In their zeal to load human cargo bound for the New World, New England slavers on Africa’s coast often caught competing Arab slave traders in raids on barracoons. Antebellum North Carolina Governor John Owen (see www.cfhi.net) purchased an Arab in Charleston named “Moro” who had been well educated prior to capture, and like S’Quash below, considered himself above Negro slaves. The author was the son of General Rufus Barringer, and nephew of General Daniel Harvey Hill.
Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865
Yankee Slave Traders Dividing Arab Families
“The abolition of the slave trade was voted by the United States Congress in 1790, but the importation of slaves was prolonged by the votes of Massachusetts and South Carolina. North Carolina, which was never at heart a slave State, had always carried a tariff on Negroes. However, the law was finally passed in 1804, to become effective January 1, 1808, that no more slaves were to be imported.
[North Carolinian Robert McDowell travelled to Charleston to purchase slaves off a New England slaver, selecting a large black man who] . . . was a commanding figure. His clear-cut, aquiline features were extremely dark, like a Moor, and his straight black hair and beard, matted and foul from neglect, were not kinky. He was obviously not a Negro. “I will take him,” said Mr. McDowell. “What is his nationality?”
“To tell the truth, I don’t know,” answered the captain . . . ”But I’ve always thought some slave dealer was settling an old score.”
The potential truth of this statement has been borne out by history. With the approaching close of the slave trade, far more ships appeared on the Guinea Coast than could possibly be provided with cargo; so the slave traders made raids upon the slave barracks or barracoons. In doing so, they got a number of Arabs, themselves slave traders, and their wives, concubines, and children. At the last minute, it was “The devil take the hindmost.”
To avoid recrimination and to render the captives less dangerous, the Yankee slave traders divided these Arab families up amongst their various ships, and S’Quash fell to this trader. It was a terrible fate, but no more or less than his system had meted out to others. It was in the final settlement a case of “Winner take all.”
Nine miles out on the King’s Highway, the mile post, which should have carried the Roman numeral IX, had been damaged and replaced with a simple 9, an Arabic numeral. The captive stopped the wagon and held out his hands, showing five fingers of one hand and four of the other, a total of nine, thus proving he could read Arabic and understand at least simple arithmetic, no mean achievement for a slave.
To make a long story short, S’Quash, as he was called in a phonetic effort at his real name, was an Arab of a family long engaged in the slave trade; he had the advantages of travel and education of his day and class in that he had been to Cairo and could read Greek as well as Arabic. Whatever his past, he definitely threw in his lot with the ruling class [and] assigned to . . . the “big house” in order to acquire some English and the pattern of living in this strange land.
He held himself completely aloof from the Negro slaves and would neither live nor mate with them, staying in a hut by himself. [He learned a nearby plantation held] a Dinka Negress and asked permission to marry her. The famous tribe of Dinkas . . . came from what is now called Anglo-Egyptian Soudan [and] . . . In their subtle Arabic caste system she was eligible as a wife and was purchased by [the master] at a substantial figure, $3000, which was a top price.
[Many years later after the War], I was questioned by one of [my] cousins about a queer picture in the attic, “not quite white and quite colored” and did I know anything about it? It was the portrait of S’Quash, and since no one else wanted it, I sent for [S’Quash descendant] Harvey and gave it to him, saying, “Harvey, you should have this for I am sure you are the only Negro in the United States who has the portrait of his great-grandfather who was an Arab slave trader.”
(The Natural Bent, The Memoirs of Dr. Paul B. Barringer, UNC Press, 1949, pp. 10-15)