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Collections >> Titles by Omar ibn Said >> An account of Omar ibn Said from North Carolina University Magazine September, 1854


FROM North Carolina University Magazine 2 (September 1854): 307-309.

The town of Wilmington, though of much commercial importance to the good State of North Carolina, cannot boast of many notable personages, and is wofully destitute of "lions." Perhaps it may strike some strangely, and others ludicrously, that many persons inquire with most apparent interest, or at least curiosity, after the venerable coloured man whose name stands at the head of this article. The reason of this we will make an attempt to disclose by a short sketch of his life.

"Uncle Moreau" is now well stricken in years, being, according to his own account, eighty-four years of age. He was born in eastern Africa, upon the banks of the Senegal River. His name, originality [sic] was Umeroh. His family belonged to the tribe of Foutahs, whose chief city was Foutah. The story that he was by birth a prince of his tribe, is unfounded. His father seems to have been a man of considerable wealth, owning as many as seventy slaves, and living upon the proceeds of their labour. The tribes living in eastern Africa are engaged almost incessantly in predatory warfare, and in one of these wars the father of Moreau was killed. This occurred when he was about five years old, and the whole family were immediately taken by an uncle to the town of Foutah. This uncle appears to have been the chief minister of the King or Ruler of Foutah. Here Moreau was educated, that is, he was taught to read the Koran (his tribe being Mohamedans) to recite certain forms of prayer, and the knowledge of the simpler forms of Arithmetic. So apt was he to learn, that he was soon promoted to a mastership, and for ten years taught the youth of his tribe all that they were wont to be taught, which was for the most part, lessons from the Koran. Those barbarians did not think, like the more Enlightened States of excluding their sacred books from their schools.

After teaching for many years, Moreau resolved to abandon this pursuit and become a trader, the chief articles of trade being salt, cotton cloths, &c. While engaged in trade, some event occurred, which he is very reluctant to refer to, but which resulted in his being sold into slavery. He was brought down the coast, shipped for America, in company with only two who could speak the same language, and was landed at Charleston in 1807, just a year previous to the final abolition of the slave trade. He was soon sold to a citizen of Charleston, who treated him with great kindness, but who, unfortunately for Moreau, died in a short time. He was then sold to one who proved to be a harsh cruel master, exacting from him labour which he had not the strength to perform. From him Moreau found means to escape, and after wandering nearly over the State of South Carolina, was found near to Fayetteville in this State. Here he was taken up as a runaway, and placed in the jail. Knowing nothing of the language as yet, he could not tell who he was, or where he was from, but finding some coals in the ashes, he filled the walls of his room with piteous petitions to be released, all written in the Arabic language. The strange characters, so elegantly and correctly written by a runaway slave, soon attracted attention, and many of the citizens of the town visited the jail to see him.

Through the agency of Mr. Mumford, then Sheriff of Cumberland county, the case of Moreau was brought to the notice of Gen. Jas. Owen, of Bladen county, a gentleman well known throughout this commonwealth for his public services, and always known as a man of generous and humane impulses. He took Moreau out of jail, becoming security for his forthcoming if called for, and carried him with him to his plantation in Bladen county. For a long time his wishes were baffled by the meanness and the cupidity of a man who had bought the runaway at a small price from his former master, until at last he was able to obtain legal possession of him, greatly to the joy of Moreau. Since then, for more than forty years, he has been a trusted and indulged servant.

At the time of his purchase by Gen. Owen, Moreau was a staunch Mohamedan, and the first year at least kept the fast of Rhamadan, with great strictness. Through the kindness of some friends, an English translation of the Koran was procured for him, and read to him, often with portions of the Bible. Gradually he seemed to lose his interest in the Koran, and to show more interest in the sacred Scriptures, until finally he gave up his faith in Mohammed, and became a believer in Jesus Christ. He was baptized by Rev. Dr. Snodgrass, of the Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, and received into the church. Since that time he has been transferred to the Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, of which he has long been a consistent and worthy member. There are few Sabbaths in the year in which he is absent from the house of God.

Uncle Moreau is an Arabic scholar, reading the language with great facility, and translating it with ease. His pronunciation of the Arabic is remarkably fine. An eminent Virginia scholar said, not long since, that he read it more beautifully than any one he ever heard, save a distinguished savant of the University of Halle. His translations are somewhat imperfect, as he never mastered the English language, but they are often very striking. We remember once hearing him read and translate the twenty-third psalm, and shall never forget the earnestness and fervour which shone in the old man's countenance, as he read of the going down into the dark valley, and using his own broken English said, 'Me, no fear, master's with me there." There were signs in his countenance and in his voice, that he knew not only the words, but felt the blessed power of the truth they contained.

Moreau has never expressed any wish to return to Africa. Indeed he has always manifested a great aversion to it when proposed, changing the subject as soon as possible. When Dr. Jonas King, now of Greece, returned to this country from the East, he was introduced in Fayetteville to Moreau. Gen. Owen observed an evident reluctance on the part of the old man to converse with Dr. King. After some time he ascertained that the only reason of his reluctance was his fear that one who talked so well in Arabic might have been sent by his own countryman to reclaim him, and carry him again over the sea. After his fears were removed he conversed with Dr. King with great readiness and delight.

He now regards his expatriation as a great Providential favour. "His coming to this country," as he remarked to the writer, "was all for good." Mohammedanism has been supplanted in his heart by the better faith in Christ Jesus, and in the midst of a christian family, where he is kindly watched over and in the midst of a church which honors him for his consistent piety.—He is gradually going down to that dark valley, in which, his own firm hope is, that he will be supported and led by the hand of the Great Master, and from which he will emerge into the brightness of the perfect day.

Titles by Omar ibn Said