As Black History Month comes to a close, an important story worth retelling is that of Mamout Yarrow. Yarrow, a member of the Fula ethnic group, was born around 1736 around the coastal region of what is now Guinea, West Africa. His name should actually read Mahmud Diallo or Jalloh.
At age 14, Yarrow was taken into captivity and brought to America as slave. He was purchased by Samuel Beale of Maryland. Through hard work and perseverance, Yarrow acquired his freedom in 1796.
He was emancipated, became a freed man, and with his savings, he also bought a house in the Georgetown section of Washington DC, an extraordinary achievement at a time most blacks lived in servitude and abject depravity. Yarrow was an investor and owned stocks in the Columbia Bank, one of Georgetown’s first banks. Who say black people didn’t know anything?
Yarrow was a Muslim and an ardent follower of his faith. American historians have not provided sufficient evidence of Muslim presence in early America, but there was Yarrow who prayed five times a day, observed the month of Ramadan, attested to the oneness of Allah and really lived a pious life.
Neighbors who saw him prayed were often curious, they admired his attitude, demeanor and generosity. They were curious likewise. He often wore modest clothing, white knit caps and robes. He sang praises to Allah in the streets of his neighborhood.
It was out of this curiosity that impelled legendary portrait painter, Charles Wilson Peale, to paint a portrait of Yarrow in 1819. Peale also interviewed Yarrow, and learned that Yarrow was a devout Muslim who does not consume alcohol or pork.
Thanks to Charles Wilson Peale, Yarrow became an immortal in American cultural and intellectual discourse. One of Yarrow’s sons married an African American woman, Polly Yarrow. They founded Yarrows-burg in Maryland, and for those don’t know, this is how Yarrows-burg got its name. If his name was spelled correctly, this town would have been known as Diallosburg.
The portrait painted by Peale in 1819 was donated to the Philadelphia museum of history. Two years ago, the same portrait was sold to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for about $1.5 million dollars. Today it is one of the significant exhibits currently at the Museum of Art. Since his death, the memories of Yarrow still live on.