Ayuba Suleiman Diallo
Ayuba Suleiman Diallo
Portrait of Diallo by William Hoare (1733)
|Died||1773 (age 71–72)|
|Other names||Job ben Solomon|
Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (1701–1773), also known as Job Ben Solomon, was a prominent Muslim and slave who was transported to the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade. Born in Bundu, Senegal (West Africa), Ayuba's memoirs were published as one of the earliest slave narratives, that is, a first-person account of the slave trade, in Thomas Bluett's Some Memories of the Life of Job, the Son of the Solomon High Priest of Boonda in Africa; Who was enslaved about two Years in Maryland; and afterwards being brought to England, was set free, and sent to his native Land in the Year 1734. However, this version is not a first-person account. A first-hand account of Ayuba's capture by Mandinkas and eventual return home can be found in Francis Moore's Travels into the Interior Parts of Africa.
Diallo came from a prominent Fulbe family of Muslim religious leaders. His grandfather had founded the town of Bundu, and he grew up with Samba Geladio Diegui the heir (kamalenku) to the kingdom of Futa-Toro. In 1730, Ayuba became a victim of the ever-growing slave exploitation of the Senegambia region. Ayuba and his interpreter Loumein Yoas (also known as “Lamine Jay,” “Lahamin Joy,” “Lahmin Jay,” “Lamine Ndiaye,” and “Loumein Ybai") were near the Gambia River to trade slaves and paper. While visiting some friends on their return trip, Ayuba and Yoas were captured by raiding Mandingoes. The invaders shaved their heads to make them appear as war captives, and thereby supposedly legitimately enslavable, as opposed to their actual condition of people captured in a kidnapping raid for the specific purpose of selling slaves for financial profit. The two men were sold to factors of the Royal African Company. Ayuba subsequently convinced the slave ship captain, a man named Pike, of his high social status and that they had previously met when Ayuba himself was selling slaves and explained his father was capable of paying a ransom. Pike granted Ayuba leave to find someone to send word to Ayuba's family. Since the messenger did not return in time, at the behest of Captain Henry Hunt, Pike's superior, Ayuba and Loumein were sent across the Atlantic to Annapolis, Maryland, where he was delivered to another factor, Vachell Denton. Upon arriving America, Diallo became known by the biblical translation of his name, Job Ben Solomon.
Ayuba was then purchased by Mr Tolsey of Kent Island, Maryland. Ayuba was initially put to work in the tobacco fields; however, after being found unsuitable for such work, he was placed in charge of the cattle. While in captivity, Ayuba used to go into the woods to pray. However, after being humiliated by a child while praying, Ayuba ran away in 1731 and was captured and imprisoned at the Kent County Courthouse. Unfortunately, Ayuba's rationale for escape was not understood until an African translator was located. Able to communicate his needs, Ayuba's owner set aside an area for undisturbed prayer upon the slave's return. It was at the courthouse that he was discovered by a lawyer and Anglican priest, Thomas Bluett of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, travelling through on business.
The lawyer was impressed by Ayuba's ability to write in Arabic. In the narrative, Bluett writes the following:
Upon our Talking and making Signs to him, he wrote a Line or two before us, and when he read it, pronounced the Words Allah and Mahommed; by which, and his refusing a Glass of Wine we offered him, we perceived he was a Mahometan, but could not imagine of what Country he was, or how he got thither; for by his affable Carriage, and the easy Composure of his Countenance, we could perceive he was no common Slave.
When another African who spoke Wolof, a language of a neighbouring African ethnic group, was able to translate for him, it was then discovered that he had aristocratic blood. Encouraged by the circumstances, Tolsey allowed Ayuba to write a letter in Arabic to Africa to send to his father. Eventually, the letter reached the office of James Oglethorpe, Director of the Royal African Company. After having the letter authenticated by John Gagnier, the Laudian Chair of Arabic at the University of Oxford, Oglethorpe purchased Ayuba for £45.
According to his own account, Oglethorpe was moved with sentiment upon hearing the suffering Ayuba had endured. Oglethorpe purchased Ayuba and sent him to the office of the Royal African Company in London. Bluett and Ayuba traveled to England in 1733. During the journey Ayuba learned to communicate in English. However emotionally swayed his letters claimed him to be, Oglethorpe was not so conscientious to leave instructions with the London office of the RAC concerning what to do with Ayuba upon his arrival in late April 1733.
Captain Henry Hunt (or perhaps his brother, William Hunt), one of the original factors in charge of Ayuba's enslavement, arranged for lodging in a country province. Yet Ayuba heard rumours that Hunt was planning to sell him to traders who claimed they would deliver him home. Ayuba, fearing yet more trickery, contacted Bluett and other men whom he had met en route to London. Bluett took Ayuba to his own home in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, and promised not to sell him without letting him know. The RAC, following Oglethorpe's orders, made in part through persistent requests from interested men in London, subsequently paid all the expenses and purchase price of the bond for Ayuba. Ayuba beseeched Bluett once again, explaining that none of this secured he would not be enslaved once again. According to Bluett, all the honourable men involved had promised they would not sell Ayuba into slavery, so, though supposedly Ayuba was not under any threat, Bluett and other sympathizers paid “fifty-nine pounds, six shillings, and eleven pence half-penny” simply to ease Ayuba's anxiety. Englishmen in London and surrounding provinces who had met Ayuba collected money so that his “freedom in form,” an official document seal made and sealed by the RAC. Bluett explained, “Job’s Mind being now perfectly easy,” he could fraternize with London's elite, obtaining many gifts and new friendships, while also being of service to Hans Sloane through his newly acquired ability to translate Arabic into English. His service to Hans Sloane included organizing the collection of Arabic Manuscripts at the British Museum. While in England, Ayuba was in the company of many other prominent people, including the royal family and John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu and his wife, Mary, Duchess of Montagu, which lead him to being inducted into the Spalding Gentlemen's Society.
