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From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the History of an African American Family
     

From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the History of an African American Family

by James H. Johnston
 

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The biography of a remarkable individual and the chronicle of a family's rise from slavery to winning the American dream.

From Slave Ship to Harvard is the true story of an African American family in Maryland over six generations. The author has reconstructed a unique narrative of black struggle and achievement from paintings,

Overview


The biography of a remarkable individual and the chronicle of a family's rise from slavery to winning the American dream.

From Slave Ship to Harvard is the true story of an African American family in Maryland over six generations. The author has reconstructed a unique narrative of black struggle and achievement from paintings, photographs, books, diaries, court records, legal documents, and oral histories. From Slave Ship to Harvard traces the family from the colonial period and the American Revolution through the Civil War to Harvard and finally today.

Yarrow Mamout, the first of the family in America, was an educated Muslim from Guinea. He was brought to Maryland on the slave ship Elijah and gained his freedom forty-four years later. By then, Yarrow had become so well known in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., that he attracted the attention of the eminent American portrait painter Charles Willson Peale, who captured Yarrow's visage in the painting that appears on the cover of this book. The author here reveals that Yarrow's immediate relatives-his sister, niece, wife, and son-were notable in their own right. His son married into the neighboring Turner family, and the farm community in western Maryland called Yarrowsburg was named for Yarrow Mamout's daughter-in-law, Mary "Polly" Turner Yarrow. The Turner line ultimately produced Robert Turner Ford, who graduated from Harvard University in 1927.

Just as Peale painted the portrait of Yarrow, James H. Johnston's new book puts a face on slavery and paints the history of race in Maryland. It is a different picture from what most of us imagine. Relationships between blacks and whites were far more complex, and the races more dependent on each other. Fortunately, as this one family's experience shows, individuals of both races repeatedly stepped forward to lessen divisions and to move America toward the diverse society of today.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

". . . a masterfully researched detective story with a wealth of detail about the rise of an African-American family."-John R. Wennersten, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore

". . . Portray[s] an illuminating, thought-provoking, relatively unusual moment in early American history."-Publishers Weekly

"James H. Johnston has given us a clear and vivid look at a long-neglected aspect of American history. This book is in turn disturbing and elevating, horrifying and inspiring. It is impossible to ignore."-Harold Holzer, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

"An absorbing study and story of a slave in America. Once begun, this book is very hard to put down. It weaves a prodigious amount of research into a compelling narrative, of not just one man's journey, but also of the struggle of every man and woman to achieve identity and success against often overwhelming odds. This is a book that no book club and no course on slavery in America should be without."-Edward Papenfuse, Director of the Maryland State Archives

"Part historical narrative, part genealogical detective work, this book will appeal to a range of academic and general readers, especially those interested in race relations in early America."-Library Journal

"Johnston has given Americans a rare treasure, a true story of an African American family, and its triumph over slavery. The great American painter Charles Willson Peale, best remembered for his portrait paintings of leading figures of the American Revolution, would have very much approved--Johnston's done with a whole lot of research, patience, and writing, what Peale did with his brush almost 200 years ago."-Sidney Hart, Senior Historian, National Portrait Gallery

Publishers Weekly
In 1752, a 16-year-old literate Muslim was transported from Africa into North American enslavement; in 1923, his great-great-grandson entered Harvard. From the dusty bins of history (wills, estate inventories, ledgers, deeds, census records), and, befitting the lawyer he is, “circumstantial evidence” and the serendipitous discovery of living descendants, Johnston brings fresh dimension to Yarrow Mamout, known primarily as the subject of Charles Willson Peale’s 1819 painting. Manumitted in 1796, having already secured the freedom of his son, acquired property, and purchased bank stock, Yarrow died in 1823 in Washington, D.C. The network of extended families and the world of small towns, along with memories rife with variations, make for a thorny thicket of intertwined histories as the lives of his owner Bealls, the painter Peale, and Yarrow’s family converge and diverge. Johnston helpfully provides both a family tree and an epilogue locating the historical places (some obliterated by development) in contemporary sites. Yarrow enters art history through Peale’s portrait; Johnston’s book gives him a tangible, if sometimes speculative, life and legacy. Together, they portray an illuminating, thought-provoking, relatively unusual moment in early American history. (May)
Library Journal
Born in 1736 in West Africa, Yarrow Mamout was enslaved, transported to America, and purchased by Marylander Samuel Beall in 1752. Freed in 1797, Yarrow accumulated sufficient capital to invest in bank stock and to purchase a house in Washington, DC. Today, he is remembered primarily because in 1819 the artist Charles Willson Peale painted an intriguing portrait of him (as did James Alexander Simpson, in 1822). Johnston, an attorney and journalist, tells the story of Yarrow and his relatives, including Yarrow's sister, son, and later descendant Robert Turner Ford, who, in 1927, graduated from Harvard University. Chapters reconstruct Yarrow's life in Africa, his slave life in early America, the circumstances surrounding Peale's portrait, and Yarrow's family tree through to the present. An epilog offers remarks on 29 "tangible things" (e.g., art, buildings, and documents) that relate to the book's themes and still survive. Johnston draws on primary documents, secondary scholarship, and scores of interviews with living authorities. VERDICT Part historical narrative, part genealogical detective work, this book will appeal to a range of academic and general readers, especially those interested in race relations in early America.—Mark G. Spencer, Brock Univ., St. Catharines, Ont.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780823239511
Publisher:
Fordham University Press
Publication date:
03/02/2015
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
299
Sales rank:
722,106
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

JAMES H. JOHNSTON, an attorney and journalist, has published extensively on national affairs, law, telecommunications, history, and the arts. His contributions include papers on local Washington, D.C., history, Yarrow Mamout, and an edition of The Recollections of Margaret Cabell Brown Loughborough.

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