Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, also known as Job Ben Solomon, was a prominent Fulani Muslim prince from Guinea, West Africa who was kidnapped on his way to sell two slaves by the Mandinkas and shipped to the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade.
Ayuba Suleiman, a member of the Muslim Fulbe people, was born in Bundu, West Africa, around 1700. His family was known for their religious leadership in the community. During his childhood, Ayuba studied the Quran and Arabic with Sambo, the prince of Futa. By the time he reached the age of 31, Ayuba had settled down with two wives and four young children, namely Abdullah, Ibrahim, Sambo, and Fatimah. Unfortunately, it was at this point that Ayuba’s life took a tragic turn.
In 1730, Ayuba embarked on a trading mission to the Gambia, located on the Atlantic coast, where Portuguese and British commercial ports were established. He intended to procure supplies like paper and sell two slaves. However, while en route to the coast, Ayuba and his translator were ambushed and taken captive by Mandingo slavers. To avoid suspicion, the captors shaved their heads, disguising themselves as war prisoners, which made them appear as legitimate targets for enslavement. Subsequently, Ayuba and his fellow captives were sold by the slavers to European slave traders.
Ayuba’s journey into slavery was a harrowing one. He was taken to Annapolis, Maryland, where his name was changed from Ayuba Suleiman Diallo to the biblical translation of his name, Job Ben Solomon. Afterward, he was sold to a certain Mr. Tolsey, who resided on 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 cattles.
During his enslavement, Ayuba frequently sought solace in prayer by retreating to the nearby woods. However, after being humiliated by a child while praying, Ayuba ran away in 1731, but was captured and imprisoned at the Kent County Courthouse.
It was at the courthouse that he was discovered by a lawyer and Anglican priest, Thomas Bluett of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, travelling through on business.
The lawyer was impressed by Ayuba’s ability to write in Arabic. In his 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.
Ayuba was held in custody until another captive who spoke Wolof was found, allowing him to communicate his needs. He informed them of his noble birth and requested a private space for prayer. Mr. Tolsey, encouraged by the situation, designated an area for Ayuba’s undisturbed prayer and allowed him to write a letter in Arabic to his father in West Africa upon his return.
Unfortunately, Ayuba’s letter was intercepted by James Oglethorpe, Director of the Royal African Company. Moved by Ayuba’s plight, Oglethorpe purchased him for £45 and sent him to the RAC office in London with Rev. Thomas Bluett, without clear instructions regarding his fate upon arrival in late April 1733.
During the journey, Ayuba learned to communicate in English with Bluett, enabling him to share his story with those who were interested upon arrival in London. While there, Ayuba made good use of his time by acquiring the ability to translate Arabic to English. He even assisted Sir Hans Sloane, a British physician, collector, and founder of the British Museum, by organizing the collection of Arabic manuscripts.
During his time in England, Ayuba had the opportunity to interact with several notable individuals, including members of the royal family and John Montagu, the 2nd Duke of Montagu, and his wife Mary, the Duchess of Montagu. As a result, he was inducted into the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society.
Despite being in a new environment, Ayuba maintained his regular practice of prayer and continued to observe his Islamic beliefs. Although some of his acquaintances attempted to convert him to Christianity, their efforts were unsuccessful. Ayuba was so well-versed in Islam that he was rumored to have hand-copied the Quran three times from memory.
Ayuba continued working for Sir Hans Sloane until July 1734, when he freely returned to his homeland in Africa. On arrival he found that his father had died, and one of his wives, presuming that Ayuba had perished, had remarried.
After settling down, Ayuba began pressing his acquaintances in London to help secure the release of the interpreter who had been kidnapped along with him several years earlier. Despite facing difficulties, Ayuba persisted in his efforts, and eventually, Reverend Bluett was able to locate the translator and purchase his freedom with funds provided by the British royal family. In 1737, the translator was liberated and brought from America to London before being transported to Gambia, where he arrived in February 1738.
Ayuba Sulayman Diallo lived for another 40 years after his return to Africa, dying peacefully in 1773 at the age of 72 and was buried in the land of his ancestors.
Ayuba’s death was recorded in the minutes of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society in 1773.
Ayuba Suleiman’s memoirs were published as one of the earliest slave narratives, 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. A first-hand account of Ayuba’s capture by Mandinkas and eventual return home can be found in Francis Moore’s Travels into the Inland Parts of Africa.