A portrait on loan to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG) will probably challenge many people’s understanding of early American history, particularly in regards to the presence of Muslims during that formative period. The small 1822 canvas, painted by James Alexander Simpson, is one of two known portraits of Yarrow Mamout, and his story is pretty amazing.

Born in 1736, Mamout hailed from one of the nomadic West African groups that spoke Fulani. Like many Africans during that time, he was forced into servitude and delivered to the shores of the Americas from his native Guinea through a network of slave traders.

By 1753, Mamout was serving the Beall family, first at their Maryland plantation and then at their home in Georgetown. According to a brochure from the National Portrait Gallery, Mamout gained “his freedom after 44 years, [and] remained in Georgetown—living among the approximately four hundred freed slaves there—working at many different tasks: making brick and charcoal, loading ships, weaving baskets.”

Read the story on Hyperallergic.

Advertisements