central pennsylvania african american history for everyone
              ten years on the web 1997 - 2007


Jim Johnston is bringing Yarrow Mamout to
 Montgomery County Feb. 28

Recent Letters from Jean Libby and other scholars

8 February 2007
Jean Libby to Afrolumens Project and others:

Jim Johnston, a Washington DC attorney and avid history researcher and author, is talking to the Montgomery County Genealogical Society (100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville) on Wednesday, February 28, 7:30 p.m.  Last year, on February 5, his article on Yarrow Mamout, “The Man in the Knit Cap” painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1819  and James Simpson in 1822, was published in The Washington Post. A talented and famous African of Fulani heritage, literate in Arabic and 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 was skilled at several crafts, including brickmaking, and was probably once employed at Antietam Ironworks in Washington County.

In his research, Jim Johnston contacted many people in the Washington County area beginning (as we all do) 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 1879 map of the county.  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.

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. Perhaps not coincidentally, Jim’s article in The Washington Post ( ) notes that Rev. Thomas Balch praised Yarrow Mamout in a sermon in Georgetown in 1859 – although he had died in 1823. The Simpson portrait of Yarrow, wearing a knit cap, hangs in the Georgetown Library. 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.”

Three of the Allies for Freedom authors (Evelyn M.E. Taylor, Jean Libby, and John Lawlor) were happy to talk with Jim Johnston in his quest. John Lawlor (Reading Area Community College) author of an article on John Brown resources at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in John Brown’s Family in California (Allies for Freedom, 2006), was personally helpful in accessing the Mason Report Records there. This new book, and John Brown Mysteries (in which Evelyn M.E. Taylor has a scholarly article on the local black population of Jefferson County in 1859), are now available for libraries and universities through Baker & Taylor, distributors. John Brown’s Family in California will be featured in the April 2007 issue of Paper Clips. Allies for Freedom publications are accessible for full citation information and individuals online at

There’s more: Jim Johnston can be seen in an interview on the Montgomery County Cable TV network on your computers. The show is called "Coming Attractions." It's at the 4 p.m. slot. Go to the 4 p.m. show "Coming Attractions" at this link and click "Watch." You will need a broadband connection and a newer computer, but the link works. 

You can see Jim’s photos on the new Allies for Freedom “African Survival” page:

Jean Libby, editor
Allies for Freedom,


Johnston, James H. 2006. “The Man in the Knit Cap.” [Yarrow Mamout] The Washington Post Sunday Magazine. Vol. 12 (February 5, 2006).
Lawlor, John M. “Records Pertaining to John Brown at the National Archives and Records Administration.” John Brown’s Family in California; a journey by funeral train, covered wagon, through archives, to the Valley of Heart’s Delight, including the years 1833-1926, and honoring descendants of the Women Abolitionists of Santa Clara County, now known as Silicon Valley. Jean Libby, editor. Palo Alto, CA: Allies for Freedom, 2006: 20-23.
Taylor, Evelyn M.E. “In Harm’s Way: African Americans in Jefferson County, [West Virgnia] 1859.” John Brown Mysteries by Allies for Freedom. Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing, Inc.: 44-52.  1


1. Correspondence, Jean Libby to Afrolumens Project, 19 September 2006.
2. Peale's portrait of Yarrow Mamout:

Other Correspondence from Jean Libby 


Original material on this page copyright 2007 Afrolumens Project
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This page was updated 10 February 2007.