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Tue, 02.25.1936

Nicholas Said, Soldier born

Nicholas Said

*The birth of Nicholas Said is celebrated on February 25, 1836. He was a Black translator, soldier, and author.

He was born Muhammed 'Ali Sa'id in Kukawa, Bornu Empire, now a part of Cameroon.  Said was kidnapped and fell victim to the Trans-Saharan slave trade. His aptitude for learning languages led to the elevation of his social position. Having learned Arabic in his youth in Central Africa, he quickly learned the Ottoman Turkish language of his enslavers. Demonstrating proficiency in Russian, he became the servant of Russian Prince Alexander Sergeyevich Menshikov, who provided him with a French tutor after recognizing his exceptional linguistic abilities.

By his 1872 memoirs, he reported familiarity or fluency with the Kanuri, Mandara, Arabic, Turkish, Russian, German, Italian, French, and Armenian languages. Said traveled widely in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Russian Empire, later venturing to the Caribbean, South America, Canada, and the United States. In his account of his life and travels, Said decried the aggression of Usman dan Fodio against his homeland, described his pilgrimage to Mecca, reminisced about a chance encounter with the Czar, and reflected on his conversion from Islam to Christianity in Riga. From 1863 to 1865, Said served in the Union Army 55th the United States Colored Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War.

Neither of his ancestors had ever been enslaved in the United States. Rather, Said elected to immigrate to the United States and then volunteered to fight. Near the war's end, he requested attachment to the Hospital Department to study medicine. An 1867 journalist suggests that, after the war, Said fell in love with an American woman and married her. They are reported to have settled in St. Stephens, Alabama, where Said wrote his memoirs. Because he was living in the Reconstruction-era South, he did not disclose his service in the United States Army in his memoirs. 

Nicholas Said's later life is unclear, but one account has him dying in Brownsville, Tennessee, in 1882. A trophy photograph of Said posing in his U.S. Army uniform during his attachment to the 55th United States Colored Infantry Regiment survives.

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