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The Folger Spotlight

Collection Connections: ‘The Moor’s Account’

Held on the first Thursday of the month, the Folger’s virtual book club is free and open to all. To spark discussion, Folger staff provide historical context, throw in trivia, and speak to relevant items from the library collection in a brief presentation to participants before small-group discussion begins. Here, Rachel B. Dankert, Learning and Engagement Librarian, shares the items she presented on February 4, 2021 as an introduction to The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami. Discussion questions from the evening can be found here.

Mustafa ibn Muhammad ibn Abdussalam al-Zamori, who was officially known as Estebanico, was the enslaved fourth survivor of the ill-fated Narvaez expedition. Through his eyes, readers of The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami travel, suffer, rejoice, and mourn with him. Freedom and comfort prove elusive, but his account (as imagined by Lalami) gives us the opportunity to see with clear eyes our well-traversed land for the first time.

Regardless of his circumstances, including his enslaver’s refusal to allow him to pray, Mustafa recites portions of the Quran from memory as a comfort and supplication. This example of an explanatory companion to the Quran shows reverence and care in its creation.

Multi-page manuscript with arabic writing and an elaborate black and gold decoration on the right-hand side

Al-taʻwīl fī maʻānī al-tanzīl [Exegesis on the Koran, chapter 27 to the end], 1093 A.H. [1682]. Folger Shakespeare Library: V.b.315.

Mustafa’s enslavement haunts his entire account. Even when the venturing men adapt to a new civilization and Mustafa achieves status and renown, the bonds of his enslavement hang over his relationship with Dorantes.

Handwritten document with two columns and signatures on the bottom; the lefthand column lists names of people as items

Indenture with Pentecost Teague of Philadelphia, merchant, John Popel’s attorney, and Colonel Robert Quary of Philadelphia, Esq., 1709 December 12. Folger Shakespeare Library: Y.d.554 .

In this indenture, we see many black slaves from Barbados listed as “items” among chattel, bonds, and promissory notes transferred to Pentecost Teague of Philadelphia. Like Mustafa’s forced name Estebanico, we wonder if Yarmouth, Faymouth, and the others listed here knew themselves by these names.

As the Narvaez expedition wander-marched westward, their numbers decreased and their encounters with indigenous peoples became more frequent. As the expedition’s numbers dwindled, their brazen thieving and cruelty decreased, but their imperial ambitions did not. In this headpiece and capital fac totum, we see the initial and ultimate outcomes of so many colonization attempts. In the beginning, seeming peace and accord devolves into the massacre of indigenous peoples.

First page of 'An accurate description of America,' with an illustration across the top showing Western soldiers encountering an Indigenous tribe

America: being the latest, and most accurate description of the New World…1671. Folger Shakespeare Library: O165.

To immerse yourself in the real-world materials that influenced this month’s pick, visit our curated collection of The Moor’s Account images.

Shakespeare bust with glassesRegistration for the March 4 session on Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed opens Tuesday, February 9 at 4pm. We hope you make a plan to join us!