In A Nutshell
Before he was captured while leading his father’s army home from battle, 26-year-old Abdul-Rahman Ibrahim ibn Sori was a married Muslim prince in Africa. Within a year, he was sold into slavery in America. Even when recognized by an American doctor who had known Sori in Africa, his owner, Thomas Foster, refused to free Sori. President John Quincy Adams would later help to free Sori, 40 years after he was enslaved. However, Sori was unable to secure the release of all his enslaved children, and he died of a fever before he could return to his native village.
The Whole Bushel
When the US was founded, government leaders reached out to Muslim countries to sign some of the earliest treaties and build powerful relationships with their leaders. In 1777, the Sultan of Morocco was one of the first rulers to recognize the independence of America even though George Washington had not been inaugurated as President yet. When Tunisian major general Heussein wrote a letter that described how the teachings of the Quran had led Tunis to abolish slavery, Abraham Lincoln was so moved after reading the letter that he made sure the entire text was circulated widely. American abolitionists used it to make their case in the American press to end slavery.
That’s what makes it even more disturbing to discover that an African prince was enslaved in 1788, shortly before Washington took office in April 1789. Although no one should ever be enslaved, it was a fact of life that some people had higher status in society and claimed more privileges as a result. But to European slave traders and the Americans who purchased from them, no black Africans were off limits.
Born in 1762 to King Sori of the Fouta Djallon region in what is now the Republic of Guinea, Prince Abdul-Rahman Ibrahim ibn Sori was leading his father’s Fulbe army home from battle when he was ambushed and captured in 1788. Within a year, the married Muslim prince was sold into slavery in Natchez, Mississippi, to a small plantation owner named Thomas Foster. Although Sori explained to Foster that he was royalty, Foster merely laughed and mockingly called his new slave “Prince” from then on.
In 1794, Sori married again on the plantation and eventually fathered nine children. Highly educated from his days before slavery, Sori used his knowledge of growing cotton to make Foster an incredibly rich man. Even when Sori was recognized by an American doctor who had known him in Africa, Foster refused to free Sori at any price. Until he died in 1816, the American doctor continued to fight for Sori’s release.
Finally, in 1826, a local newspaperman came to possess a letter written by Sori to his family in Africa. The letter eventually made its way to the Sultan of Morocco, who asked US president John Quincy Adams to free Sori even though he was not a Moroccan citizen. Though some believe Adams did it mainly for the publicity, he helped to free Sori, 40 years after the prince was enslaved.
As part of the terms of his 1828 release, Sori was to return to Africa immediately with his wife and leave his nine children behind in slavery. Nevertheless, Sori tried to raise the funds to buy his children while in America, but he could only come up with half the money that Foster wanted. Unable to secure the release of all his enslaved children, Sori traveled to Liberia in 1828. He died of a fever before he could return to his native village.