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Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori: The enslaved African prince released under U.S. president’s orders

May 04, 2018 at 04:03 pm | History

Farida Dawkins

Farida Dawkins | Contributor

May 04, 2018 at 04:03 pm | History

Abdulrahman Ibrahim ibn Sori...Wisconsin Muslim Journal

Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori was born in 1762 in Timbo, modern-day Guinea.

Abdulrahman Ibrahim ibn Sori…Twitter

Sori was of noble blood more specifically, of the Torodbe Fulani Muslim tribe and also held the title of commander  (Emir).  Afforded the chance to obtain a quality education, Sori studied in Timbo – which was consolidated under the Islamic confederation of Futa Jallon by his father, Almami Ibrahim Sori. He was also able to study abroad in Timbuktu.

Sori was adept at six languages, including English and Arabic.  He became knowledgeable in Islamic sciences.

In 1788 at the age of 26, his father bestowed upon him the title of Emir. He was in charge of a 2000-man army. During one of their military operations, he was captured and enslaved, eventually being sold to the British. The British subsequently sold him to Thomas Foster, a slave master located in Natchez, Mississippi. Sori was enslaved and owned by Foster for 40 years.

Foster eventually nicknamed Sori “Prince,” a name that would stay with him for a lifetime and beyond.

Having first-hand expertise at growing cotton in Timbo, Sori leveraged his knowledge to earn the position of lead foreman. He then grew his own produce and sold it at the local marketplace.

In 1794, Sori married a woman named Isabel, also a slave of Foster’s. The couple had five daughters and four sons.

Sori appealed to Dr. John Cox, an Irish surgeon who served on an English ship, to help him return home. Cox was able to reach Timbo after he was abandoned by his shipmates. Cox stayed there for six months where Sori’s family helped him. Cox, in turn, taught Sori English and attempted to convince Foster to sell Sori so he could return to Africa. Foster did not agree to the terms.

In 1826, Sori sent a letter to his family members in Africa. The letter was intercepted by a Dutch newspaper printer named Andrew Marschalk.

Marschalk sent the letter to U.S. senator Thomas Reed, who was from Mississippi.  Reed forwarded the mail to the U.S. Consulate in Morocco.

The Sultan of Morocco, Abderrahmane read the letter and asked then-President John Adams and Secretary of State Henry Clay to release Sori.

In 1829, Foster agreed to the release of Sori for no payment in return.  The caveat was that Sori had to leave the U.S. immediately and return to Africa.

Attempting to raise money for his return home, Sori and his wife traveled to several states; they were also able to meet with President Adams.

Through lobbied donations by politicians, appearances, The American Colonization Society, and the press, Sori collected funds in hopes of freeing his remaining relatives in Mississippi.  Sori’s actions were considered a breach of contract which made his return home even more imperative.

Unfortunately, Sori was only able to raise half of the money needed to free his children. He embarked for Monrovia, Liberia. After living in Liberia for four months, Sori contracted a fever and died at the age of 67.

He wasn’t able to return to Timbo nor see his children before his death.

Thankfully the money Sori raised freed two of his sons and their families.  They were able to travel to Monrovia, Liberia where their mother resided.

After the death of Foster, the descendants of Sori emigrated to other parts of Mississippi and the Southern states. His extended family members still reside in Monrovia and Natchez.

Documentation of Sori’s life was formulated into a book authored by historian Dr. Terry Alford named, “A Prince Among Slaves.”

In 2007, the film adaptation of the book was released.

Sori penned two autobiographies before his death.

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