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Said, Omar Ibn

by Thomas C. Parramore, 1994; Revised December 2021

Related Entries: African AmericansSlavery


Ambrotype of Omar ibn SaidOmar Ibn Said, an Arabic scholar, was born in Futa Toro (now a part of the Senegal) to an aristocratic Muslim family before being enslaved in the United States and eventually North Carolina. Educated in Koranic schools, he was a teacher and tradesman for about fifteen years and purportedly made a pilgrimage to Mecca during the period 1790–1805. In 1807 he was found guilty of an unspecified crime and sold by his people, the Fulas, to an American slave trader. Taken to Charleston, S.C., Omar was among the last Africans to reach the United States prior to the outlawing of the overseas slave trade at the end of 1807. After working for two years as a slave in Charleston and on a South Carolina rice plantation, he escaped in 1810 and made his way to Fayetteville, N.C., near which he was recaptured. When efforts to find his legal owner proved unavailing, he became the property of General James Owen of Bladen County. At Owen's Cape Fear River estate called Milton, Omar was taught English and converted to the Christian religion, joining the First Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville in 1820.

The Owen family, intrigued by Omar's facility with Arabic and his scholarly bent, gave him little work and permitted him ample time to study an Arabic translation of the Bible that was procured for him by General Owen. Occasional spates of journalistic interest, fanned by false reports that Omar was the son of an African king, circulated his name and circumstances widely during the antebellum era. In 1836 he moved with the Owen family to Wilmington, where he was active in the Presbyterian congregation and host to many visitors anxious to witness his unusual ability to read and write in Arabic. There are reports that he accompanied his owners to resort springs in the South and there entertained children with folk stories. An added source of public interest in the 1850s was Omar's advanced age.

During the Civil War the Owen family moved to Owen Hill, a Cape Fear farm formerly the home of General Owen's brother, Governor John Owen, where Omar died at age ninety-four. Much of the information about him is contained in a brief autobiography in Arabic that he composed in 1831. The North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a paper with Arabic writing by Said as well as a daguerreotype of him.

Additional information from NCpedia editors at the State Library of North Carolina: 

Modern scholars now refute that Said was sold by the Fulas after committing a crime and instead hold that Said was kidnapped from his homeland in present-day Senegal. There is also much debate as to whether or not Said converted to Christianity. 

-Alyssa Putt, Government and Heritage Library, December 2021

The Lord's Prayer written in Arabic by Uncle Moreau (Omar) a native African, now owned by General Owen of Wilming ton N. C. .References:

Fayetteville, North Carolina Presbyterian, 23 July 1859

J. F. Jameson, "Autobiography of Omar ibn Said, Slave in North Carolina," American Historical Review 30 (July 1925)

Philadelphia, Christian Advocate , July 1825

J. L. Wilson, Western Africa: Its History, Condition, and Prospects (1856)

Additional Resources:

Jack, Emily. “Wilson Library Acquires Biblical and Islamic Manuscript Created by Omar Ibn Said.” Wilson Library acquires biblical and Islamic manuscript created by Omar ibn Said. UNC Chapel Hill University Libraries, November 4, 2021.

Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"'Oh ye Americans': The Autobiography of
Omar ibn Said an enslaved Muslim in the United States 1831." National Humanities Center.

"Omar Ibn Said Ca. 1770-1863." N.C. Highway Historical Marker I-89, N.C. Office of Archives & History.

"Photograph, Accession #: H.1962.73.4." 1962. North Carolina Museum of History.

Thuersam, Bernhard. "Uncle Moreau of the Cape Fear." Cape Fear Historical Institute. 2006. (accessed March 5, 2013).

Black American Web:

Davidson Archives & Special Collections:

New York Public Library.

Vincent, W. Curt. "It’s just a real shame …" The Bladen Journal. April 3, 2012. (accessed March 5, 2013).

Image Credits:

"Ambrotype of Omar ibn Said." Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (accessed March 14, 2012).

"The Lord's Prayer written in Arabic by Uncle Moreau (Omar) a native African, now owned by General Owen of Wilmington N.C. . He is 88 years of age & a devoted Christian.  Given to Mary Jones, at the Rockbridge Alum Springs, Rockbridge Country Va. by Genl Owen July 27, 1857." Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (accessed March 14, 2012).