Omar Ibn Said

Omar Ibn Said, also know as
"Uncle Moreau" was unusual
among enslaved people in the
abtebellum United States in
that before he was captured
he was highly educated and
could read and write fluently
at a time when most African
slaves were illiterate. Said's
autobiography is unique be-
cause it is the only personal
account of a slave written in
his own native language while
he was in bondage in the
United States.

Omar Ibn Said was born in
1870 along the Senegal
River in Futa Tooro, West
Africa to a wealthy Muslim
family. When his father died,
Said at age five was sent to
a nearby town to study Islam
and become a teacher.
Religion was paramount in
Said's life and he was devout
to the Muslim faith. With ex-
tensive religious training
Said became well educated
and fluent in Arabic.

At age thirty-seven, after
returning to his village, he
was captured by a slave-
raiding party. Said was
taken to the Atlantic
coast of Africa where he
was placed on a ship
bound for Charleston,
South Carolina, Said
was brought across the
Atlantic in 1807, the
last year slaves could be
legally imported into
the United States from
the African continent.

When Said first arrived
in America he was sold
to a North Carolina
slaveholder, according
to Said, was Godless,
This deeply disturbed
Said because of his
strong faith and he
fled his owner's farm.
Said was captured and
promptly jailed in Fay-
etteville, North Carolina,
While in jail he wrote on
his cell walls with ashes
in Arabic pleading for
his release. His jailers
could not read his
writings. However
James Owens, who lived
nearby heard of Said's
unusal abilities and
purchased him from
his first owner. Owens
claimed Said was
pleased to be purchased
b y a man of strong faith.

Owens took an interest in
eduating Said and purchaed
a copy of the Holy Q'uran
in English which he read
to his new bondservant
along with a Bible which
would help him learn
English. Around 1820
Said converted to
Christianity and began
to attend church with
the Owens family where
he had his own seat
reserved. This con-
version was not
necessarily sincere
since most of Said's
writings still made
reference to Mohammad
or Allah.

In 1831 Said wrote the
only autobiography of a
slave written in his native
language, Arabic. Said
was offered numerous
opportunities to return
to Africa, via Liberia as
a Christian missionary,
but each time he declined
the opportunity. Omar Ibn
Said lived to be 94. His
death in 1864 came as
the Civil War was raging
and Union forces were
freeing slaves throughout
North Carolina and Virginia.
Said died, however, on the
Owens farm without gaining
his freedom.

"Autobiography of Omar
Ibn Said, Slave in North
Carolina, 1831," The
Anerican Historical
Review 30: 4 (July, 1925)
-ibn-sayyid; Sylvaine A.
Diouf, Servants of Allah:
African Muslims Enslaved
in the Americas (New York:
New York University Press, 1998).

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