Omar ibn Said
“This old man’s history was extremely interesting. Born in the region around Timbuctoo and the son of a King or Chief, he was taught to read & write Arabic, & having committed some offence he was banished by his people who were named by some writers Malis, or Mellès, and by Stanley, Malais. He was captured and sold into slavery to a ship which brought him to South Carolina, where he was purchased by a young upcountry planter, who treated him harshly, and he ran away, wandered over the line into North Carolina, was found ill at a negro cabin, was arrested as a runaway slave, pit in jail at Fayetteville, and having attracted attention by writing on the walls in Arabic, was released by Gen. James Owen on bond, afterward bought by him from the S. C. planter and treat as a pensioner and friend the remainder of his life. Although a devout Mahometan he became a devout Presbyterian, and lived befriended & respected by everybody until his death in 1864, at the age of about 90 years. He is buried in the family graveyard of the Owens in Bladen County N. C.
It was said that he was a Free Mason. He was a short ‘Mustee’ colored man, polite, and dignified in his manners. I remember him very distinctly. AM Waddell. 1905”
The description above is handwritten on Said’s portrait, taken ca. 1863.
Omar ibn Said was born ca. 1773 in Futa Turo, a region between the Senegal and Gambia rivers. He spent 25 years studying with prominent Muslim scholars. In 1807, he was captured in a war and sold into slavery. While in captivity, Said (who was also known as “Uncle Moro” or “Moreau”) wrote the only known Arabic slave narrative, one of an estimated 14 manuscripts he authored during his lifetime. Although he publicly converted to Christianity, many scholars believe that Said remained a devout Muslim all of his life.
Source: DeRosset Papers, P-214, in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill