The stories of enslaved Africans have often been lost. The stories that have survived offer modern Americans a rare glimpse into the lives of these men and women. One such story is that of Yarrow Mamout, who was taken from his home in Guinea on the western coast of Africa to Annapolis, Maryland on the slave ship Elijah in 1752 - he was only 16 years old. Purchased by Samuel Beall of Prince George’s County, Yarrow worked in Antietam at Beall’s iron forge. Following Beall’s death in 1777, Yarrow was inherited by Beall’s son Brooke, and moved to Georgetown where the younger Beall lived. Yarrow’s education and skills put him in the unique position of being able to bargain with his owner for his freedom. Brooke Beall died before honoring this agreement, but Beall’s widow chose to fulfill her late husband’s wishes, and freed Yarrow in 1797. After securing his freedom, Yarrow made a life for himself in Georgetown, and became well-respected there both for his industry and skills and for his steadfast, lifelong adherence to his Muslim faith. Indeed, his local fame was such that painters Charles Willson Peale and James Alexander Simpson both chose to paint portraits of Yarrow. Peale interviewed his subject while working on the portrait, and wrote down some of Yarrow’s story.
Yarrow Mamout died in 1823, but his unusual story lives on thanks in part to these two portraits.
Yarrow’s life history, moving from freedom to slavery to freedom, is unusual, but not unknown; in fact there were many other free African Americans living in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. In 1820 only about half of Montgomery County’s African American population was enslaved and Yarrow was part of a vibrant free black community that survived here in the face of slavery.
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To read a transcript of the audio recording click here.
Click on the links below to learn more about Yarrow’s unique story and slavery in Montgomery County.