Jefferson’s Muslim Fugitives: The Lost Story of American Slavery and Arabic Emancipation


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project uncovers the astonishing story that surrounds a date wholly lost to US history: October 4, 1807—the day that President Thomas Jefferson was handed Arabic manuscripts penned by two Muslim slaves fleeing their captivity in rural Kentucky. Exposing archival evidence neglected for over two centuries, “Jefferson’s Muslim Fugitives” traces the improbable events that led up to this event and its aftermath, recounting the story of escaped Muslim slaves in the American heartland whose acts of Arabic authorship prompted a US president to advocate on their behalf. Pivoting between parallel stories that unfold from Kentucky to the Atlantic coast, this project also discovers that the arrival of Arabic writings to Washington, DC in 1807 belonged to a broader tradition of private exchange between Muslim slaves and elites in the early United States, reaching from national origins in the 1780s to the end of the civil war in 1865.