Mohammed Ali Sa'id: Introduction

Paul E. Lovejoy

Mohammed Ali Sa’id was born in Kukawa, the capital of Borno, in the mid 1830s. His father was Barka Gana, the Kachella or general of the Borno army, of slave status, under the reform government of Shehu Muhammad al-Kanemi. He was enslaved when he was in his mid teens, apparently in 1851. He subsequently was sold across the Sahara, where he was owned by several masters before coming into the service of Prince Alexander Sergeyevich Menshikov (1787-1869), the Russian ambassador to the Ottoman court, and taken to St. Petersburg. After travels in Western Europe, he traveled to North America and the Caribbean in the service of Isaac Jacobus Rochussen and  his bride, Katherine Anne Drake. After residing at the Aylmer Hotel, across from Ottawa, he moved to Detroit, where he taught school. He enlisted in the 55th Massachusetts Regiment of the Union Army and fought in the Civil War. After the Civil War, he lived in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama and is thought to have died in Brownsville, Tennessee in 1882, although doubts have been raised about his death. As a result of his extensive travels, Nicholas Said, his Christian name, was fluent in Kanuri (his vernacular), Mandara, Arabic, Turkish, Russian, German, Italian, French and English. An initial account of Sa’id's memoirs was published in Atlantic Monthly in 1867, and a photograph of Sa’id in a Union uniform is in the Massachusetts Historical Society. 

Nicholas Said Autobiography332.87 KB