A Slave Narrative: Job Ben Solomon or Ayuba Sulaiman Ibrahim

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Portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, called Job ben Solomon (1701-1773) in African dress, with the Qu'ran around his neck

One of many to make the Middle Passage as a slave, Job Ben Solomon was one of the few to make a return trip to Africa.

Slave traders within the African interior rarely kidnapped persons of status for sale to the Europeans. Europeans preferred those used to hard labor, not “smooth negroes” with soft hands and little strength. Occasionally, however, they made a mistake. The kidnapping of Ayuab bin Sulaiman, bin Ibrahim, or Job Ben Solomon, was one such mistake.

Ayuba bin Sulaiman, bin Ibrahim’s Slave-Trading Adventure

In the Muslim Kingdom of Futa Jallon, in the town of Boonda, there lived a high priest or “imam”. His son Ayuba bin Sulaiman bin Ibrahim was a well-educated and well-recognized member of the region. In his late 20s, Ayuba went on a slave-trading mission to sell two of his own slaves to African slave traders. Slave-owning was a common practice in Ayuba’s kingdom and his slaves were likely pagans (non-Muslim). On this slave-trading mission, however, Ayuba was about to become a slave himself, leaving behind two wives, three sons, and one daughter.

African Slave Trade – Kidnapping Slaves

The majority of slaves coming out of Africa were kidnapped in some fashion and Job Ben Solomon (the English version of his name) was no exception. Rather than purchase his slaves, the Malinke traders decided to kidnap the unsuspecting Ayuba as well.

As was the custom, Job Ben Solomon found himself attached by a coffle to the other slaves and forcibly marched to the coast for sale to the European slave traders there. In such circumstances, it was difficult to run away. The kidnapped were tied together, heavily guarded, and typically required to carry the traders’ baggage and equipment as well.

Slave Ship to America and the Middle Passage

As an African elite, Job Ben Solomon likely did not fare as well as the others on his forced march. When he reached the coast, he was sold to the captain of the ship Arabella, Captain Stephen Pike. Somehow, Job Ben Solomon managed to communicate his circumstances to Captain Pike. It is most likely that an African who spoke both English and Arabic was able to translate. A ransom request was dispatched to Solomon’s father, but his home was too far away for an answer to be received in time. Like many enslaved Africans before and after him, Job Ben Solomon endured a slave ship voyage. Maryland became his New World destination where he was sold to a tobacco farmer.

Job Ben Solomon Fugitive Slave

Solomon ran away from Mr. Tolsey, the tobacco farmer, but was later found in Pennsylvania and returned to him. It was only then that he was allowed to compose a letter to his father in Africa. This letter led the charitable James Oglethorpe to post Solomon’s bond which allowed Solomon to travel to England.

Solomon Translates the Koran

After discovering Solomon’s extensive knowledge of the Koran and elite status in Africa, Bluett arranged for the two of them to travel together to England in 1734. There, Solomon perfected his English and translated the Koran, which he had memorized by age 15 as part of his imam training. He was recognized in England for his intellectual achievements, becoming something of a celebrity, and he even met the King and Queen. His translation of the Koran is preserved in Oxford.

Less than three years from his kidnapping, Job Ben Solomon sailed back to Africa courtesy of the Royal African Company. Purchasing a slave woman and two horses, he made it back to Boonda to bask in a joyous reunion with family and friends. A notable exception to the welcome-party, however, was his father who had passed away in his absence. Solomon was one of only a few enslaved Africans to be repatriated. Unfortunately, according to Rediker’s The Slave Ship: A Human History, he used that opportunity to promote the interests of the Royal African Company in his own region of influence.

Sources:

  1. Black and Asian Studies: Job Ben Solomon.
  2. Rediker, Marcus. The Slave Ship: A Human History. New York, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-67001823-9
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