African Survival Page                      the African Continuum
      THE MAN IN THE KNIT CAP               Alsayanne Hasseye
brickmaking/building from Timbukto at the
                                                                Smithsonian Institution Folk Life program  
                                                                photographed by Jim Johnston in 2004
Yarrow Mamout  is the first African
in America to be the subject of portrait art by major painters.  
"Every Picture Tells a Story: A Narrative Portrait of Yarrow
Mamout" by
James Johnston in Maryland Historical Magazine,
Winter 2008.

James H. Johnston has thoroughly researched and published on Yarrow Mamout,
“The Man in the Knit Cap” painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1819 and James
Simpson in 1822.  A talented and famous African of Fulani heritage, literate in
Arabic, he was father-in-law to an African American woman, Polly Yarrow (husband
Aquilla) for whom Yarrowsburg, in Washington County, Maryland, is named.  The
African Yaro Mahmoud (1736-1823) was skilled at several crafts, including
brickmaking, and was probably once an enslaved worker at the Antietam Ironworks
across the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry.  

In his research, Jim Johnston contacted many people in the Washington County
area beginning with the archivist of the Western Maryland Room at the
Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown, John Frye. It was there that he
learned that Polly Yarrow’s home was marked on an 1877 map of the county. Polly
Yarrow is remembered today in the name of Yarrowsburg, in Pleasant Valley.  

Jim’s research also took him to the descendants of Ninian Beall, including George
and Thomas Beall co-founders of Georgetown, and Samuel Beall, owner of
Antietam Ironworks and slaveholder of Yarrow Mamout. Samuel’s son Brooke Beall
inherited Yarrow. Yarrow was manumitted by Brooke’s widow in .

The connection with the Beall family brought Johnston to Jefferson County, West
Virginia, to search the relationships of the Beall-Washington families here. It was
Beallair, the home of Lewis Washington, that was a significant aspect of the John
Brown raid in 1859. Johnston also learned from the iron industry research of
Michael Thompson, the District Attorney of Jefferson County, whose Ph.D. thesis
The Iron Industry of Western Maryland (1976).  He particularly credits Diane
Broadhurst, a researcher in Montgomery County, Maryland, for discovering that
Yarrow had a son named Acquila, who died in Harpers Ferry in 1832.   

Jim’s article that Rev. Thomas Balch praised Yarrow Mamout in a sermon in
Georgetown in 1859, noting his picturesque style and character long after his
death.  The Simpson portrait of Yarrow hangs in the Georgetown Library, wearing
a knit cap. After publication of the Washington Post article Jim Johnston received
messages from people noting the African significance—the textile coding—of the
hat.  Jim stated:  “Two different people have mentioned the cap to me.  One said
he saw caps of that style in a ceremony initiating boys to manhood in Sierra
Leone.  The other said she saw caps like that in television show about Liberia.  
Since that is generally where Yarrow came from, I'm sure that's where he learned
the design."

The Antietam Ironworks, where Yarrow Mamout worked while enslaved, has many  
African traditions associated with its history and archaeology.   

From Slavery to
Salvation is the only
social history of African
American workers from
a primary source who
was a  blacksmith and
minister, Rev.  

Thomas W. Henry
(1794 - 1877)

original graphic courtesy the
Enoch Pratt Free Library,
Baltimore.  Edited to enhance
the enslaved  ironworkers
who are in the background of
the 1864 drawing.