Yarrow Mamout, the slave who became a Georgetown financier

Mamout has become well-known to local researchers over the past decade primarily because two artists, James Alexander Simpson and Charles Willson Peale, painted him.

A portrait of Mamout by Simpson is on display at the Georgetown library.

Yarrow Mamout home in Georgetown is facing destruction

Portrait of Yarrow Mamout (Muhammad Yaro), 1819. Charles Willson Peale, American, 1741-1827. Oil on canvas. 24 x 20 inches (61 x 50.8 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art

Peale’s portrait, completed in the last years of Mamout’s life, shows the freedman-turned-entrepreneur with a serene smile. His gray hair peeks out from beneath a knitted cap.

Mamout was born in Guinea in 1736. At 16 he was sold into slavery and brought to the American colonies. He could read and write in Arabic, evidence that historians believe proves that he came from a wealthy Muslim family. Upon arrival in Annapolis, Mamout was sold to the Beall family, whose patriarch founded Georgetown in the late 1690s. After more than 40 years in slavery, Mamout gained his freedom. He was 60. Four years after he was freed, he had saved enough to purchase a lot on what is now known as Dent Place.

The original home was destroyed. The house that currently sits on the land was built in the late 19th century. But after Hurricane Irene took off part of the roof and caused significant water damage, the Old Georgetown Board, an advisory committee of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, determined that it couldn’t be saved.

Mamout’s biographer, James H. Johnston, laid out, in his book “From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the History of an African American Family” and in testimony last month before the Old Georgetown Board, his belief that underneath the ruins of the present building one could find traces of his life such as bricks made by Mamout himself.

More information can be found here.






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