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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Making of African American Identity: Volume I, 1500-1865
The Making of African American Identity: Volume I, 1500-1865
Theme: FreedomTheme: EnslavementTheme: CommunityTheme: IdentityTheme: Emancipation
Theme: Freedom

Senegal and Guinea, Africa, map, 2008, detail
Senegal & Guinea
- Ayuba Suleiman Diallo describes his homeland of Bondu, 1734 (PDF)
- Abdul Rahman Ibrahima describes his homeland of Futa Jalon, 1828 (PDF)

How did Africans live in freedom in Africa before enslavement in the Americas? Specifically, how did the ancestors of many African Americans live their lives in west Africa in the 1700s and 1800s? Before we enter the main focus of this Toolbox—the making of African American identity before 1865—we will consider the African identity of those who were captured, enslaved, and brought to North America to be sold. What do they remember, and relate, of their African homelands?

First, let us review the geography of the slave trade. Over 95% of the Africans brought to the British mainland colonies and the United States came from the following regions of Africa.1 (View a map of these regions, from Emory University.)

Region   Current Nations
1. Senegambia 22% Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau
2. Sierra Leone 11% Sierra Leone, Guinea
3. Windward Coast 6% Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
4. Gold Coast 12% Ghana
5. Bight of Benin 3% Togo, Benin, SW Nigeria
6. Bight of Biafra 17% SE Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon
7. West-Central Africa 27% Congo, Angola
8. Southeast Africa 2% Madagascar, Mozambique

In this theme, FREEDOM, narratives of African-born former slaves are organized by the present-day nations from which the narrators came—Senegal & Guinea, Mali, Ghana, Benin, and Nigeria. They could be organized in other ways, of course, and we encourage you to regroup and contrast them to gain further insight, e.g., first-person narratives with "as told to" memoirs, authors who returned to Africa with those who died in America, well-known with obscure publications, etc.

Let us begin with two "as told to" narratives by Muslim Africans raised in present-day Senegal and Guinea, in regions about two hundred miles apart.
  • Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (named Job ben Solomon in England) was an educated Muslim from kingdom of Bondu in present-day eastern Senegal. He was captured in 1730, enslaved for two years in Maryland, and freed through the efforts of attorney Thomas Bluett, who compiled and published Ayuba's memoir in 1734, and with others arranged his return to Africa, where he died in 1773. Sections I and III of Some Memoirs of the Life of Job, Son of Solomon are presented here, with descriptions of Ayuba's family and the Fulbe ethnic group. (Section II describes his capture, enslavement, and emancipation.)

  • Abdul Rahman Ibrahima (named Prince by his Mississippi slaveholder) was also a Fula (Fulbe) Muslim, raised about two hundred miles south of Ayuba's homeland, in the Futa Jalon highlands of present-day Guinea. Like Ayuba, he was one of the rare emancipated Africans to return to his home continent. Born around 1762, Rahman was captured in his mid twenties as a war prisoner, sold to the British, and transported to the Americas to be sold. Through a remarkable chain of events, including the chance meeting in Natchez with an Englishman who had met Rahman in Africa, Rahman was freed in 1828 and emigrated to Liberia. The newspaper articles presented here, from the Natchez, Mississippi, Southern Galaxy (1828) were written by editor Cyrus Griffin, one of the white supporters of Rahman's emancipation, based on his conversations with Rahman.
These "as told to" accounts are not first-person "I" memoirs. Both are related in third person ("he") from the white authors' perspective. How does this influence the narratives' content and readers' response? Compare them with the first-person account by Omar ibn Said, a Muslim like Ayuba and Rahman, who was enslaved in North Carolina. (12 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. Overall, what impressions do you have of the eighteenth-century Muslim peoples of Senegal and Guinea from these narratives?
  2. How does one evaluate the accuracy of "as told to" narratives?
  3. In these narratives, how dominant is the perspective of the white American anti-slavery narrators, Thomas Bluett and Cyrus Griffin?
  4. What attitudes toward Africans are expressed by Bluett and Griffin?
  5. What attitudes do they express toward the individual Africans they helped emancipate?
  6. Where do the voices of Diallo and Rahman transcend the narrations of Bluett and Griffin?
  7. Make a chart of the narratives by African-born former slaves in this Toolbox. Select topics for the other columns, e.g., region of Africa, effect of western perspectives, greatest value of the narrative, etc.

African Name
Slave Name
Narrative Author & Speaker
Purpose & Audience Most Distinguishing Feature
1734 Ayuba Suleiman Diallo Job ben Solomon who wrote it? Bluett
who's speaking? Bluett
1789 Olaudah Equiano Gustavus Vassa who wrote it? Olaudah
who's speaking? Olaudah
1798 Broteer Furro Venture Smith who wrote it? Niles
who's speaking? Furro
1810 Boyrereau Brinch Jeffrey Brace who wrote it? Prentiss
who's speaking? Prentiss
1828 Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Prince who wrote it? Griffin
who's speaking? Griffin
1831 Omar ibn
"Uncle Moro"(Omero) who wrote it? Omar
who's speaking? Omar
1854 Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua Mahomma who wrote it? Morse
who's speaking? Morse
  1. Imagine a conversation among the African-born men in the chart above. What would they find most similar in their life experiences? What would they choose to emphasize to 21st-century readers?
  2. How did each of the emancipated Africans define freedom before and after enslavement, as far as you can determine?

Framing Questions
  • How did Africans live in freedom before enslavement?
  •  How did Europeans and African Americans perceive African cultures?
  •  What was the experience of capture and enslavement for those who became African Americans?

Ayuba Suleiman Diallo:  5
Abdul Rahman Ibrahim:  7
TOTAL 12 pages
Supplemental Sites

Ayuba Suleiman Diallo on his enslavement in Maryland, in Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763, from the National Humanities Center

Omar ibn Said, enslaved Muslim in North Carolina, full narrative, 1831, in this Toolbox

North American Slave Narratives, Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library) Prince Among Slaves, Abdul Rahman (PBS/WGBH, 2008)

Peoples from Senegambia, Benin and the Gold Coast, in The Abolition of the Slave Trade: The Forgotten Story, from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (NYPL)

Timeline of Art History: Guinea Coast, 1600-1800 A.D. (present-day Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, coastal Guinea, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Republic of Benin, and Nigeria)

African Nation Founders, with useful maps, in African American Heritage and Ethnography, from the National Park Service

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, in In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience, from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York Public Library)

Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (Emory University Digital Library)

1 David Eltis, Professor of History, Emory University, et al., Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database

2 Kari J. Winter, ed., The Blind African Slave, or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), pp. 4-5.

-U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Africa, map, 2008, detail. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division, Call. No. G8200 2008 .U5.
-Portraits of Abdul Rahman Ibrahima (#494072) and Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (#497429). Courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

1. Senegal & Guinea   2. Mali   3. Ghana
4. Benin   5. Nigeria   6. Capture

TOOLBOX: The Making of African American Identity: Volume I, 1500-1865
Freedom | Enslavement | Community | Identity | Emancipation

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