Though in England, Ayuba continued to pray regularly and observe his Islamic beliefs. He was said to have copied, by hand, the Quran three times from memory. His acquaintances made effort to convert him to Christianity, however, gifting him an Arabic version of the New Testament. Ayuba was already familiar with the Christian belief system, agreeing with the role of Jesus as prophet, but he refuted the concept of the holy Trinity. He considered his monotheistic perception of religion to be incompatible with the Christian belief in "the father," "the son," and "the holy spirit." He found the term "trinity" is not mentioned in the New Testament. He also advised against assignment of human images to God's name, and for this reason, displayed a particular disdain for Roman Catholicism and what he regarded as its characteristic worship of idols.
In July 1734, Ayuba freely returned to Gambia and later returned to his homeland. Of this, Bluett recaps:
About the latter End of July last he embark’d on Board one of the African Company’s Ships, bound for Gambia, where we hope he is safely arrived, to the great Joy of his Friends, and the Honour of the English Nation.
However, Ayuba found that his father had died, and one of his wives, presuming that Ayuba had perished, had remarried. His homeland was ravaged by war, but being a prosperous individual, he was able to regain his old lifestyle. His memoirs were published by Bluett in English and French. Ayuba was an extremely rare exception in the slave trade. Due to his intelligence and monetary prowess, he was able to escape legally the hardships of slavery and return home to Africa.
Ayuba, however, faced later hardships. In June 1736, he was imprisoned or held as a parolee by the French. Ayuba may have been targeted by the French because of his alliances with the British. He was held perhaps for a year by the French, when Ayuba's local countrymen secured his release. He later sent letters to the London RAC to be given transit to visit London, but this request was turned down. Ayuba continued to press his acquaintances in London for Loumein's freedom. Due to Ayuba's commitment and the help of Bluett, Loumein was eventually released from slavery and returned to the Gambia region in 1738.
Ayuba's death was recorded in the minutes of the Spalding Gentlemen's Society in 1773.
A portrait of Diallo, wearing West African traditional clothing, by William Hoare of Bath was painted in 1733. Previously known only from a print, the original painting was purchased by the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) at Christie’s in November 2009.
The UK government imposed a temporary export bar because of its importance to British history and culture. The National Portrait Gallery, London launched an appeal to raise £554,937 to prevent its export. Most of this money was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund and the Gallery launched a public appeal for the remaining £100,000. The money was raised to buy the work but the QMA agreed to lend it instead.
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- Allan D. Austin, African Muslims in Antebellum America: transatlantic stories and spiritual struggles (London: Routledge, 1997), page 61.
- Curtis, Edward E., 1970- (2009). Muslims in America: a short history. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195367560. OCLC 268957395.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- "Thomas Bluett. Some Memoirs of the Life of Job, the Son of Solomon the Highest Priest of Boonda in Africa ..." docsouth.unc.edu. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
- Sylviane Anna Diouf, Servants of Allah: African Muslims enslaved in the Americas (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 165.
- Portraits of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (Job ben Solomon) at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- Ayuba Suleiman Diallo Appeal, National Portrait Gallery website; and BBC News (August 12, 2010) 'Gallery fights to save rare portrait,'
- "Freed slave portrait saved from export". BBC News. 20 January 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
- Austin, Allan D. African Muslims in Antebellum America: transatlantic stories and spiritual struggles. (London: Routledge, 1997).
- Dafter, Ray. An Uncommon Slave: The story of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo as told in an imagined autobiography. (Kibworth, Leics: The Book Guild, 2020). ISBN 978-1-913208-21-9
- Diouf, Sylviane Anna. Servants of Allah: African Muslims enslaved in the Americas. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
- Painter, Nell Creating Black Americans: African-American History and its Meanings, 1619 to Present, Oxford, 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-513755-2
- Bluett, Thomas. Some Memories of the Life of Job, the Son of the Solomon High Priest of Boonda in Africa; Who was a Slave about two Years in Maryland; and afterwards being brought to England, was set free, and sent to his native Land in the Year 1734. London: Richard Ford, 1734.
- Grant, Douglas. The Fortunate Slave: An Illustration of African Slavery in the Early Eighteenth Century. London: Oxford University Press, 1968.
- 'Job ben Solomon,' Gentleman’s Magazine 20 (1750), 272.
- 'London, Nov. 11,' The Virginia Gazette(February 4, 1737), 1; and 'London, Nov. 1,' Boston Weekly- newsletter (January 13, 1737), 1
- Moore, Francis. Travels into the Inland parts of Africa: containing a description of the several nations for the space of Six Hundred Miles up the River Gambia; their Trade, Habits, Customs, Language, Manners, Religion and Government; the Power, Disposition and Characters of some Negro Princes; with a particular Account of Job Ben Solomon, a Pholey, who was in England in the Year 1733, and known by the Name of the African. To which is added, Capt. Stibbs's voyage up the Gambia in the Year 1723, to make Discoveries; with an accurate map of that River taken on the Spot: And many other Copper Plates. Also extracts from the Nubian's Geography, Leo the African, and other authors antient and modern, concerning the Niger-Nile, or Gambia, and Observations thereon. By Francis Moore, Factor several Years to the Royal African Company of England. London: Printed by Edward Cave, at St. John's Gate, for the author, and sold by J. Stagg, in Westminster Hall; and at St. John's Gate aforesaid, 1738, 216, 202, and 213-124.
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