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T. H. Gallaudet (Thomas Hopkins), 1787-1851
A Statement with Regard to the Moorish Prince, Abduhl Rahhahman
New York: D. Fanshaw, 1828.

Summary

Abduhl Rahhahman, as Thomas H. Gallaudet spelled it, is also commonly referred to as Abdul Rahman or Abd al-Rahman. His full name, according to twentieth-century biographer Terry Alford, was Abdul Rahman Ibrahima. Many of his contemporaries (including Gallaudet, the author of this Statement) referred to him merely as "Prince," since his father and grandfather both ruled African kingdoms. However, this entry will refer to him as "Ibrahima," the "patronymic portion" that Alford argued was his "true" name (pp. 196, xvi). Ibrahima was born around 1762 in the African kingdom of Timbuktu, located in what is now Mali. He grew up in the town of Timbo, in the neighboring kingdom of Futa Jallon, near the modern-day border between Guinea and Sierra Leone. At age 26, Ibrahima was captured in a military ambush, enslaved, and eventually transported to Natchez, Mississippi, where he became a field hand on a cotton plantation. In an attempt to facilitate Ibrahima's return to Africa, one local benefactor (Andrew Marschalk, a native of New York) encouraged him to write a letter in Arabic to his people and proceeded to send it to what he mistakenly believed was Ibrahima's "own country" of Morocco (p. 89). For reasons not explained in the text, Ibrahima merely inscribed Koranic verses from memory and did not correct Marschalk's mistake. However, on viewing his manuscript, the Muslim sultan of Morocco (who was also named Abd al-Rahman) promptly offered the American consul funds to finance Ibrahima's return. In light of this potentially embarrassing diplomatic situation, Secretary of State Henry Clay recommended to President John Quincy Adams in 1827 that the U.S. government obtain Ibrahima's freedom and return him to Africa. With the support of the Adams administration, Marschalk procured the manumission of Ibrahima and his wife Isabella prior to the publication of Gallaudet's 1828 Statement with Regard to the Moorish Prince, Abduhl Rahhahman, which noted that his "little flock" (as many as ten children and thirteen grandchildren at the time) remained in bondage (p. 4). The title page of this Statement identifies the author, Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, as the Principal of the "American Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb," better known as the American School for the Deaf, which he founded in 1817. Gallaudet was also a member of the American Colonization Society, which published and sold the pamphlet as an attempt to fund the manumission of Ibrahima's family and their subsequent return to Africa.

According to Gallaudet's Statement, during Ibrahima's childhood in Africa, his father is sent to conquer the "Soosoos" (also spelled Susu or Soso) and founds a new capital of Futa Jallon at Timbo (p. 3). Ibrahima therefore moves from Timbuktu to Timbo at age five, returning to Timbuktu to attend school at age twelve. When Ibrahima is nineteen years old, an Irish surgeon named Dr. John Coates Cox becomes lost in the woods and is injured during an inland excursion and hunting trip from Sierra Leone (p. 3). The doctor is brought to Ibrahima's father, who "entertain[s]" him, "restore[s him] to perfect health," and sends him back to find his ship with "gold, ivory, clothes, and an escort of armed men to protect him" (p. 3). However, Cox's and Ibrahima's paths would cross again. Seven years later (in approximately 1788), Ibrahima is taken captive after a raid against a rival tribe, the "Hebohs" (p. 4). Ibrahima's captors sell him into slavery, and after surviving the Middle Passage, he is auctioned to Colonel Thomas Foster in Natchez, Mississippi. Years later, (in approximately 1805), Ibrahima re-encounters Dr. Cox, who had recently moved to Mississippi from North Carolina, where he had initially settled after emigrating from Ireland. (His son William attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.) Cox makes repeated offers to procure Ibrahima's freedom, but at the time, Foster is not willing to sell or free his slave. However, Gallaudet notes that "some gentlemen in Natchez" (led by Marschalk) become interested in Ibrahima and make "a representation" on his behalf to "the Government of the United States, which, after having obtained the most satisfactory evidence of the truth of Prince's history, directed its agent at Natchez to procure his freedom" (p. 4).

The rest of the short Statement is devoted to a plea on Ibrahima's behalf. "He appeals to our humanity," writes Gallaudet, and " [h]e appeals to our gratitude as American citizens" (p. 5, author's italics). The document concludes with a number of vouchers that assert the truth of Ibrahima's account and the virtue of his character. Gallaudet summarizes several witnesses as collectively demonstrating that Ibrahima "has borne his state of servitude with a fortitude and patience more becoming a Christian than a Pagan" (p. 8).

Gallaudet's pamphlet, published in 1828, does not complete the story of Abdul Rahman Ibrahima, but Alford's biography explains that the pamphlet did not raise sufficient funds to free his family, and he was forced to depart for the American colony in Liberia without them. Ibrahima and Isabella sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, aboard the Harriet on February 7, 1829, arriving at Monrovia, Liberia, on March 18, 1829, but they never made it to Timbuktu or Timbo. After arriving at Monrovia, Ibrahima fell sick with the "coast fever" that killed thirty of his fellow shipmates during the summer of 1829 (p. 179). Alarmed at the mortality rate of the repatriated "colonists," Ibrahima dictated a letter to several friends back in New York, warning one in particular that "if he do come here, he will certainly be a dead man" (p. 179). Abdul Rahman Ibrahima died on July 6, 1829, having spent forty years in bondage and having finally returned to Africa a free man. Isabella remained in Liberia and was later joined by two of her sons; at least three sons and four daughters remained enslaved in Mississippi.

Works Consulted: Alford, Terry, Prince Among Slaves, 30th Anniversary Ed., New York: Oxford UP, 2007; Buhnen, Stephan, "Place Names as an Historical Source: An Introduction with Examples from Southern Senegambia and Germany," in History in Africa, Vol. 19 (1992): pp. 45-101, 18 May 2008, www.jstor.org; "David Dreyer's Quest to Map Abdul Rahman's Family Tree," Unity Productions Foundation, 2 June 2008, Prince Among Slaves; Dreyer, David S., "The Descendants of Prince Abdul Rahman Or Futa Jallon," Spark Media, 2008, referenced 2 June 2008, http://www.upf.tv/upf06/PrinceExtra/dreyer.pdf; "History of the University: The Legacy Begins," June 2008, Gallaudet University Web page; "Jamtan Fulani: Fuuta Jalon," 19 May 2008, www.jamtan.com; Olson, James S., The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996; "Rahman," Biography and Genealogy Master Index (BGMI), 16 May 2008, http://galenet.gale.com/a/acp/db/bgmi/; "Report on the condition of the people of color in the state of Ohio from the proceedings of the Ohio Antislavery Convention, held at Putnam, on the 22d, 23d, and 24th of April, 1835" (Microform); "Songhai Empire," Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 19 May 2008, http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9068696.

Patrick E. Horn

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