Ayuba Suleiman Diallo

Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, also known as Job ben Solomon,
by William Hoare of Bath, 1733 © Christie’s Images Limited

Yesterday I spotted a news item from the National Portrait Gallery. The above portrait, of Ayuba Diallo, the earliest known British painting of a black African Muslim and freed slave, is due to be exported overseas unless sufficient funds can be raised to keep it in Britain.

Ayuba Diallo (1701-1773), (also known as Job ben Solomon) came from an educated family of west African Muslims, and was taken into slavery and sent to work on a plantation in America. The following is a contemporaneous account of what happened:

In February, 1730, JOB’s Father hearing of an English Ship at Gambia River, sent him, with two Servants to attend him, to sell two Negroes and to buy Paper, and some other Necessaries; but desired him not to venture over the River, because the Country of the Mandingoes, who are Enemies to the People of Futa, lies on the other side. JOB not agreeing with Captain Pike (who commanded the Ship, lying then at Gambia, in the Service of Captain Henry Hunt, Brother to Mr. William Hunt, Merchant, in Little Tower-Street, London) sent back the two Servants to acquaint his Father with it, and to let him know that he intended to go farther. Accordingly, having agreed with another Man, named Loumein Yoas, who understood the Mandingoe Language, to go with him as his Interpreter, he crossed the River Gambia, and disposed of his Negroes for some Cows. As he was returning Home, he stopp’d for some Refreshment at the House of an old Acquaintance; and the Weather being hot, he hung up his Arms in the House, while he refresh’d himself.  Those Arms were very valuable; consisting of a Gold-hilted Sword, a Gold Knife, which they wear by their Side, and a rich Quiver of Arrows, which King Sambo had made him a Present of.  It happened that a Company of the Mandingoes, who live upon Plunder, passing by at that Time, and observing him unarmed, rush’d in, to the Number of seven or eight at once, at a back Door, and pinioned JOB, before he could get to his Arms, together with his Interpreter, who is a Slave in Maryland still.

They then shaved their Heads and Beards, which JOB and his Man resented as the highest Indignity; tho’ the Mandingoes meant no more by it, than to make them appear like Slaves taken in War. On the 27th of February, 1730, they carried them to Captain Pike at Gambia, who purchased them; and on the first of March they were put on Board. Soon after JOB found means to acquaint Captain Pike that he was the same Person that came to trade with him a few Days before, and after what Manner he had been taken. Upon this Captain Pike gave him leave to redeem himself and his Man; and JOB sent to an Acquaintance of his Father’s, near Gambia, who promised to send to JOB’s Father, to inform him of what had happened, that he might take some Course to have him set at Liberty.  But it being a Fortnight’s journey between that Friend’s House and his Father’s, and the Ship failing in about a Week after, JOB was brought with the rest of the Slaves to Annapolis in Maryland.

Ayuba was initially put to work in the tobacco fields of Maryland, but he eventually escaped, and was captured and sent to the Kent County courthouse.  A chance encounter with a lawyer changed his fortunes, and in 1733 he travelled to England, where he was freed from slavery, and spent time among many prominent people, including the Royal family.  He eventually returned home and his memoirs were published in English.

An important figure in the history of the slave trade, and a major contributor to England’s understanding of African culture and identity, Ayuba rightly deserves his place in the National Portrait Gallery.

The gallery needs to raise £554,000 to save his portrait.  A substantial part of the money has already been secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Art Fund, but the NPG still needs to raise at least £100,000. Please consider donating whatever you can to help preserve this important artwork.


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