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Muslims in Early Georgia: Introduction

Introduction

Bilali Muhammad (c.1770-c.1857) was an enslaved man who lived on a plantation on Sapelo Island, Georgia. He was a Fula, originally from Timbo, in the Muslim empire of Fouta-Djallon, in present-day Guinea. Bilali Muhammad and his wife, Phoebe, had twelve sons, whose fates are unknown, and seven daughters -- Binto, Charlotte, Fatima, Hester, Margaret, Medina and Yoruba. Muhammad was purchased in the Caribbean around 1801 by Georgia politician and agriculturalist Thomas Spalding. who owned a plantation on Sapelo Island. In the 1820s, Bilali Muhammad hand-wrote a 13-page text in Arabic. That document is in the collection of the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia.

Salih Bilali (c.1770-c.1846) also was a Muslim Fula, and he was from the Kianah on the Niger River, in the kingdom of Massina. He was purchased in the Caribbean by John Couper, and taken to St. Simons Island, Gwhereia, were he was enslaved. Salih Bilali, like his contemporary, Bilali Muhammad, also served a slave driver.

 

Bilali's Grandchildren

Photo of Katie Brown of Sapelo Island, Georgia

In the book, Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies Among the Coastal Negroes, published by the Georgia Writers' Project. Sapelo Island residents Katie Brown and Shad Hall share stories about their grandfather, Bilali Muhammad, his wife, Phoebe, and their daughters.

"Magret an uh daughtuh Cotto use tuh say dat Belali an he wife Phoebe pray on duh bead. Dey wuz bery puhticluh bout duh time dey pray an dey bery regluh bout duh hour." -- Katie Brown.

Photograph by Muriel and Malcolm Bell, Jr. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

 

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Michele Nicole Johnson
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