death in his will.  (I find it interesting that it is an Islamic tradition to free one’s slaves upon your death.)  As a free man, he hunted and sold wild game.  He was able to earn enough money to purchase the freedom of some of his family members, including his daughter, Charity, and several of his grand children.  When Uncle Sambo, when himself had passed away, an obituary was written about him in the Alexandria Gazette. 

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Yarrow Mamout was a promenant figure in Georgetown in the early 1800’s. Mamout worked as a bricklayer, but was also known to have made money making charcoal, weaving baskets, and loading ships. He was freed when he was 60 years old and believed to have owned his own home on Dent Place in Georgetown, where he believed to be buried. Mamout was known to have swam in the Potomac River for exercise, have never consumed alcohol or pork, and to have walked the streets of Georgetown singing praises of Allah. His portrait is on display at the Georgetown Library.

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Omar Ibn Said was known as a slave of General Owen in North Carolina.  He wrote 14 manuscripts in Arabic.  One of them was the biography of his life, which was written in communication with Sheikh Hunter. However, several others were inscriptions of Qur’anic text, which he had memorized before becoming a slave. Francis Scott Key was known to have given Ibn Said a bible in Arabic. His owners were also known to have given him a Qur’an in English to help him learn English.  Although many claim that he converted to Christianity, some others say he may have been a Mason, or have even continued to practice Islam afterwards. Today, his manuscripts are stored in the Wilson Library at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

  1. What kinds of jobs did many slaves of early days of America have?
  2. Why was it a benefit to have been able to read and write if you were a slave?
  3. How is Omar Ibn Said similar to another prominent slave, Bilali Muhammad?
  4. Which of the slaves mentioned were known to have had family?
  5. What kinds of Islamic traditions did these slaves try to preserve?

 

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