The Story of One Family: The Mahomet (Mahammitt) Family of Frederick, Hagerstown, and Baltimore, Maryland
The story of Mahomet was passed down to me from my mother, and from her sister, who received it from their father, Thomas Montgomery Gregory (see picture below, taken around 1910). T.M. Gregory received the story from his mother, "Ma Fannie," whose own mother, Margaret Mahammitt, was, as far as we know, the daughter of Jeremiah/Ali Mahomet from Madagascar. My grandfather, T.M. Gregory, remembered that his ancestor had arrived free to settle in Frederick County in a community known as "Jerusalem," situated in the western hills of Frederick, Maryland. We have since found census records and commerical records of Jeremiah Mahomet, his daughter Margaret, and numerous other cousins in the region, including Hagarstown, Frederick and Baltimore. To see an update on the state of the data on the Mahomet family and descendents, click here.
T.M. Gregory, well known writer for the CRISIS Magazine of the NAACP, former principal of Atlantic City High School, and activist in the New Negro Theater Movement. Gregory attended Harvard and graduated in 1910, and later became the Director of the Drama Department at Howard University in Washington, D.C. To learn more about the father of T.M. Gregory, James Monroe Gregory, click here to visit a site on his activities in Ohio. The author above is a grandaughter of T.M. Gregory.
The story of the first American generation of the Mahomet family, and of the life of this family in Madagascar, was further refined by my mother's second cousin, Jeremiah Mahammitt, in 1987, who managed to remember many words in Malagasy. We traced the vocabulary and the pronounciation to the Majunga - Maravoy area. Other stories of dances, music, living conditions and ceremonies helped to confirm this geographic area of origin. Visit other sites dealing with the Gregory family: T.M. Gregory, for James Monroe Gregory. The site of one of his great-great-grandsons, Ernest James Wilson, can be visited, as well as the site of Robin Gregory, another of his grandaughters. Her daughter, Aisha, can be found on cable TV on the show "Alphabet Soup." Other sites which give information on this family can be visited at the following addresses: site of June Cross, "Secret Daughter:" and Early Arab Immigrants:
James Monroe Gregory (nee Lewis; son of Maria Gladman Lewis and William Lewis of Lynchburg, VA) knew Fredrick Douglass, and introduced him at a meeting on race relations in the 1880s. James Monroe met Douglass through his stepfather, Henry Gregory. His mother married Henry Gregory after the death of her husband William Lewis. J.M. Gregory and Douglass were at a black men's conference on race issues in Cinncinatti in 1883. They also probably came in contact in Wash., D.C. in the 1880s and before Douglass died in 1895. Reverend J.T. Jenifer, at the funeral sermon for Douglass, mentioned how Gregory met Douglass at the home of the former's father, Henry Gregory, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. This sermon is printed in full in the 1895 edition of Gregory's biography of Frederick Douglass. (from historical research of Francille Rusan Wilson).
Althought his picture says Margaret Hagan, we have figured out, thanks to Sheila Gregory Thomas, that this is actually a picture of her daughter, Fannie Whiting. Margaret Mohamet, after divorcing with Stephen Hagan, married Isaac Whiting in Frederick MD on 18 December, 1850. She was the daughter of Jeremiah Mahomet, who sold real estate and horses in Frederick at that time, and who we believe is the first of the family to come to the United States from Madagascar. . Her daugher was Fannie Emma Whiting, who married James Monroe Gregory, as above. According to other census records, Margaret was 24 in 1850, and there was another household in Hagerstown, of Josia, 24; his wife Mary, who had 2 daughters, and Jerry Mahammitt, who was 17 at the time . Problematically, there is also an Isiah Mahomet listed in the 1851 marriage records for Hagerstown, who marries a Margaret Cain in Washington County, MD. These may possibly be the same person. Also in the Frederick census of 1850, there is a Jerry Mahomet of 50 years of age, with a wife, Sarah, who is 48 years old. According to research done by Sheila Gregory Thomas, Margaret Mohamet was quite an entrepeneur, and established several businesses during her lifetime. Among those, a laundry employing more than ten laundresses in Baltimore, and in the 1860s, a health spa in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Her business in Williamsport was well-enough known to have received a write up in the Williamsport Gazette during the time that she was there. She is remembered by her family as an autocratic personality. An interesting coincidence, Pascal Beverly Randolph, later to become a member of the Freedman's Commission (and director of the first Rosecrucian chapter in the U.S.) also lived in Pennsylvania at this time, and studied in Philadelphia at a school for use of electricity in health spas, likely the same school Margaret attended. Randolph also claimed Malagasy descent through his mother, who, he said, came to the U. S. through Virginia.
In 1870, there is a Serena Mahammitt, aged 50 years, listed as mulatto, in Frederick., and an Emma Mahammitt, who is 35 years old, and a John T. Mahammitt, who is age 7. Then, there is Jerry H. Mahammitt in Frederick, MD., in 1865, living with Mary, Beatrrice, and Sarah. In 1870, there is also Clara J. Mahammitt, age 3, and Cora V. Mahammitt, age 2, as well as Nanni Mahammitt, age 6 months. Some are listed as mulatto, and some as black. This may simply be a reflection of their appearance to the census taker, rather than a clear description of any particular lineage.
Serina Mahammitt is listed in the Baltimore City Death Index as having died on the 7th of July, 1879. In the 1881 Baltimore City Directory, there are: Edward L. Mahammett, living at 27 Jordan Alley, Jeremiah Mahammett, Senior, living at 38 St. Mary, Mary E. Mahammitt at Madison Avenue and Wilson; and Thomas Mahammett, also living at 38 St. Mary.
Research has not yet confirmed why a Madagascan would arrive with the name of Mahomet. It could be that the family were related to certain families near Maravoy who intermarried with the Arabs of Muscat, known generally as the "Antalaotra." The traditions, ceremonies and vocabulary which are remembered point to a Saklave heritage with Antalaotra ties. Some believe that Mahomet was part of the family that was scattered during the beginning invasions of the Merina armies from the south east. Another point of view is that this was a name imposed by French authorities with whom Mahomet may have had contact, or even been captured and enslaved by at some point. We do know that he arrived in Baltimore free, continued to Frederick, and set up house where he eventually engaged in commerce. A few records have been found making reference to the buying and selling of horses, as well as land.
My cousin, a more recent Jeremiah Mahammitt, in interviews of 1987, gave his rendering of the story as he heard it, according to him "from the old people." He remembered songs, dances, religious practices and some Malagasy vocabulary. He was around 63 years of age at the time of the interview. His grandfather, who is buried in Frederick, was John T. Mahammitt, as described above. Family stories also connect Mahomet with Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who is said to have been an acquaintance and business partner on occasion.
Jeremiah Mahomet, the grandson of the first immigrant in the family, is buried in Mt. Pleasant, Frederick County, Maryland in the family cemeter of Wayman A.M.E. Church. Other family members are also enterred there, including Charlotte Mahammitt, who is survived by her mother Ruth, and her daughter Diane, both of Frederick, Maryland.
We have cousins in New Jersey and are hoping that we will some day be able to compare family stories with them. Any one who may have related information can write to MOHAMET-L@rootsweb.com
The first words he remembered when we started the interviews were kanaka loa, meaning first son. These words must have had an important place in the oral histories which he listened to.
Please contact the MOHAMET-List at Rootsweb if you have information regarding this vocabulary or related subjects.
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