With the recent popularity of the film 12 Years a Slave and focus on Solomon Northup’s the tragic story story, we tend to forget the millions of other precious souls whose lives were stolen, during what is referred to, euphemistically, as the “peculiar institution” of American slavery.
Abdul Rahman Sori’s is one example. In 1788 Sori was 26 years old and heir to the throne of one of the largest kingdoms in Africa (present-day Guinea, Fouta Djallon) when he was captured, in an ambush, and was sold to English slavers. Abdul Rahman Sori endured over 40 years of enslavement before he was freed. Abdul Rahman Sori describes his story and subsequent ordeal in part;
“I was born in the city of Tombuctoo. My Father had been living in Tombuctoo, but removed to be King in Teembo, in Foota Jallo. his name was Almam Abrahim. I was five years old when my father carried me from Tombuctoo. I lived in Teembo, mostly, until I was twenty one and followed the horesen. I was made Captain when I wasn twenty-one – after they put me to that , and found that I have a vergy good head, at twenty-four they made me Colonel. At the age of twenty six, they sent me to fight the Hebohs, because they destroyed the vessels taht came to the coast, and prevented our trade. When we fought, I defeated them. But they wen tback one hundred miles into the country, and hid themselves in the mountain. We coud not see them, and didn not expect there was any enemy. When we got there we, dismounted and led our hourses, until we were half way up the mountain. Theyn they fired upon us. We saw the smoke, we heard the guns, wes saw the people drop down. I told every one to run until we reached the top of the hill, then to wait for each other until all came there, and we would fight them. After I had arrived as the summit, i could see no one excpet my guard. they followed us, and we ran and fought. I saw this would not do. i told every one to run who wished to do so. Every one who wished to run , fled. I said I will not run for a Kufr. I got down from my horse and sat down. ………They sold me directly, with fity others, to an English ship. They took me to the Islamd of Dominica. After that I was taken to New Orleans. they the took me to Natchez and Colonel Foster brought me. I hae lived with Colonel Foster 40 years. thirty years I laboured hard. the last ten years I have been indulged a good deal. I have left five children behind and eight grand children. I feel sad, to think of leaving my children behind me. I desire to go back to my own country again; but when I think of my childre, it hurts my feelings. If I go to my own country, I cannot fell happy, if my children are left. I hope by God’s assistance, to recover them.”
Sadly, despite monumental effort, Abdul Rahman Sori, was unable to free his all of his children or return to his home. Learn more about this story:
About the Film: Prince Among Slaves
Unrated, 1 hr., Documentary, Special Interest, Directed By: Andrea Kalin , Bill Duke
Tells the true story of a little known African American hero, an African prince who was sold into slavery in the American South in 1788. His name was Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Sori, and he remained enslaved for forty years, before ultimately regaining his freedom and returning to Africa.
The broad outline of Abdul Rahman’s biography reads like a fairytale: A young prince falls from a life of power and privilege into exile and enslavement in a strange land. There he endures unimaginable indignities, yet carves out a life, marries a woman enslaved like himself, and has children. Then, through improbable circumstances, including meeting President John Quincy Adams at the White House, he is granted his freedom and returns to his homeland, but not before he rescues his wife from enslavement and sees his royal status recognized in the very land that held him in bondage.
About the Book: Prince Among Slaves by Terry Alford
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press; 30th anniversary edition (September 19, 2007)
In this remarkable work, Terry Alford tells the story of Abd al Rahman Ibrahima, a Muslim slave who, in 1807, was recognized by an Irish ship’s surgeon as the son of an African king who had saved his life many years earlier. “The Prince,” as he had become known to local Natchez, Mississippi residents, had been captured in war when he was 26 years old, sold to slave traders, and shipped to America.
Slave [editor's note: the word enslaved is more appropriate in this context ] though he was, Ibrahima was an educated, aristocratic man, and he was made overseer of the large cotton and tobacco plantation of his master, who refused to sell him to the doctor for any price. After years of petitioning by Dr. Cox and others, Ibrahima finally gained freedom in 1828 through the intercession of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Clay. Sixty-six years old, Ibrahima sailed for Africa the following year, with his wife, and died there of fever just five months after his arrival.
The year 2007 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Prince Among Slaves, the only full account of Ibrahima’s life, pieced together from first-person accounts and historical documents gathered on three continents. It is not only a remarkable story, but also the story of a remarkable man, who endured the humiliation of slavery without ever losing his dignity or his hope for freedom. This thirtieth anniversary edition, which will be released to coincide with a major documentary being aired on Ibrahima’s life, has been updated to include material discovered since the original printing, a fuller presentation and appreciation of other African Muslims in American slavery-Ibrahima’s contemporaries-and a review of new and important literature and developments in the field.
Terry Alford is a Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College.