He was a well-educated African nobleman, but a slave in America for 40 years

By Stephanie Weber

Slavery is commonly talked about among modern historians as something that isn’t accurately taught in US history classes. Classes often fail to tell their students where the slaves were from. Some were Native Americans, some were Muslim, and at least one was known to have been royalty.

Sori attempted to explain his situation to Foster who only used his story to mock him, calling him “Prince” as he forced his slave to do more work.

Abdulrahman (or Abd al Rahman) Ibrahima Ibn Sori was born a prince 1762 to the Fulbe tribe in what is now Guinea. He was an incredibly well-educated young man who spent most of his young life in the Islamic cultural center of Timbuktu with his father. He learned several languages and studied science and math until a war broke out in the region. Before his capture, he was a commander who was married and starting his young family. All of this came to an end when he was captured by a rival tribe and sold to European merchants.


Rising in the ranks

The slavers took him to Dominica and then to New Orleans before Abdulrahman was sold to a slave owner in Natchez, Mississippi named Thomas Foster who owned a large cotton plantation. Sori attempted to explain his situation to Foster who only used his story to mock him, calling him “Prince” as he forced his slave to do more work. However, Sori proved himself to be incredibly valuable on the plantation. Due to the farming knowledge he already had from his home country, he quickly rose in the ranks as a slave overseer which afforded him slight privileges such as the ability to have his own garden and sell the crops in the market himself.

The Irish doctor who tried to free him

At 32 he married a fellow slave named Isabella and together the pair had nine children. It seemed as though he may never be freed until 1805 when an Irish surgeon named Dr. John Coates Cox recognized Sori in the market. He previously met Sori and his family in Africa several years ago and was shocked to find the kind prince in the United States as a slave. He managed to convince Foster of the truth, but Foster was mostly amused by the story and refused to free Sori who had become far too valuable to him. Cox worked tirelessly to free Sori until his death in 1816.

An autobiographical account of his experiences

Finally free

In 1826, a local writer heard about this story and wrote about it in the paper. He also passed on a letter Sori had written to his people in Arabic to Senator Thomas Reed. Reed assumed that Sori was Moroccan due to the Arabic script and his ignorance of African cultures and religions. He forwarded the letter to the American consulate in Morocco and it made its way to the Sultan. This was an incredibly strategic move as Morocco was a valued ally at the time because it was the first major country to recognize the United States as its own country during the revolutionary war. Sultan Abderrahmane was appalled by the story and pled with John Quincy Adams to have this man freed. Adams turned to Secretary of State Henry Clay to secure Sori’s release. Finally Foster obliged, under the condition that Sori return to Africa immediately. He was freed in 1828 at the age of 66, but he did not immediately go back home.

John Quincy Adams, 1843

He briefly traveled in an attempt to raise the necessary funds to free their entire family. He raised enough money to free his wife and a few of his children, still leaving some in slave custody. He and his wife finally traveled back to Africa, but he got sick in Liberia where he eventually died. He never did return to his homeland.

His story is indeed tragic, however, he has descendants in both Liberia and America. His descendents met for a family reunion in 2003. In 2007 the movie Prince Among Slaves was released about this incredible story.

About the Author

Stephanie Weber
Stephanie Weber is a comedian and writer whose work has been published on Atlas Obscura, Slate, The AV Club, Reductress, The Whiskey Journal and more. She performs stand up comedy at The Lincoln Lodge in Chicago.

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