Ayuba Suleiman Diallo and Slavery in the Atlantic World

Daniel Domingues da Silva (Emory University), July 2007
Job Ben Solomon in in the Gentleman’s Magazine (1750)
Ayuba Suleiman Diallo in the Gentleman’s Magazine (1750)

Before the nineteenth century most people in the world lived under some type of dependency of which slavery was just one form. The story of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo provides insight into a world where slavery was just another social relationship. Ayuba was a Fulbe Muslim known as Job Ben Solomon to Europeans. In 1731, he traveled from Bondu to the Gambia River to sell two slaves at his father’s request. He tried to sell the slaves to a Captain Pike but they could not agree on a price, so Ayuba sold the slaves for cows to another African trader. Ironically, on the way home Ayuba was captured by raiders and sold to the same captain with whom he had recently haggled. Captain Pike carried Ayuba off to Maryland, one of the British colonies on the North American mainland, where he spent about a year as a slave before returning to Africa via England.

In the Americas, Ayuba shared the experiences of many enslaved Africans, and like many of his fellow Africans he attempted to run away. Ayuba was a slave at the tobacco plantations of Kent Island, Maryland. He had probably never worked under a labor regime that approached what was the norm on American plantations. During one of his attempts to escape, he met Thomas Bluett, an Englishmen, who, impressed by Ayuba’s Muslim education, helped him gain his liberty and return to Africa. Indeed, one of Ayuba’s letters still survives in the British Library and his religious convictions inspired images such as the one available in our gallery of images, published originally in 1750 in the Gentleman’s Magazine.

Bluett’s memoirs, published in 1734, provide one of the most complete accounts of Ayuba’s life. Another is available by Francis Moore, who in 1744 published his accounts of travel up the River Gambia, where he met Ayuba. Thanks to the accounts of Bluett and Moore, it is possible to trace in the archives the vessel in which Ayuba crossed the Atlantic. This was the ship “Arabella,” commanded by the said Captain Pike and owned by William and Henry Hunt, merchants of London. (For more details see VoyageID 75094).

Despite his life trajectory, Ayuba’s story has received much less attention than have other known survivors of the Middle Passage such as Olaudah Equiano or Venture Smith. Ayuba Suleiman Diallo was clearly a victim of the traffic as well as a trader in slaves, and indeed he resumed his slave trading activities when he returned to Africa, working for the English Royal African Company. An important lesson to be drawn from Ayuba’s life is that slavery was widely accepted in the mid-eighteenth century among both Europeans and Africans.

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