Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> Titles by Omar ibn Said >> An account of Omar ibn Said's manuscript from The Wilmington Chronicle January 27, 1847

FROM The Wilmington Chronicle 27 January 1847.

In the Providence, R. I. Journal, there have been published within the past year a good many well written letters descriptive of matters and things in North Carolina; some of them exceedingly interesting. In one of those which appeared lately there is an account (copied below) of an individual well known in this community, and who, although a slave, is held in high respect and esteem. We refer to Monroe, the servant of General Owen. Monroe is probably more than seventy-five years of age, instead of sixty, as the letter writer supposes. He belonged to the Foulah tribe in Africa, who inhabit the region about the sources of the Senegal river. The Foulahs, or Fallatas, are known as the descendants of the Arabian Mahomedans who migrated to Western Africa in the seventh century. They carried with them the literature of Arabia, as well as the religion of their great Prophet, and have ever retained both. The Foulahs stand in the scale of civilization at the head of all the African tribes.

Monroe was a teacher among his own people. He still writes the Arabic with considerable facility. A specimen of his writing in that language is now before us. He was thirty-six or thirty-seven years old when brought from Africa. He was landed at Charleston, remained in South Carolina four years, and has been thirty-seven years in this State, the greater portion of them in the family of General Owen.


With this I send you a manuscript in Arabic. It does not set up any pretensions to antiquity, and hence it need not puzzle that portion of the literati who are eternally on the scent for ancient lore, and who can be satisfied with nothing unless of sufficient age to become the basis of an unending squabble of pens, in which these learned notables are ever certain to treat the few who take the trouble to scan their effusions, with a dish of "confusion worse confounded." To gratify the tastes and fancies of these lovers of the antique, it is surprising how human ingenuity and perseverance have, of late, contrived to exhume ancient manuscripts, and to call up, from the musty repositories where they have slumbered for ages, specimens of the literary handiwork of by-gone times:—Albeit, certain humane and obliging specimens of the knowing ones, sometimes have the generosity to manufacture ancient matters and things, which pass equally well with the real Simon Pures, and make just as good a quarrel. The scrap I send you, however, though modern, is genuine. It is not from Mecca, or Medina, or any other Arabian city; nor is there any dispute or doubt about its authorship. In short, it comes direct from the "Old North State," and is the production of an old and superanuated [sic] slave. I leave it to you to judge, therefore, if it is not quite as remarkable to find an Arabic scholar under such a guise, as to find a scrap of antiquity deposited on the mouldering shelf of some ancient library, or amidst the ruins of an antique temple. But I will give you a short scrap of the history of the writer.

The name of the man from whom I obtained this manuscript for you, I believe is Monroe; and he would seem to be some sixty years of age. He is an Arab by birth, of royal blood, and was captured during a war between his own and a neighboring tribe, conveyed to the coast, and sold as a slave. Whether he was brought directly to North Carolina, or not, I am unable to say; but I have known him at Wilmington, if my memory serves me, for twenty years. He has been extremely fortunate as respects a master. He fell into the hands of Gen. Owen, of Wilmington, who, naturally of a generous and humane disposition, has treated him with extreme lenity, and indeed more like a relative than a servant. Indeed the General, many years since, proffered him his freedom, and offered to send him back to his native land. But Monroe declined the offer, saying that his friends were probably either destroyed or dispersed, and that his condition was much better where he was, than it could be in his own country. This venerable man is well built, of a middling height, with an open and cheerful countenance, correct in his deportment, and gentlemanly and conciliating in his manners. He is respected by those who know him, and is a worthy member of the Presbyterian church. You will perceive that the penmanship is bold and handsome. The manuscript, the translator says, contains the Lord's Prayer, and the Twenty-Second Psalm. Is it not a little remarkable, that a man who has not probably heard his vernacular tongue spoken, nor seen it written, for thirty years, except by himself, should now, at the age of three score, and a slave, be able to write it fluently and correctly?

Titles by Omar ibn Said