Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (1701–1773), also known as Job ben Solomon, was a famous Muslim who was a victim of 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.
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. Mandingoes. 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,” “Loumein Ybai,” and “Lamine Jay”) were near the Gambia River to trade slaves and paper. While visiting some friends on their return trip, Ayuba and Yoas were captured by invading 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 English Captain Pike of his high social status, and explained his father was capable of paying 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.
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 and was captured and imprisoned at the Kent County Courthouse. It was there that he was discovered by a lawyer, Thomas Bluett, traveling 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 neighboring African ethnic group, was able to translate for him, it was then discovered that he had aristocratic blood. Encouraged by the circumstances, Mr. Tolsey allowed Ayuba to write a letter in Arabic to Africa. 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 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 London 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 rumors 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 arranged for Ayuba’s stay in Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. 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 honorable 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 Ayubya’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. Ayuba was in the company of many other prominent people, including the royal family and the Duke and Duchess of Montague. In July 1734, Ayuba returned to Gambia and later returned to his homeland. 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, and Englishmen’s desire to use him to increase their own profits in trade on the coast of Africa, he was able to legally escape 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, rather than the British, secured his release. He later sent letters to the London RAC to visit London, but this request was denied. His death was recorded in the minutes of the Spalding Gentleman’s Society in 1773
Notably, none of Ayuba’s English contemporaries mention the conditions and experience of Ayuba and Loumein during the Middle Passage. Ayuba continued to press London factors for Loumein’s freedom. Due to Ayuba’s commitment and the help of Bluett, Loumein was eventually returned to the Gambia region in 1738.
The portrait of Diallo by William Hoare of Bath was painted in 1733. Previously known only from a print, the original was believed lost. It was not seen in public until 2010, it was offered to the National Portrait Gallery in London, which launched an appeal to raise its cost of £554,937 (with a deadline of 25 August 2010) to prevent its export. Most of this money was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund; the Gallery launched a public appeal for the remaining £100,000. In the interim the portrait is on display at the Gallery.