Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua’s biography is the only known biography
of a former slave from Brazil. Baquaqua was born around 1824 near
Djougou in modern day Benin to a Muslim merchant family. Baquaqua was
captured from Djougou in 1845 while acting as a messenger for a local
king; he was taken to the coast and shipped to Recife, Brazil.
Originally he was sold to a local baker and soon after was sold to a
ship’s captain based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After living in bondage
for two years Baquaqua’s owner took him on a voyage to New York City,
New York where local abolitionists helped Baquaqua secure his freedom in
Baquaqua spent the next two years in Port-au-Prince, Haiti with the
Baptist Free Mission Society. In 1848 Baquaqua, previously Muslim
converted to Christianity and the Baptist missionaries continued to hope
he would return to Africa to become a Christian missionary. In 1849
Baquaqua returned to New York State where he enrolled in New York
Central College in McGrawville, New York, remaining there until 1853. It
is not known if he received a degree.
New York Central College was established by the American Baptist Free
Mission Society to educate white students and former slaves. As such
it was one of a handful of racially integrated colleges in the United
States. It was also the first college to hire African American faculty.
Baquaqua moved to Chatham, Canada West in modern day Ontario in
1853. In 1854 Baquaqua’a biography was taken as an oral narrative while
he spoke mostly in Portuguese, as he knew little English and no
French. He spoke fluent Dendi and Arabic which had been his native
languages in Africa. Although Baquaqua’s oral narrative was recorded in
Portuguese while he resided in Canada, its target audience was the
anti-slavery population of the United States.
In 1855 Baquaqua travelled to Great Britain, still intending to
return to Africa one day as a missionary. However, in 1857 all records
of Baquaqua ceased and it is not known where or how he lived out his