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Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua and Samuel Moore, fl. 1854
Biography of Mahommah G. Baquaqua, a Native of Zoogoo, in the Interior of Africa. (A Convert to Christianity,) With a Description of That Part of the World; Including the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants, Their Religious Notions, Form of Government, Laws, Appearance of the Country, Buildings, Agriculture, Manufactures, Shepherds and Herdsmen, Domestic Animals, Marriage Ceremonials, Funeral Services, Styles of Dress, Trade and Commerce, Modes of Warfare, System of Slavery, &c., &c. Mahommah's Early Life, His Education, His Capture and Slavery in Western Africa and Brazil, His Escape to the United States, from Thence to Hayti, (the City of Port Au Prince,) His Reception by the Baptist Missionary There, The Rev. W. L. Judd; His Conversion to Christianity, Baptism, and Return to This Country, His Views, Objects and Aim. Written and Revised from His Own Words, by Samuel Moore, Esq., Late Publisher of the "North of England Shipping Gazette," Author of Several Popular Works, and Editor of Sundry Reform Papers
Detroit: Geo. E. Pomeroy & Co., 1854.

Summary

Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua was born in the West African town of Zoogoo (now Djougou, Benin) around 1830, though his exact birth date is unknown. As a young man, Baquaqua was sold to European slave traders, changing hands between several African masters before he was placed in a slave ship bound for Pernambuco, Brazil. In Brazil, Baquaqua served a series of masters, including a ship captain. When the ship landed in New York, Baquaqua escaped. Initially guided to Boston by abolitionists, Baquaqua decided to relocate to Haiti, where he converted to Christianity. He ultimately returned to New York to attend college, proceeded to Canada, and collaborated with an editor to publish his Biography. After its completion, Baquaqua traveled to Liverpool, England, in hopes of returning to Africa. Three years later, he petitioned his former sponsors at the American Free Baptist Mission Society because he was still unable to raise the necessary funds. After 1857, there is no known record of Mahommah Baquaqua.

Scholars disagree about the extent of Baquaqua's role in composing the Biography, but they generally agree that Samuel Moore, the editor, played an important role in transcribing and arranging the narrative. Moore, an Irish immigrant and abolitionist, reportedly encountered "many difficulties" while compiling the text "in consequence of the imperfect English spoken by Mahommah" (p. 5). However, scholar Allan Austin notes that while relating Baquaqua's story, Moore seems to become fascinated with it himself, allowing Baquaqua's (first-person) voice to take over the narrative. Scholars Robin Law and Paul Lovejoy suggest that Moore might be considered the "compiler" of the first section but merely a "reviser" of the second half (p. 10).

The narrative begins with a detailed account of West African life, culture, and geography. As a young boy, Baquaqua is sent to school to become a Muslim cleric, but he runs away repeatedly, disliking the strictness of the instructor—his older brother. He subsequently trains as a craftsman. After becoming a palace servant for the king of Bergoo (now northern Benin), he falls in with false friends, who get him drunk and sell him to a slave trader. Baquaqua describes the Middle Passage, the transatlantic journey of slaves from Africa to the Americas, as a state of prolonged "suffering and fatigue" surrounded by "loathsomeness and filth" (p. 43).

In Brazil, Baquaqua is purchased by a Roman Catholic baker, who beats Baquaqua whenever he is unable to sell his loaves and who enforces his slaves' piety during Catholic services with a whip. After Baquaqua fails in an attempt to drown himself, the baker sells him to a slave dealer, and he is purchased by the captain of a vessel called Lembran├ža (Portuguese for "memory"). Baquaqua becomes the ship's steward, but the captain's mistress often gets Baquaqua "into disgrace . . . and then a whipping was sure to follow" (p. 48). However, on other occasions, she saves him from punishment. "She was a strange compound of humanity and brutality," Baquaqua recalls (p. 48). The captain himself is an even stranger compound, subjecting Baquaqua to horrific physical abuse, including a beating in which he is tied to a cannon and pummeled by three men, leaving him incapacitated for days.

When the Lembran├ža lands in New York, Baquaqua understands that he has arrived in a "land of freedom," and he attempts to escape (p. 51). Unable to speak any English but the word "F -r-e-e," he is soon detained, but the New York authorities do not release him back to the captain (p. 54). One night "some friends" manage to open the prison doors and transport him to Boston, though his welcome there is temporary, and he is given the choice of proceeding to Haiti or to England (p. 56). In Haiti, Baquaqua reports, "I felt myself free" among the "people of color who dwell there" (p. 57). However, he does not understand their language(s), and he has no means of supporting himself. After a period of extreme poverty, Baquaqua is rescued by a Christian minister, Reverend William Judd, and his wife Nancy, who run the Baptist Free Mission in Port-au-Prince. Baquaqua eventually converts to Christianity, and after two years in the Judds' mission, they agree to finance his journey to Central College in McGrawville, New York.

Baquaqua's Biography says little about his time in college, but an original poem is included toward the end of his text. The middle stanza begins,

Oh! Africa, my native land,
When shall I see thee, meekly stand,
Beneath the banner of my God,
And governed by His Holy word? (p. 62)

There is nothing in this passage to identify Baquaqua's God as explicitly Christian, and Moore seems to have felt the need to bolster Baquaqua's Christian credentials by inserting two lengthy quotations from other sources: one from a book about Baptist churches and the other from an article by William Judd. It is impossible to know exactly what motivates Baquaqua to convert to Christianity, or to understand the complexities of his personal faith, but his words make it clear that he wishes to return to his African homeland, and the Christian ministry may have offered him a way to get there. Unfortunately, the trip home is not easily achieved. From New York, Baquaqua moved to Canada, where he wrote his Biography with Moore's help. The historical record after the Biography's publication shows that Baquaqua traveled to England, but it is unknown whether he was able to return to Africa.

Works Consulted: Austin, Allan D., African Muslims in Antebellum America: A Sourcebook, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1984; Austin, Allan D., African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spiritual Struggles, New York: Routledge, 1997; Diouf, Sylviane A., Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, New York: New York UP, 1998; Law, Robin, and Paul E. Lovejoy, "Introduction: The Interesting Narrative of Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua," The Biography of Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua: His Passage from Slavery to Freedom in Africa and America, Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2007; Murray, Hugh, John Leyden and Archibald Constable, Historical Account of Discoveries and Travels in Africa, 1818: 413-418.

Patrick E. Horn

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