The Compelling Story of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (1701-1773)
Ayuba Suleiman Diallo is best remembered for his memoirs as a Muslim, who in colonial America had to suffer the Atlantic slave trade and enslavement.
In 1734 Thomas Bluett published his personal history with several Accounts of the Life of Job. Till now, they serve in eighteenth-century America as one of the few primary sources of Atlantic slave trade and slave-life.
Diallo was born in 1701 in in the Futa Toro present-day Senegal, West Africa. Born into an influential religious family, Diallo grew up in comfort and luxury, he became a young merchant by 1729.
In that same year 1729, Mandinka slave traders kidnapped him and his translator, Loumein. He was then sold to the Royal African Company, the region’s largest English slave enterprise.
The Royal African Company then sold him to the sea captain who later took him to Annapolis, Maryland. Diallo began his new life in the British colonies as an enslaved person.
Diallo was immediately put to work in the tobacco fields, but because he was not used to hard manual labour, he was soon assigned to herding cattle.
Since slave-owners had punished slaves who kept practicing their African beliefs and Islam in particular, Diallo kept his religion for some time secret until a child found him praying to Allah.
Diallo was publicly embarrassed as he wanted to follow his religion, he tried to escape from his owner in 1731 but was soon arrested and imprisoned in the in Kent County, Maryland courthouse.
While in jail, he met with Rev. Thomas Bluett, a lawyer, judge, and missionary who was fascinatingly impressed by the skill of reading and writing in Arabic by Diallo.
He was also fluent in the Wolo flanguage, which he interpreted for Bluett. Although Diallo was returned to his owner, Bluett did help Diallo convince the owner of his noble origins. Diallo also wrote an Arabic letter in Futa Toro for his father.
However it reached the Royal African Company director, James Oglethorpe. Oglethorpe bought Diallo, set him free and sent him to London to start a new life. There Diallo interacted with the professional elite members of London.
He also had to deal with slave catchers among certain connections who wanted to trap him and sell him to other slave traders. He approached Bluett, who was in London at the time.
With a view to his safety, Bluett raised funds from the London elite including the Duke and Duchess of Montague, members of the Royal Family to permit Diallo back to Futa Toro. Diallo agreed in response to allow Bluett to write his autobiographies, which were only completed after Diallo arrived in West Africa.
Diallo returned to discover in 1734 that his father had passed, and his wives remarried. Nevertheless, Diallo was able to see his children and live in Futa Toro. Ironically, he went to work for the Royal African Company as an interpreter and slave trader, until his death at the age of 72 in 1773.
However, the memories of Diallo that Bluett published are among the earliest of the slave narratives that became popular with British and American abolitionists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His story is also still regarded as a key element of understanding slave trade in the Atlantic.