American Stories

Portrait of Yarrow Mamout by Charles Wilson Peale

About This Resource

This portrait of African American former slave Yarrow Mamout, painted in 1819 by Charles Wilson Peale (1741-1827), is the earliest known painting of an American Muslim. At the time when the portrait was painted, Yarrow Mamout was an elderly man living as a freed slave in Georgetown, District of Columbia. Mamout, probably reflecting the Africanized Arabic name Mahmoud (Muhammad) Yaro, was born in Guinea in western Africa. He was enslaved in about 1752 and freed after forty-five years. Peale became interested in portraying him because he was well known as a property-owning citizen, and was reputed to be 140 years old (in fact his age was about 83). Peale painted him in the winter, wearing his knit cap, which evokes West African head coverings. In his diary, Peale described Yarrow Mamout’s “industry, frugality, and sobriety,” and wrote: “He professes to be a Mahometan, and is often seen and heard in the streets singing praises to God-- and, conversing with him, he said man is no good unless his religion comes from his heart.” Peale’s portrait is especially unusual for its sympathetic portrayal, which reveals Yarrow Mamout’s character in its subject’s open facial expression.

Text

Portrait of African-American freed slave Yarrow Mamout painted in 1819 by Charles Wilson Peale, in the Philadelphia Museum

Source

Philadelphia Museum of Art

How to Cite This Page

"Muslim Journeys | Item #77: Portrait of Yarrow Mamout by Charles Wilson Peale", July 21, 2018 http://bridgingcultures.neh.gov/muslimjourneys/items/show/77.

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