Abdurrahman Ibrahim Sori: A prince among slaves

Abdurrahman Ibrahim Sori was a 19th century Muslim prince from western Africa who was captured and sold into slavery in the US, where he lived as a slave for 40 years until he won his freedom.

Abdurrahman Ibrahim Sori: A prince among slaves

Ertan Karpazli / World Bulletin

Since 1926, the US has been celebrating Black History in the month of February. After originally being celebrated in a week which emcompassed the birthday of former president Abraham Lincoln, who worked to end the slavery of African-Americans, the occasion was extended to a month in 1976. In this month, people all across the US are encouraged to learn about African history and the struggle of the African-Americans for freedom.

After the death of anti-apartheid activist and South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela on December 5, 2013, the life of this great icon of struggle will take presidence in this year's Black History Month. However, one fact that most Americans are unaware of is that the US once hosted a Mandela of its own around 200 years ago.

Abdurrahman Ibrahim Sori was born in 1762 in present-day Guinea and was a prince from the Fulani tribe, who ruled over the Kingdom of Fouta Djallon. At the age of 12 he left to study in Timbuktu, Mali, where he was trained as a lawyer. He was also a trained soldier, and would often lead his father's army divisions to battle against rival tribes. However, in 1788, after his division fell victim to an ambush, he was captured and sold to British slave-traders.

He was taken across the ocean to New Orleans in an agonizing journey which saw the death of many men, women and children who had also been enslaved. On arrival, he was sold to a man called Thomas Foster, who would force Abdurrahman to work on his cotton and tobacco plantation in Natchez, Mississippi.

Despite insisting that he was the prince of a kingdom far richer than the United States and that his father could easily pay a lump sum ransom, Abdurrahman's pleas went unheard. However, his intelligence, hard-work and literacy skills quickly won him admirers among his fellow slaves as well as Foster himself.

In 1794 he married Isabella, another slave he met on Foster's plantation who would in the coming years become mother to his nine children. Foster also made Abdurrahman the de facto foreman of the slaves, giving him the right to grow his own vegetable garden and sell his produce at the local market.

One day while working at the market, Abdurrahman was greeted by a man by the name of Dr. John Cox, who was an Irish surgeon and the first European to ever visit Abdurrahman's kingdom in Africa. After immediately recognizing Abdurrahman as being the son of the very same man who helped him during his visit to the kingdom, Cox offered to buy Abdurrahman from Foster with the intention of setting him free. Foster, however, refused a number of offers from Cox.

Cox then spent the following two decades until his death lobbying the media to campaign for Abdurrahman's release. Meanwhile, Abdurrahman became aware of a 1776 treaty signed between the US and the Kingdom of Morocco which granted all Moors the freedom to live in the US without being enslaved. As Abdurrahman was a Moor by legal definition, his slavery was a breach of this treaty. Cox also caught the attention of local newspaper editor Andrew Marschalk, who wrote to the then Secretary of State Henry Clay. At first the then president John Quincy Adams was willing to cooperate to secure Abdurrahman's release, but on finding out that Abdurrahman was not from Morocco, he changed his mind.

The American Colonization Society then offered to take up Abdurrahman's cause on the condition that he helps them convert slaves to Christianity by writing the Lord's Prayer in Arabic. For Abdurrahman this was not possible as he was a Muslim, so instead he simply wrote the Al-Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Qur'an, in Arabic and told them it was the Lord's Prayer. Of course, years later the Society found out what he had done and they were not pleased.

In 1826, newspaper editor Andrew Marschalk forwarded a letter Abdurrahman had written to Senator Thomas Reed, who then forwarded it to the US Consulate in Morocco. The letter eventually reached the King of Morocco himself, who then pressured President Adams for Abdurrahman's release. Finally, in 1829, after 40 years of slavery, Abdurrahman was released by Foster on the condition that he returns home and does not live as a free man in the US.

However, no promises were made regarding his wife and nine children. He had enough money to buy his wife, paying $200 for her. He then began travelling the country to raise the funds to free his children, but was only able to raise enough money to free two of them, who directly went to live with their mother Isabella in Liberia. After 10 months, Abdurrahman also decided to head to Liberia to join his wife, where he enjoyed the remaining four months of his life in freedom.

However, at the age of 67, he contracted a fever a passed away before he could return to his homeland Fouta Djallon, or see the rest of his children again.

Last Mod: 20 Şubat 2014, 15:19
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